Restaurant Subscriptions: Boom or Bust?

More restaurants are charging a monthly fee for unlimited meals or beverages or special access.

February 24, 2023

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—“The era of subscription mania has made its way over into restaurants, and while they may not be quite as ubiquitous as media streaming platforms, big-name foodservice brands like Taco Bell, Subway and P.F. Chang’s have started experimenting with offering subscription programs for their most loyal customers,” reports Nation’s Restaurant News.

The concept is that fans can pay a flat fee each month for a certain amount of meals or beverages, or for unlimited access to portions of the menu. The company wins by having guaranteed income from that customer and by incentivizing the customer to return more frequently.

Panera was a subscription pioneer. In 2020 it offered MyPanera rewards members a monthly unlimited coffee and tea subscription. The disruption of the pandemic slowed the expansion of the program, but in August Panera announced that all beverages were included in its Unlimited Sip Club. Panera continues to expand the program, as now members of the Unlimited Sip Club receive free delivery on all Panera online orders, plus other benefits.

Nation’s Restaurant News reports that “25% of Panera purchases now come from Unlimited Sip members, who are much more likely to add food to their beverage orders.”

NPR provides additional coverage of the trend, noting that some upscale restaurants are now offering monthly subscriptions. Gravitas, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Washington, D.C., offers subscribers a monthly three-course takeout meal for two for $130.

NPR notes that “not all subscription programs have had success. In 2021, On the Border Mexican Grill introduced its Queso Club, which offered free cheese dip for a year for $1. The program stopped taking new subscribers a year later.” Although the Queso Club was a hit, with more than 150,000 people signing up, the Dallas-based chain wasn’t making enough off its members to offset the cost of the dip.

With foodservice becoming a more essential offering at c-stores, food safety becomes more important. Read about the inaugural NACS Food Safety Conference.