HOME > Chowhound > Chains >


Panera for lunch -- NEVER AGAIN!

Saturday I was in a hurry, so against my better judgment I hit Panera at the Leesburg Corner (VA) Factory Outlets for lunch. I tried the new Napa Chicken Salad Sandwich. The Napa Chicken Salad has almonds and sounded good.

For $6.89 I got a puny sandwich and a small bag of chips. The chicken salad was fine, but the value was utterly lacking.

Once again, Panera promises more than it delivers. They must want you to be so hungry that you'll buy a pastry.

BTW, this Panera is part of a "murderer's row" that also includes Bob Evans and TGIFridays. If there are three worse choices for non-breakfast, I'd like to see them.

And for those who might find themselves at the outlets, the food court in the outlets is even worse. Try the Blue Ridge Grill, which is just a few minutes away.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Bob - while I greatly respect your opinions, and by no means am I a fan of Panera, but you cant walk out of Burger King or McDonalds for less than $7 and Im guessing the food quality at Panera is much higher.

    A dollar just doesnt go as far as it used to

    3 Replies
    1. re: joe777cool

      In my experience, good food quality at Panera is a thing of the past.

      1. re: joe777cool

        Joe -- I was more miffed with the quantity than the quality. The sandwich was just too skimpy.

        For half the price I could have had two McDoubles, and a Value Fries at McD's and been at least as satisfied.

      2. thanks for the heads up on blue ridge grill. since i looked it up, i thought others might like to see the place's site: http://www.brgrill.com/index.html

        bob, what are the prices like -- say, for a burger at lunch?

        1 Reply
        1. re: alkapal

          alka -- for a good lunch, burger or salad, say, roughly $8-12. The burgers are very good -- I usually get the royale with cheese (Pulp Piction fans take note) but my favorite item is the Brentwood Salad, which comes with several sizeable chunks of lightly fried chicken.

        2. I used to like going to the Panera in Williamsburg. This was last year. They had a good deal on half a big sandwich, plus soup and chips or fruit. Do they still do deals like that? Never had anything I didn't like there. Have also tried Panera in California, Illinois and Washington State. The free wi-fi is a bonus.

          1. It's a fast food joint. It's only a bad value if there's a better deal nearby, otherwise it's no worse than any other option.

            5 Replies
            1. re: ferret

              I've only been to Panera once and that was about 3 years ago. I didn't like it then and couldn't understand what all the hype was about. Glad I haven't been back.

              1. re: jesoda

                I've never eaten at a Bob Evans.


                1. re: jesoda

                  i ate at a panera a few years ago. it was awful. it was 10 mintues before closing so i guess they just gave me cold sandwiches. i think they were ice cold too.

                  btw to people saying you cant eat at mcdonalds or wendys for cheap..yo ucan get 3 double cheeseburgers and a frosty for 4 dollars. if youre feeling like more desert get 3 more cookies for a total of 5dollars and twenty five cent.

                  1. re: RCTRIPLEFRESH5

                    I will do that! Three double cheeseburgers and a frosty then three cookies for $5.25! What a deal!

              2. Panera is ok for what it is - sandwiches on various breads, some of which are reasonably tasty for fast food. I do not eat there frequently, but there are times I do not want the grease of burger & fries when I am looking for a quick bite on the run. My kids are fans of the big chocolate chip cookies, although that is not much of an endorsement, since they are fans of just about any cookies.

                1. Bob, I know what you mean. What I didn't like about the chicken salad sandwich I had there was that there was SO much bread for the amount of filling. The same amount of chicken salad on smaller bread would have been much more satisfying, even though it would be less food!
                  I haven't actually had a meal there in ages but when a friend and I meet there to visit we each buy a loaf of bread (i always get their least expensive one which is a baguette) and sit there eating bread and butter with our drinks. When it's time to go we close up our bags and take the rest home for the family. Cheap thrills. :)

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: fern

                    I would of asked to speak to a manager and returned the sandwich/demanded a refund/a new sandwich if it was reallly so tiny. Maybe the person who made your sandwich was not attune to what the portion size was, or they used the wrong scoop!

                    You should of spoke up in the restaurant then. What good are you accomplishing now here on the board ..??

                    Definetly should of spoke up...

                      1. re: RCTRIPLEFRESH5

                        How else would you get chicken salad from container to croissant? Or whatever bread is chosen.

                      2. re: Woof Woof Woof

                        I definitely agree with you Woof. I don't get when people complain here but are not proactive in "real life."

                        1. re: Jacey

                          Some things are not worth raising a public stink about. For example, the incident in my original post on this thread. The sandwich was way overpriced, but it didn't taste horrible, and the place was very crowded and full of surly shoppers. Sure, I could have bullied some of the poor shlubs behind the counter but did not think to do so.

                          I just don't understand why you are criticizing someone who took the time to post helpful information.

