Panera Bread is Terrible

So I’m sitting in a Panera Bread. This place is terrible.* There’s this classical music playing. Marginally famous, it’s just violin music meant to provide a certain background. The #108 thing White People Like is “Appearing to Enjoy Classical Music.” Let me tell you that’s totally true. I guess it’s better than having nothing on in the background.

But Panera Bread is terrible. I ordered a cinnamon crunch bagel, which is the only reason to go into a Panera Bread in the first place, and asked for it toasted, with butter. I get the bagel, and it’s unevenly sliced, because Panera Bread uses an automatic slicing machine that cuts the bagels unevenly. Home bagel slicers do a better job, they just don’t do as fast a job. So I get a terrible bagel cut for the convenience of the people I’m paying. Don’t get me wrong, I get that I’m paying for this terrible stuff, and I’ve always been a kind of “there’s no such thing as a ripoff” guy who blames the victim for all the bad things that happen. But here’s my poorly cut bagel that’s been toasted and is now slightly warm to the touch. Panera uses a toast machine that features a little conveyer belt that runs the bagel, hovering, along a series of heat coils, and then slides out the front. You know when you toast a piece of toast at home, and the toaster pops up, or if you use a toaster oven (which is my preference), it dings, and you open the toaster oven door? The bread or whatever is so hot that if you reached for it and touched it with your hand, you’d burn your hand. You have to kind of poke at the toast with a knife and attempt to slide it onto a plate so it can cool enough to handle to put the butter on. So I get my bagel and there’s three packets of butter on the plate next to the bagel. They’ve been refrigerated in what seems to have been some kind of dry ice-based cooling unit that causes the butter to be rock-hard. So I get that you want to keep the butter fresh. But the butter is for spreading on a bagel, and the bagel isn’t hot enough even to begin melting the butter. So I end up cutting the butter into chunks and letting the chunks sit between the two halves of the bagel until they’re soft enough to shove around on the surface of the bagel.

My coffee and bagel cost $3.50. And I feel like an jerk for even coming in here. But honestly, the cinnamon crunch bagel is really tasty, even with mostly unmelted butter on it. That’s how this works. Places invent one tolerable product and everything else is possible because of that. Outback Steakhouse has a deep fried onion appetizer that’s people seem to like. I used to go to McDonalds all the time just so I could order Chicken McNuggets so I could get the Buffalo dipping sauce on the side to dip them in. I’d dip my fries in the buffalo sauce, I’d dip my hamburger in the sauce. The So what’s the cinnamon crunch bagel cost? $1.39. The regular bagels are 99c. So I paid an extra 40 cents for the cinnamon crunch bagel? Wrong. I paid an extra $3.25 for the cinnamon crunch bagel because I wouldn’t even be in here. I’d be at home with a store-bought bag of bagels, properly cut in half, toasted to scalding, with a cup of coffee that cost me less than a dime to brew. So Panera Bread sucks because the reason I’m in the door, buying all the complementary goods to the cinnamon crunch bagel, costs more at the margin as well.

But I have a meeting here. I have a meeting at a restaurant, and I guess that’s a cultural thing, you want to have a meeting, you want to have people meet you at a time they’re not obligated to meet you, you do a nice thing for them. You meet in a pleasant place, like Panera Bread, so you can pay a huge price for generic classical music and so other people can feel like it’s a treat. What’s a treat about paying for terrible food? I make better food at my house. I’d have people to my house and make them a fine breakfast but it’s not the same. The culture won’t allow it. People think they’re getting something good but they’re not. They’re just so lazy to make something good themselves that they’re willing to pay for something terrible and they get so used to how terrible things are that they have something that’s slightly less terrible and they think it’s good.

It’s my own fault for being here. But I’m aware of my own stupid stuff, and here I am acknowledging my own stuff, and in doing so, allow myself to cast stones at others for doing stupid stuff, and not acknowledging it. I get it. Have some humility. Be honest for once.

* I’m trying to keep it clean here, but honestly, the words “terrible,” “jerk,” and “stuff” are just substitutes for the appropriate four-letter words that makes the most sense. There is impact in the use of foul language, but I live in fear because I’m surrounded by SWPLs.

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    • Abby
    • August 17th, 2010

    I often feel ripped off at Panera. Maybe it is my fault, but when the other choices for a dinner on the go in a kid friendly place are McDonald’s and Burger King, I choose Panera. We can get food that mimics the stuff we make at home in an environment that disguises my food- flinging toddler with their over sized booths and (too loud) classical music. When I go to Panera I get the Greek salad, which is an ok choice. I really just like the dressing and can’t make it at home the way they do. I wish I knew what the secret ingredient is! I agree with you that Panera is terrible in some ways, but we still frequent it for lack of a better place to go. Maybe the Beard’s will show up at your house for breakfast! Great post!

    • Sai
    • August 17th, 2010

    I dunno, I like getting the Caesar salad with feta. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten anything else there besides horrifically overpriced soup. French onion in a bread bowl used to be too clever to pass up.

    In related news:

    – I usually fall asleep listening to Cox Cable channel 941: Music Choice Light Classical. As a matter of fact, I’m still in bed and it’s still on. It’s better than the other 49% of the time when I’m forced to watch Golden Girls and drift off to a dreamland full of skanky geezers.

    – In 2007, the Phoenix-based Paradise Bakery & Café merged with St. Louis-based Panera. So in the Southwest there is no Panera, but Paradise looks exactly the same.

    – We should have a Mad Men party.

  1. Who says you can’t invite someone over and make them breakfast? The “culture won’t allow it” defense seems like a cop out.

  2. No, I mean, professionally. While I could have my co-workers over for a meal, there’s a neutrality that is necessary for business to be conducted, and if any heated exchanges occurred, there could be a negative association with my home for those co-workers that could deter them from attending a social function like a work-related party that would be appropriate for the home. “The culture” in this case is a neutral, comfortable environment that Panera provides. I understand that part of the $1.39 for a bagel is really an expenditure for the environment. That doesn’t mean I don’t resent it and blame myself for my acquiescence.

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