Over the past 10 years of my life when people have asked me what my least favorite restaurant is, I have had no hesitation. I always knew the exact restaurant. No, I’m not going to say some obscure local restaurant. My least favorite restaurant, by far, is Panera Bread. There is no doubt in my mind that Panera is a horrible place to go to get food. I don’t think I have ever been more passionate about an opinion about a restaurant. This includes restaurants that I love. At this point it is just ingrained in my mind to think of a literal trash can when someone brings up Panera.
I want to start off by saying that the food at Panera is not horrible. Since I dislike the restaurant so much, I haven’t really tried a lot of food there, but there are some things on the menu that are for sure not bad. The mac and cheese appears to be a fan favorite, and I’m inclined to say that it’s a decent mac and cheese. Some of the sandwiches too are also not bad. I’m normally indifferent to Panera’s sandwiches. Most of the time they’re either OK or not good. I would even dare to say that Panera’s drinks aren’t even that bad. Beyond just the normal soft drinks, some of the iced teas and lemonades are OK. The taste of the food has never been a problem for me. It’s mediocre probably, as in it’s not good food but it’s not bad. This is the only slightly positive thing I have to say about Panera.
Now let’s talk about what’s wrong with Panera. I am just going to outright say it: the place is an absolute ripoff. They’re not only overcharging you for mediocre food, but the amount of food you get is just not even close to right. Let’s take the mac and cheese as an example, because it’s one of the restaurant’s more popular items. According to the Panera Bread website, it costs $9.69 to get a large mac and cheese. At Target, you can get the same dish, not heated up, for $5.99. It’s the same dish and there’s a $4 difference in price. Sorry, I forgot that you get a free side with your mac and cheese at Panera. You guys think a three-inch baguette, apple or small bag of chips is worth that difference in price? Maybe you could make the argument that the mac and cheese at the restaurant tastes a lot better than it would microwaved at home, this is entirely possible. However, let’s be real, why are you paying $10 in general for a small bowl of mac and cheese? It took me 30 seconds to find a restaurant that sells mac and cheese as an entree. I have never tried the mac and cheese at this restaurant, Mr. Mac’s, but it definitely looks better. Let’s take a look at the price. It costs $6.99, which is in fact $3 cheaper than Panera.
I used mac and cheese as an example, but the rest of the food is very similar. You have to pay way too much money for mediocre food. Let’s compare some of their other food to the competition. My favorite fast food chicken sandwich is the Popeyes chicken sandwich, which costs $7.69. I haven’t had the Panera chicken sandwich, but when I look at the price I know I definitely won’t ever have it. The “new” chicken sandwich from Panera is a whopping $12.99. From what I’ve heard, the chicken sandwich is just OK. How in the world do you expect me to go and pay $12.99 for that sandwich? That sandwich better be cooked by a Michelin star chef if you want me to pay that price. Again, I forgot to mention that the sandwich comes with a side. Yeah, that side really makes me feel a lot better about ordering this absurdly priced sandwich. If we’re just considering how much chicken is included between the two sandwiches, the Popeyes chicken sandwich weighs approximately 8.6 oz, while the Panera chicken sandwich is approximately 4.5 oz. Just let that sit in. For less chicken you pay more money.
So the prices are clearly an issue. You’re paying a lot of money for some mediocre food. The next issue is that you aren’t just getting mediocre food, but not a lot of mediocre food. In terms of quantity alone, there isn’t enough food in any dish to justify its price. Eat one sandwich there and you’ll feel like you have to eat something else because you are still hungry. You add another small, overpriced dish (and maybe a drink) and all of a sudden you are paying over $20 for a meal. Once again, this $20 isn’t even for GOOD food; you’re paying $20 for average food.
I went to Panera for the first time in five years last week to pick up a smoothie for my friend. That smoothie, by the way, was $5.79, but at this point we already know they’re ripping you off for the food. I remember getting there and reading that they would call my name when the order was ready. I waited there for 10 minutes before realizing something was wrong. Why is it taking 10 minutes to make a smoothie? I looked around at the counter to see if I maybe missed something but I didn’t see the smoothie anywhere. I went around to the side and talked to an employee to ask about the smoothie. He walked two feet to the smoothie that was half melted and handed it to me. The smoothie was probably sitting around for five minutes and no one told me. Good work Panera.
I didn’t think I was going to be able to write 1000 words about how much I dislike Panera Bread, but here we are. The restaurant is a joke. I get that maybe the atmosphere is nice. People like to study and work there for some reason. But actually wanting to go there to eat, I will never understand.
I am going to start this by saying that I am glad that Justin got all of this Panera hate off his chest. I had no idea he hated it that much; he was able to write over one thousand words on it. But, I’m here to say that Panera is not that bad.
Hear me out: Panera is overpriced for sure, but the food itself is not bad. It’s on the healthier side, and honestly, they have a pretty decent variety of food. You can basically get any kind of food there: a soup, a sandwich, a pizza, a rice bowl, a dessert or whatever else your heart desires. Another thing that I appreciate is the fact that Panera food is never greasy.
Although I am not a founding member of the Hot Girl Stomach Issues Club, I am a casual acquaintance of the club. This means that I need to be careful with the food I eat, since not all food makes my stomach happy. I am also not a huge fan of greasy food in general, I enjoy it once in a while, but it’s not something that I can have too frequently.
Which brings me to another point with Panera: it’s the kind of place that you could, if you need to, go to every day. Although I love Chipotle, I couldn’t eat it everyday. I think Panera is a much better candidate for everyday dining. In the last week, I ate at Panera three times, and I can’t really complain. I’m not saying that I actively want Panera right now, but if I had to have it again tomorrow, I would be OK with that.
My personal favorites are the Thai Chicken Soup and the BBQ Chicken Sandwich, but their flatbread pizzas are pretty good too. Honestly, I can’t say I have ever had bad food at Panera, or at least not that I can remember. My biggest beef with the food itself is that the soups are frozen. That honestly kills my soul, especially since the Thai Chicken Soup is slowly becoming my favorite food there. This will not help my argument, but Panera is the kind of food I’d want when I have food poisoning.
Also Justin can’t say that Panera has bad baked goods. For all the bad things you can (validly) say about Panera, they know how to make a good pastry. Have you ever had a bad cookie at Panera? No. Their bread is pretty good too, not the best, but pretty solid. Their pecan braid? Delicious. I won’t name all of their baked goods, but they all are at least OK.
Their new lemonades (which have a decent amount of caffeine in them), are actually pretty good. Their coffee subscription? Amazing, for $8.99 John Fornagiel ’22 and I get at least half a liter of coffee per day each. How can you say no to that?
The food is definitely on the more expensive side, and the portions don’t explain the price either. But I do not think that is a complete rip-off; there are definitely dishes that are not worth the money (shout-out to the chicken sandwich). Panera is definitely overpriced, but the food isn’t bad, especially if you play your cards right (like ordering an entree and a soup to share with a friend). In terms of value, Panera definitely misses the mark. But by all other measures? I’d say it’s pretty decent.