Panera Bread is known for quite a few things. They have really good soups that always seem to hit the spot. Their sandwich and salad combo can be a lifesaver at lunchtime. Their macaroni and cheese tastes so delicious that it’s basically addictive. Their green tea is kind of legendary. And, of course, their bread is always worth getting. This might be a fast-food chain restaurant, but with the seating arrangements, the seemingly healthier menu options, and the slightly more upscale feel than, say, a McDonald’s, it’s easy to act like it isn’t.
But like any other restaurant, there are Panera Bread secrets that only employees are privy to.
Aside from the various popular menu items, Panera Bread is also know for being a healthier fast food option and for serving up food that is generally more fresh than similar places out there.
But as it turns out, those two ideas about Panera may not be quite as true as everyone thinks…
…And while that shouldn’t turn you off from eating there, it’s still something you should be aware of.
That’s why we compiled a list of interesting secrets about Panera you wouldn’t know unless you worked there — or if you read below.
1. The beloved soups are…frozen.
We don’t mean to break your heart or anything but yes, it is true.
In a thread, Reddit user KasperAura said:
“All our soups are indeed made fresh, but they’re frozen into giant blocks and then dropped into a fridge-like box of really hot water to defrost them.”
All of those soups that you love so much were frozen before you ate them.
They still taste good, but imagine how much better they must be when they’re fresh?
Another Reddit user, Miroku2235, explained:
“The soups are made at a factory/plant/etc., flash-frozen, shipped to us, and we thaw it out in what’s called a thermalizer, essentially a soup-thawer. The bag is never cut open until we pour it into the pans up on the service line.”
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But it’s worth knowing that the soup was not made fresh in-house.
2. There’s a good reason why they’re frozen, though.
Panera Bread has provided us with a reason for freezing their soups, and it actually makes sense a lot of sense when you think about it.
Reddit user dlnvf6 explained:
“I know it’s not maybe the best thing to hear, but Panera wants to make sure that the soup is consistent from store to store. If we made it in house, one store might have significantly better soup. There’s really no other way to keep it consistent unless we do it the way we do.”
3. The bread is made fresh in each store.
Well, kind of. More like the bread is baked fresh. Let us explain.
Reddit user Ithaca_Alexandria revealed:
“I do really bake the bread. The bread is just mixed at a big factory and then transported to us every night/morning, so we can let it rise.”
Basically, the bread is mixed together somewhere else…
…but actually baked in the store each day. So long as each store’s oven is set up correctly (and, you know, set to the right temperature), the bread should be consistent between each and every location!
4. The croutons are made in-house, too.
The croutons are also made in each store, which is a pretty interesting detail to consider.
According to an anonymous employee speaking to Refinery29:
“They did make their own croutons! I did that sometimes — you would take a sourdough loaf and put it through the bread slicer both ways, then mix the bread slices with the Caesar dressing, and put them in the oven.”
That explains why they taste so good!
Wonder if they’re easy enough to make at home, too?
5. Panera donates unsold bread and pastries.
Since they bake their bread every single day, it makes sense that there could potentially be a lot of leftovers that go to waste if they happen to have a slow day.
Fortunately, though, Panera donates their unused bread.
Reddit user Miroku2235 explained:
“We never threw our bread out, we always had a person from a local food kitchen, charity, etc. come and get it the following morning.”
6. There are a few items that might not be as fresh as you’d like them to be.
This is probably one of your least favorite things to think about, but the reality of modern fast-food distribution seems ot be that not everything is as fresh as we’d like to think.
Reddit user Cathat52 said:
“Anything with turkey or ham. All of our meats come in these vacuum-sealed bags with this really disgusting smelling liquid we have to drain out.”
She also added:
“Anything with feta. I have accidentally served multiple customers moldy feta because I thought a piece of gorgonzola just slipped its way in.”
Ever wonder what an employee would never order after seeing how things go down?
Well, now you have a pretty good idea what that might be, at least at Panera Bread restaurants…
And, sorry, but the avocados might be suspect as well.
Reddit user angry_jets_fan said:
“Also avocados usually sit out open for a number of hours. They are fine around lunchtime but as the day goes on, they get older.”
7. But the fruit is all freshly chopped daily
So at least you can rest assured that the fruit your enjoying is freshly chopped, even if we still don’t know whether it was previously frozen or not…
One Reddit user explained:
“The fruits are fresh-cut that morning or previous night. The sliced meats and such are in vacuum-sealed pouches until cut open and panned that morning.”
…And as we learned above, those sliced meats also come with a healthy dose of gross juice as well.
8. The tea machines probably aren’t cleaned as often as they should be.
We have one word for you: mold.
One former employee told My Recipes:
“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).”
If you love Panera’s tea, this might be hard to hear.
Absolutely no one wants to imagine that their delicious iced beverage could have something unsavory floating about in it, but this might just be the sad reality – at least at the Panera this person worked at. Yikes.
The former employee continued:
“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.”
