Customer Experience at Panera Bread

PaneraLogo.pngFor the last year, I have been a regular Panera Bread customer.  With my wife and I having increasingly busy schedules we, like many Americans usually don’t have time to cook dinner.  Panera has a nice selection of soups and salads that work well for a quick evening meal.  Panera rotates their soup selection daily, but provides a link on their website showing the soups of the day.  That should make it easy, but only if the local restaurant consistently executes.  As you may have guessed where I’m going with this, my local restaurant is only consistent at being inconsistent. 

Tonight, my wife checked the Panera menu, saw they had a soup she likes and asked me to pick it up for her.  I’m a nice guy and even though I’ll be up all night working on a presentation, I hopped in the car and went up to the local Panera.  Walking in, I spied the soup menu.  Conspicuously absent was the very soup that I wanted; a soup listed on their national website menu as being featured today.  This is not the first time this has happened.  In fact, my experience has been that the available soups in my local store frequently don’t match the website.  Of course, there was only one cashier working at 6:00pm and there were 4 people in front of me.  Being an optimistic person, I waited in line to confirm what I already knew. 


When I asked the cashier, an innocent enough young man with the personality of a stump, if they had the soup, his answer was simply “No”.  That’s it.  So I got back in the car and drove 5 miles to the next closest Panera.  Fortunately, they had the soup I wanted, but did not have all of Tuesday’s advertised soups.

Seems petty to make such a big stink about a $4 cup of soup, but imagine for a minute if McDonald’s was consistently inconsistent in having french fries or Coke available.  What if Hertz was consistently inconsistent in having midsize cars?  What if whatever company  was consistently inconsistent in delivering an advertised product or service?

It wouldn’t take too many occurrences of missed expectations before you would stop being a regular customer.  The next time I need a quick bite to eat, Panera will not be on the top of my list.

Consistent retail execution is difficult, especially across 1100 locations (including franchises), but it’s really important.  I don’t know if the failure to execute consistently in my local Panera is representative of the overall chain, but that really doesn’t matter to me as a customer.  What is clear to me is that Panera is not managing this little problem at my store and as I recently wrote, ensuring that the little things are done right (like having the soups listed on your website) is critical to driving loyalty.


15 comments so far

  1. David Reich on

    Doug, I’ve been to Panera a few times and I like their food and their ambiance. Not sure if they have outlets in NYC — I’ve been to them up in Maine and Mass.

    I agree with you that Panera blew it by not making sure all their local stores have featured items. And the clerk’s response was reflective of poor training. My limited experience with Panera has been good, but yours, as a frequent customer, is not promising. If that’s typical of their service, then they’re leaving themselves wide open for an imitator to come in and just do a better job.

  2. Doug Meacham on

    Hi David, I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on NextUp. I’m not in the marketing or customer experience business, but if you have read some of my other posts, you’ll see that’s where my passion lies. I expect that Panera, like lots of retail operations, executes across a spectrum from so-so to great. In today’s retail environment, customers have come to expect consistent, flawless execution. Managers of these operations must ensure that the expectations they set are consistently met or risk losing the loyal customer to the imitator.

  3. dallas meow on

    Woulda asked the mgr for a discount on future visit then maybe eaten something different that one night – one can only be so picky … you know?

  4. Doug Meacham on

    Hi Dallas, Thanks for the comment. I would have done just that and probably would not have even asked for the discount if it was for me. But, alas, it was for my wife and she can be that picky 🙂

  5. Nick on

    I work at a Panera Bread in North Carolina, and we do have every featured soup each day it is advertised to be there. The issue, however, is that after the lunch rush, we will often run out of a certain popular featured soup and not have enough time to prepare more for the evening. Often it is tricky to foresee sales of any given product and prepare enough of it for the day. Sales are not consistent, so therefore, our product offerings can not be perfectly consistent. This being said, it sounds to me like the location being referred to here may have some slack management that may not be quite as on top of things when it comes to keeping things prepped to sell.

  6. jessica on

    Panera Bread is a franchised concept and not all franchises have the same products on the same days as the corporately-owned store does.

