Restaurants Are Selling Subscriptions Now. Call It ‘Pay-Per-Chew’

A woman eats Chinese food.
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You’ve heard of pay-per-view. What about pay-per-chew?

More and more restaurants are starting to offer subscriptions as a way to foster customer loyalty and get diners in the door on a regular basis.

And we’re all getting accustomed to paying for subscriptions, aren’t we? Many of us pay for streaming services every month for our entertainment. Lots of us get monthly Amazon delivery subscriptions for things like pet food. There are even a bunch of toilet paper subscription services for you to choose from.

Now restaurants are getting in on the act. National chains and local eateries alike are experimenting with this idea. Panera Bread offers an unlimited-drinks subscription. Taco Bell is revamping its “Taco Lover’s Pass.” P.F. Chang’s has a $7-a-month unlimited delivery fee.

How good are these deals? If you’re paying for a subscription to a restaurant, what’s the break-even point for when you make your money back? Let’s find out.

Is It Worth It? Breaking Down Each Restaurant Subscription Deal

What do you get for your money? Here’s a breakdown:

Panera Bread

Panera Bread has more than 2,000 locations and tens of millions of customers in its free customer loyalty program. Three years ago, it started selling a subscription to unlimited coffee and tea for $8.99 per month.

It expanded that subscription last year, and now customers can pay $11.99 per month or $119.99 per year to join the Unlimited Sip Club and get unlimited hot and cold drinks — coffee, tea, soda or lemonade.

The first month is free. Subscribers who pay annually also get free delivery.

Break-even point: A coffee at Panera costs $2.89 for a regular, $3.39 for a large. Iced tea or soda costs $3.09 for a regular, $3.59 for a large.

If you’re getting large-sized beverages, the Unlimited Sip Club pays for itself within four drinks.

Need help tracking all of your subscriptions? There’s an app for that. We break down the five best subscription manager apps.

Taco Bell

The $10 Taco Lover’s Pass was introduced in early 2022. The pass got you one taco a day for a month at any of the chain’s 7,000 locations. Unfortunately, the pass currently isn’t available, apparently because the program is being revamped. “Taco Lover’s Pass has come and gone… for now,” Taco Bell’s website says.

Taco Bell recently told The Associated Press it’s planning to tinker with the Taco Lover’s Pass some more, perhaps making it more attractive by unlocking unique menu items or something like that.

We predict the Taco Lover’s Pass will be back.

Break-even point: A single taco at Taco Bell costs $1.69. So once you’ve eaten at least six tacos during the month you have a Taco Lover’s Pass, you’ve made it worth it.

P.F. Chang’s

This Chinese food chain wanted to increase to-go orders at its 300 locations, so now it has what amounts to a $7-a-month unlimited delivery subscription.

In September, P.F. Chang’s launched a paid tier of its already existing customer loyalty program. For $6.99 per month, you get unlimited deliveries and access to priority reservations. You also earn 15 points per dollar spent, with 2,000 points redeemable for a $15 credit. So once you spend $133, you get $15 back.

Break-even point: This one is a little trickier. Our local P.F. Chang’s charges a base fee of $5 for delivery, but the fee goes up depending on how many miles you are from the restaurant. Still, the subscription is only $6.99, so you’ll easily make your money back after two deliveries — and possibly even one.

An app called Upside can help you save money every time you dine out or buy groceries — an average of 17% at restaurants. Download the Upside app and create a free account.

Other Examples

Other restaurant chains have tried out subscriptions on a temporary basis. In August, Subway sold 10,000 passes that gave customers 50% off a footlong sub once per day. The passes cost $15, and they sold out in six hours.

Around the country, local eateries are experimenting with subscriptions in an effort to bring in a steady stream of revenue.

The Associated Press spotlighted a San Francisco bar that starts bringing out subscribers’ favorite dishes when they arrive, and a fancy Washington, D.C., restaurant’s “Supper Club,” where $130 a month gets you a three-course takeout dinner for two, exploring a different regional cuisine each time.

Restaurant industry observers expect more restaurants to offer subscriptions in the years to come. Watch and see if your favorite place joins them.

Bring your appetite, but just make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.