9. There are a few secret menu items that are totally worth trying.
In a Quora thread, one employee shared their favorite secret menu items.
One is called “The Sierra Turkey…
…and is made with “asiago focaccia bread with our chipotle mayonnaise, red onions and smoked chicken, and a couple other delicious ingredients.”
Keep the secrets coming, we’re listening.
The employee also suggested getting a vanilla iced coffee, saying, “ask for an iced coffee, fill it up in the dining room, then kindly ask the associate at the order pickup counter to add a couple pumps of vanilla to it. Best cheap coffee ever.”
They also suggested the BBQ Avocado Flatbread…
…Which you make by replacing “the smoked chicken with avocado in the BBQ Chicken Flatbread, it’s vegetarian and amazing.”
I used to work at Panera Bread when I was in high school. The Sierra Turkey was a real sandwich on the menu back then! And so was The Turkey Artichoke panini. They were delicious.
10. There are rumors of a “Mother Bread”
Some Panera fans have heard rumors of there being a mother loaf of bread from which all the existing bread has been made.
One Reddit user tried to get the details, but the mystery continues.
“I think they might be referencing Mother Bread. Maybe the theory that all the bread comes from a single strain.”
Is it possible that every loaf of bread really uses the same yeast or starter from an original loaf of Panera Bread?
Someone out there must know the answer – hopefully they speak up and reveal the truth…sooner than later.,
11. Some employees get lucky and can enjoy some special perks.
What else can you do with a broken pastry, but sample it out among your coworkers?
A Reddit user explained:
“Another former Panera employee here. My store was really lax about employees eating the food, so I ate quite a bit. I worked in the bakery so any time a bakery item broke and we couldn’t sell it we’d split it into pieces and share it with everyone. Oh, and I made myself a dirty iced chai every morning. I think my store was an exception, though.”
12. Order early if you want a bread bowl.
There are few things better than hot soup in a toasty, freshly baked bread bowl, but employees recommend getting there early if you want to snag one.
Reddit user Cathat52 said:
“We only make them in the day and we make as many as we are projected to sell that day based on previous sales and trends.”
Another Reddit user added:
“We run through bread bowls REALLY fast, we prep them at around 10 a.m. or so, preceding the lunch rush. Then we run out at about 4 or 5. Get there early!”
13. You should order your soup later in the day, though.
If you’re looking for soup that’s got more of a “fresh” flavor, then order later in the day.
One employee told My Recipes:
“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.”
14. The macaroni and cheese is also frozen.
If you’re a huge fan of the mac and cheese at Panera Bread, you should probably keep in mind that it also isn’t made fresh in the store.
Sorry, it’s sad but true.
Refinery29 spoke to an employee who wished to remain anonymous, and she said that the macaroni and cheese arrives much like the soup does — frozen in blocks that were heated in a hot water bath.
One Reddit user explained:
“Macaroni and cheese comes frozen in a small bag, and one of these bags is a small (one portion). We throw 12 at a time into the thermalizers in the back, which is essentially a gigantic boiling pot, with specifically marked sections for soups and macaroni.”
15. Also, the food isn’t really as healthy as it seems.
Panera is often considered to be one of the healthier fast food options out there, but that’s not necessarily the case.
On My Recipes, a former employee wrote that some of the menu items are packed with calories:
“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.”
They also explained that the soups are super high in sodium, so if you’re watching your salt intake, avoid them.
They continued by noting that:
“…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.”
16. Even the salads can be unhealthy, but there are ways to make them better.
A salad might seem like your best option, calorie-wise, but that’s not always the case.
In a Quora thread, one employee wrote:
“In most salads, your greatest enemy calorie-wise is the dressing. Even the ‘healthier’ low-fat/no-fat options can lead you astray. Many people eat their salads with nothing more than lemon juice as the dressing. Some rely on the flavors of the other veggies and use no dressing at all.”
17. The soup of the day is determined by customers.
Have you ever wondered how they pick the soup of the day?
According to one Reddit user:
“Soup schedule varies by store for a few reasons. My store has potato soup every single day because of how many people requested it. It varies by store/region.”
So, if you want to see more of a certain soup, start ordering it a lot!
As a frequent customer, your dollars can go a long way – so keep that in mind!
18. You can modify almost any menu item.
They might not always advertise it, but according to one Reddit user, you can modify any menu item into what you want it to be.
For example, in a Quora thread, one employee wrote:
“You can change your bread to whatever you want, and I definitely encourage it. Some sandwiches are on breads that just don’t make sense. I’m looking at you Turkey Avocado on Sour Dough. Nobody should have to deal with the hassle of fitting that big sandwich on such a small piece of bread. It’s a mess.”
19. Prices really do increase often.
Do you ever feel like the prices are constantly going up? That’s because they kind of are.
Reddit user Miroku2235 said:
“Prices seemed to jump up every 5-6 months. Seemed like every time we had a new ‘celebration’ to talk about new items, our cashiers would be told about a price increase due to cost of ingredients.”
Do you know have any Panera Bread secrets of your own?