I discovered Panera Bread near my home several months ago while I was searching for where to get coffee in Vegas. I like cafes where I could hang out and work. As a freelance writer and blogger, I love places like this that offer good coffee, delicious fresh-baked bagels, free wifi and power outlets so that I can sit and write for more than 45 minutes (my laptop battery life sucks!).
So I was thrilled when I found the Panera Bread on West Lake Mead Blvd by the 95 freeway here on the west side of Vegas. It has everything I want in a “writer’s café”, and it’s just a few minutes from my home.
It was perfect!
Except that it wasn’t…
Panera Management Could Use A Refresh
I’ve written literally hundreds of articles dealing with business topics like management and marketing. Hundreds. I’ve also had a few supervisor jobs myself, been self-employed for several years and have started several micro-businesses. I’m not a business expert or a success story by any means, but I’ve learned a thing or two about how to run a business and how to screw one up.
One thing that I’ve come to loathe is any manager or employee who makes excuses and accepts problems rather than fixing them, and that’s what I’ve experienced at this location.
At first, I came here every day, sometimes early in the morning and sometimes late at night. I enjoy their hazelnut coffee mixed with decaf (I’m trying to cut caffeine…a little), and their food is good too, but after coming here a dozen times or so, I stopped.
Out of the 10-20 times I came here, I experienced the following problems:
- My cup was FILLED with coffee grounds – twice!
- (UPDATE: THRICE!!!)
- They were out of decaf or out of hazelnut, and I had to wait 15-30 minutes for them to brew a fresh pot (yes, as a blogger I actually keep track of dumb shit like that) – 3 different times!
Oh, also, when I brought the coffee grounds issue to the attention of a manager/supervisor after it had happened to me on two separate visits, the manager smiled and said that it was because the coffee had just been made and that the first couple of cups poured always have grounds in them – and then he walked away.
So this is a KNOWN problem, yet instead of fixing the problem, the managers brush it off and make excuses?
Now, I’m not a coffee snob or a whiner, and I normally wouldn’t give a damn if the manager had said something like, “Sorry, we must have forgotten to dump out the first few cups. Here, let me get you a fresh cup” or something like that. But to tell me that you know about the problem and are able to fix it, yet you don’t do anything about it just tells me that you’re a pretty lousy manager.
This wasn’t just a few coffee grounds swirling around. Every swallow of coffee was literally gritty. And management does…nothing.
Panera Bread Versus Starbucks
Do you know how many times I’ve experienced coffee grounds in my cup at Starbucks?
Try take a guess.
I’ve literally spent OVER A THOUSAND DOLLARS at Starbucks coffee over the past several years, drank HUNDREDS of cups of coffee from them. Guess how many times I had coffee grounds up in there?
Come, on. Play along.
I’ve NEVER ONCE encountered massive quantities of coffee grounds in my cup of coffee at Starbucks. Maybe a few grounds on a rare occasion, but never so many that it was gritty.
Now, maybe it does happen from time to time at Starbucks. Maybe some of you have come across that. That’s understandable. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that it ALMOST never happens and has never happened to me personally. Why is that?
Maybe the managers at Starbucks know how to manage, and they fix problems instead of just blowing them off with a friendly smile?
If you are a manager at Panera Bread, and you KNOW that the first few cups of coffee will be filled with coffee grounds, then why the hell don’t you train your employees to dump the first few cups whenever they make a fresh batch of coffee?
Problem solved, right?
Well…not at Panera.
To their credit, the employees do seem to be well-chosen and well-trained in providing friendly service. I will give them that. That was noticeable on every single visit, and I appreciate that, so kudos to their managers for making good hiring decisions and for training their new hires well to offer friendly service.
But good customer service isn’t just about being friendly.
Good customer service is about solving problems, not blowing them off and making excuses.
As writer and consultant John C. Maxwell is famous for saying, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”
So come on, Panera.
Get your act together.
Update: The Panera Bread iPhone App
I just downloaded the Panera app for my smartphone last week and have already used it three times. I love that the app allows me to:
- order online
- customize my order (e.g. have my bagel sliced and toasted, etc.)
- skip waiting in line at the store
- link Panera MyRewards
- link my Panera gift card
- pay online
- have my coffee and bagel ready to go when I arrive
Those are some cool benefits. Granted, there’s nothing earth-shaking about it, but still — I like it. However, there are some problems with the app and with the in-store service.
You can order for here or to go (“from my table” or “rapid pick up”). But whenever I’ve tried to order from my table, the app won’t show the location I’m at, and I can’t figure out how to search for my location and select it manually for ordering. My phone’s location settings are allowed and my cell data is always on, so that’s not the problem.
Anyway, as a result, I have to order for “Rapid Pick-UP”, which turns out to be both a waste of paper bags and a waste of time.
Panera’s Rapid Pick-Up
Two out of three times, I had to wait over 15 minutes to get my order. In fact, the first time I tried it, I was waiting at the Rapid Pick Up shelf so long that somebody asked me if I needed help, so I told her what was up and she got me a coffee cup. Who knows if my order would have ever been fulfilled. Then, just now (my third time using the app), it took 16 minutes til my order appeared on the shelf (yes, I actually timed it…we went over this already…try to keep up). 😉
So Rapid Pick Up is supposed to have your order ready within 5-10 minutes from the time you order in the app, but the staff needs a little work. The second time might have been late too. I got tired of waiting after a few minutes and got busy writing an article, only to remember like 20 minutes later and go get my order. Anyway, the point is that the staff needs to pick up the pace on their to go orders.
This happened at two different locations — here by my house and the one at Boca Park in Summerlin — so maybe the Rapid Pick-Up service is a new thing and it’s just taking everyone a while to get used to it? Idk maybe. I’m not really in a hurry, so it’s not like I’m mad about it or anything like some customers probably would be if they’re trying to get to work in a hurry. But still, if they’re going to promise my order will be ready in 5-10 minutes, then I think it’s reasonable for me to expect it in that timeframe.
Oh, and before I forget…what’s the deal with customers having to wait for up to half an hour while they brew a new batch of coffee? After getting annoyed and getting my coffee elsewhere for the past few months, I decided to resurrect my morning Panera ritual to come here and write, and what happens? They’re out of fucking hazelnut again lol. It’s not even 9:00 am and they’re out of hazelnut. How long will I have to wait for hazelnut this time?
So I took my half cup of decaf and sat down to write this little rant.
14 minutes later…hazelnut.
Wanna guess how many times I ordered coffee at Starbucks and had to wait 14 minutes to get it?
FINAL UPDATE: Okay, so I figured it’s time for the last word on Panera…
Overall, I really do love coming here; in fact, I come here several times per week now. The food is delicious. The coffee is good. The employees are always friendly and courteous, and they do try to do their jobs well.
My only beef with Panera is that the same problems consistently come up over and over again. While I’ve had some better experiences with the Rapid Pick Up, I’ve still never, ever had my order ready in less than 10 minutes. And I still get loads of coffee grounds in my coffee from time to time.
Okay, I’m done ranting about Panera. Overall, the pros definitely outweight the cons, and if I wasn’t turning into such a grumpy old man, this review probably would have been a lot shorter and less…um…grumpy.
Chris Desatoff is a freelance blogger, cartoonist and gamer. Check out his blog at ChrisDesatoff.com
All text and photos copyright Chris Desatoff 2017