Panera Bread Company (NASDAQ:PNRA) recently debuted its new mobile application. The app will hopefully lend a hand in the company's turnaround process, as it has been struggling from an operational standpoint over the past 18 months. 

Fortunately, Ron Shaich, the company's Chief Executive Officer, is more than capable of steering the fast-casual restaurant diner in the right direction. Specifically, management needs to clean up some efficiency issues and improve its handling over the heavy order flow during peak hours, (referred to as "throughput"). Panera's new mobile app might just be what the company needs to get back on track. 

New mobile app
Panera's new mobile application will hopefully help address both issues it is currently facing. This of course begs the question: Are you -- yes, you! -- a frequent, or even occasional diner at Panera? If so, have you tried the new app?

If you answered "yes" followed by a "no" to the two questions above, I strongly recommend that you download the app and give it a try. It's free after all and even if you don't end up ordering from it, it's a nice way to check out the menu and its prices. 

Before we go any further, I want to show a slideshow of the app via screenshots from my Apple iPhone:

Mobile is paving the way
Starbucks' (NASDAQ:SBUX) CEO Howard Schultz has been adamant that mobile payments and e-commerce are the future, while bricks-and-mortar locations are in the beginning stages of a secular downturn. I will have a separate and more detailed piece about Starbucks' mobile app later, but feel that he is correct in regard to mobile payments. 

In an interview with BusinessWeek published in April, Schultz explained why Starbucks already has a leg up in the mobile payments space, with more than 5 million payments processed per week. Leading into that stat, he said:

"Everyone in the world is chasing mobile payment. The question is, who's going to become the Visa of digital payment? There's no doubt the phone is going to be your digital wallet." 

If Schultz is correct about the mobile space -- and I personally think he is -- then I feel like Panera is truly positioning itself for future success with this great mobile app.

As you can see in the slideshow above, ordering from your smartphone has many benefits. You can browse the app's menu to customize your order, use and earn loyalty perks, and schedule a pick-up time. (Please, check out the slideshow!).

The benefits are two-fold: Panera improves operating efficiency and throughput issues during peak hours, while customers can order more easily and do not waste time waiting in lines. 

Final thoughts
Shaich & Company are on track to greatly improve Panera's efficiency, which will hopefully start with the success of its new mobile app. 

The company is advertising the new app right on the door, so customers see it when they enter the restaurant. It is also notifying current customers that are also members of Panera's free loyalty program of the app via email. 

The impact is unlikely to be felt in the next month or quarter, but over the long term Panera Bread's new mobile app can start to help the restaurant chain gain significant traffic. Such a transition will benefit everyone: customers and company alike. 

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Bret Kenwell owns shares of Apple, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Visa. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Panera Bread, Starbucks, and Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.