A former employee of the popular fast-casual chain provides a behind-the-scenes perspective on what to/not to order and when.
You might assume that a former Panera Bread employee (or a former employee of any fast-casual eatery, for that matter) wouldn’t really care to eat at the place ever again. But even after working there for an entire year, and maybe picking up a “dirty” secret or two about the popular chain, I still eat Panera Bread regularly. It’s tasty, convenient, and has plenty of relatively healthy options on the menu. And that is why my name is noticeably absent from this article. While I stand behind all of the tips below, I’ve still got a Panera card full to the brim with rewards that I’d love to not lose because of angering the corporate powers that be. That said, here are 5 tips to help inform your order at Panera:
Soup = Sodium
Most of Panera Bread’s soup choices are so high in sodium that they take up a major part of your daily allotment. I once had an older couple approach my cash register, asking about a good warm meal to combat the winter weather. After I suggested one of our daily soups, my manager pulled me aside and said “Never suggest soup to the elderly. The sodium is too high.” Implication being, our soup + senior citizens= elevated risk of a stroke. So while calories are openly listed in the restaurant, be sure to check online for the sodium, and other nutrition content, for each menu item.
You Might Want to Skip the Green Tea
While overall, Panera Bread has a stringent cleaning policy, some routine tasks tend to fall through the cracks. You might end up disturbingly close to sipping mold if you order lemonade or green tea from one of the circulating drink dispensers (usually kept behind the counter). While the drink station’s soda machine and tea dispensers are cleaned nightly, the lemonade and green tea dispensers are cleaned maybe monthly. This being the case, black mold builds up between the dispensing tube and the cooling system. While the mold isn’t actually touching the beverage as it is poured—as my manager loved to point out while I gagged and cleaned it—I still wouldn’t exactly call it sanitary. Obviously, I can only speak to what I experienced at my given location of Panera employment… this may not be an issue at every Panera Bread, but I would be cautious with my beverage order all the same.
Order Later for Fresh Soup
Panera Bread adamantly promotes a “waste not, want not” philosophy in their kitchens. Because of this, any leftover soups are bagged up each night and stored in the cooler for the next day’s lunch. This means if you’re hankering for soup, it’s better to order around noon or later, instead of 11 A.M. (when they start serving soups) to avoid getting the previous day’s leftovers.
Just Know, Your Pastry was Probably Frozen
Since bread and baked goods are such big sellers for the company, Panera Bread likes to tout how their products are all freshly baked by trained staff. In reality, a large amount of the bakery products come in frozen and are tossed in the oven when needed. The items that are actually handmade (and never frozen) entail all of the breads and bagels. Otherwise, the majority of goods in the bakery case were created elsewhere, shipped in a freezer, and reheated.
Keep in Mind that Not Everything is Healthy
Many customers incorrectly assume that all menu items are healthy choices since Panera Bread promotes healthy eating and has recently started using only “clean” ingredients. While many of the products are great choices for those looking to maintain a balanced diet, there are some serious calorie-bombs on the menu. A Bacon, Egg, and Cheese on Asiago Bagel starts your day with nearly 700 calories and over 30 grams of fat. For lunch, the bread bowl of clam chowder comes in at over 1,000 calories and half of your daily sodium allotment. And your dessert might taste a little less sweet when you learn the Kitchen Sink Cookie contains 800 calories and 43 grams of fat. If you want to make informed choices, I’d advise downloading the Panera Bread app before your next visit to see all the nutrition facts before you order.