Panera is replacing cashiers with robots -- but it's hiring thousands of workers for another task

Panera is expanding its delivery service — and that means hiring more workers.

The sandwich chain announced on Monday that it expects to add more than 10,000 new in-cafe and delivery driver jobs by the end of 2017, as the company expands delivery services to 35% to 40% of its locations by the end of the year.

“In many places across the country, all that’s available for delivery is pizza or Chinese food,” Ron Shaich, Panera founder and CEO said in a statement. “We’re closing the gap in delivery alternatives and creating a way for people to have more options for real food delivered to their homes and workplaces.”

Panera’s announcement comes as the company increases its reliance on automation. With ordering kiosks at nearly all of its locations and a growing emphasis on digital ordering, Panera has been in the prime position to cut labour costs by hiring fewer workers.

“Labour is going to go down,” Shaich said in an earnings call in October 2015. “And as digital utilization goes up — like the sun comes up in the morning — it is going to continue to go up. Digital utilization. You are seeing it happen in Panera today.”

Panera’s revamped digital ordering platform has been key to making delivery a possibility at the chain, as the process of making to-go orders became more streamlined with the new technology. As Panera developed its 2.0 reboot, the company made changes across the board, including redesigning kitchens and reworking the assembly line in addition to implementing new tech.

Shaich has said in the past that Panera is well-suited for delivery.

“It’s not because we’re smarter [than our competitors] — we’re blessed,” Shaich said in January. Blessed, according to Shaich, with a menu of soups, salads, and sandwiches that are easy to transport, much like pizza.

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