  7. Derek on

    Nick’s comment hits the mark — Panera runs out of stuff. The problem is that they consistently run out of things for the evening crowd. Their focus is currently on breakfast (muffins, bagels, coffee) and lunch (90% of the menu), and they’ve made some attempt towards the evening market with the Crispani thing. But when I want Panera, I don’t want bread with melted cheese on it, I want a sandwich and a soup.

    My wife and I used to go to Panera as a “standard stop” for a quick dinner, usually a few times a month. Eating at 7, usually the best items on the menu are long gone, and you’re forced to pick something else. It doesn’t take much of that to give up on the restaurant and simply eat somewhere else (where you know what’s on the menu is actually available to buy).

  8. Greg on

    If you read on the corporate website it says to call your local restaurant because soups differ regionally.

  9. Barista on

    I like working at Panera. I make good sandwiches and great coffee. Plus free food food. Yea!

    These are our best sellers.

    Chicken Frontega
    chicken ceasar salad
    Harvast salad
    Brocoli soup
    Potato soup
    tomato soup

  10. Josh on

    I have a solution! eat somewhere else and stop bitching.

  11. Elen on

    My family and I used to love Panera Bread so much. NOT anymore. I already stopped eating sandwiches from Panera because I have gotten burnt sandwiches twice from the Kenwood and Mason-Montgomery locations in Cincinnati. One time in Kenwood, I paid for coffee and waited 15 min to get it. Then the manager checked the coffee machine and decided to make coffee from beans that they have already used… it was crazy and I left. We have been getting French baguettes for several years now; it is my family’s favorite bread at Panera. I use to buy this bread, fresh and just-baked, without any problems at any time. BUT For the past two months, anytime we come in to get a baguette, they are out, even if we come during midday, especially from 4 to 5. I use to talk with the manager but no changes. People who are working in Panera said the policy has been changed and they don’t have any baguettes by 4pm. The same situation at the Kenwood location. Today I drove to two places. Kenwood was first – they had a couple of baguettes in the basket right where you buy the bread. People can touch them and sneeze and cough on them… I have talked with the manager about this problem before. But no changes. I don’t feel safe buying bread with bacteria’s, especially with the H1N1 virus going around. I am very upset because I don’t want go to Panera anymore. Could you tell me more about what your new policy is??? Why can’t I buy fresh or even any French baguettes in Panera anymore? Thank you!

    • someone on

      I know in our store they have changed the way we make bagettues we used to bake them ourselves now i guess the bakers at the end of the night half way and we finish them throughout the day. but heres what i think is happening your store just isnt staying on top of making them through the day. and at night they only give us so much dough to bake and when the dough is gone its gone. its because we dont use old bread we donate verything at the end of the night. So they want us to have to many left over at the end they calculate how many to give us by our sales for the past 3 days

  12. someone on

    SO I will tell you why your fav soup was not up there its because the use the old yesterdays soup to try and get rid of it instead of just pitching so if you wanted potatoe on sat there going to get rid of clam from fri or whatever days they are on..instead of just using potatoe.

  13. linda lance on

    my first visit was to the panera bread in west caldwell the young lady that waited on me was named tiara she was so poliete.and helpfull.I could not beleive it that the people up north could be so nice and helpfull.she even helped me to my table..I really enjoyed my first visit to panera bread up north,because i was always told that the people up norht was rude.but the truth be told it was all the opposite..i had ordered the soup and sandwitch…i really would like to thank the people at the west caldwell panrea bread for having such nice people there to help an elderly person like myself. THANK YOU VERY MUCH SIGNED LINDA LANCE

  14. amy greani on

    I understand it was rude of that man to address you with a simple no, but at the same time it was probably a bad night for him. Now if it happened a few times that’s inexcusable but I’ve worked in a panera and sometimes you can work 4 or so hours without another coworker on the registers to help you with the customers and when you don’t have a product that’s probably being requested a million times over it just makes the job harder and more stressful seeing as some customers are just rude. So it was probably just a bad night, and I would give that panera another try. If it tends to happen repetitively then that’s another story.

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