                          1. re: Bob W

                            I'm saying it's good to be proactive about these types of things. The only way these types of places change is if they get customer feedback.

                            I think this was more your opinion about your particular experience. I have found their sandwiches to be more than filling.

                            1. re: Jacey

                              I think you're getting to the point. The experience was not worth seeking out a manager in a crowded restaurant. It's not like they gave me some rotten chicken. For "poor value" in a fast-food joint you send an email to corporate, you don't bother with some underpaid on-site manager/flunky who has no control over portion size.

                              I have had very good experiences with emails to national chains, such as Corner Bakery and PF Changs.

                    1. Their free wi-fi, and being up front on a sign when you walk in the door or when you log in about when you need to limit the use, combined with free drink refills, and often outlets to plug in and recharge your laptop pretty much will bring me back. That and the cinnamon crunch bagels. I've never had a bad experience there.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Firegoat

                        Ahhh. Well that explains then. So the Panera Chicken Salad Sandwich was not lousy per se. And no hard feelings Bob. I was just suggesting in the future, next time you receive food, and it looks "puny" or you know it looks as though maybe someone ate half your meal so to speak, SPEAK UP RIGHT AWAY! And no need to "bully" anyone.
                        You can be nice about it, tell a manager politely whats wrong, smile, and sometimes thats all it takes.
                        its your hard-earned money, who cares if the place is crowded or there are "surly shoppers"... they are not buying lunch/dinner for you.

                      2. Love their chicken chipotle sandwich until I realized how many calories were in it.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ArrowSmith

                          When I find myself there, I usually go with half a sandwich and the chicken noodle soup, and it ends up being reasonably tasty and filling without having an insane number of calories.

                          1. re: beachmouse

                            Yeah but the Chicken Chipotle is so delish. I can feel my arteries hardening just talking about it !

                          2. re: ArrowSmith

                            The key is special ordering (laying off the obvious cheese, mayo, spreads) and getting the "boring" bread.

                            1. re: ArrowSmith

                              I felt the same way about the Frontera (Frontega? I can't remember which) Chicken...so good, but AWFUL for you.

                            2. In my opinion, you can't compare Panera very well with most other fast food places. I eat at a local St. Louis Bread (Panera) a lot. I don't like eveyrthing on the menu, and I don't expect gourmet food. But the food is usually better than at a burger place, and it is wholesome. You don't get fried food at Panera. You have a much better choice of salads. You get a choice of several soups, incl. vegetarian and low fat. You don't have to buy an extra pastry. I surely don't. I don't understand the reference to a puny sandwich. The sandwiches I buy are not puny, although I don't think they are always well-made.

                              What you do get at a Panera, is a place to linger with friends, if you want, a place that allows you to use your laptop w/ no problem, a place to have a working lunch, a place for the family or the out-of-school kids to congregate at. And, you feel fairly good about the food choices you can make.

                              I also disagree about the breakfasts. The choices have improved greatly from the days when breakfast was a bagel plus cream cheese. I generally prefer a breakfast there, to almost any other place. There is no way that Panera is "like" Bob Evans! Or the local pancake house. You don't go there for a heavy breakfast, or pancakes and sausage. That's not kind of place it is.

                              After a visit to Williamsburg last year, during which we had two very good meals, and some other awful ones, we were so delighted to find a Panera we could hit for breakfast before we left town. We knew what we would get there, and that we could be on our way fairly quickly.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: sueatmo

                                "I generally prefer a breakfast there, to almost any other place. There is no way that Panera is "like" Bob Evans! Or the local pancake house. You don't go there for a heavy breakfast, or pancakes and sausage. That's not kind of place it is."

                                They may not have a heavy breakfast, but they sure do provide heavy caloires in almost everything! It's shocking, almost.

                                1. re: Jacey

                                  Jacey, that's one reason I ordered the Napa Chicken Salad sandwich. The whole sandwich was 640 calories, which seemed reasonable. The other sandwiches for which I could see calorie counts were much higher.

                                  And who said anything about a heavy breakfast anyway??

                                  1. re: Bob W

                                    bob, maybe it's that skimpy portion of chicken salad that gets them that low calorie count.

                                    dang, i looked it up, and the chick salad itself is 320 calories, and 220 of those are from fat! the bread is virtually the same amount of calories.

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      Thank you for that link, alkapal.
                                      All I ever order at Panera is brocolli soup with a baguette - 470 calories. I always knew brocolli-cheese soup was not a diet food so I am not at all surprised.
                                      My son always orders the cinnamon crunch bagel with honey walnut cream cheese. Those 580 calories are not a surprise to me either.
                                      We rarely go to Panera Bread but when we do we always enjoy ourselves. I usually bring home an extra-large sourdough loaf sliced thin and it never lasts very long.

                                      1. re: Sensuous

                                        broccoli not brocolli neither spelling looks right to me


                                        1. re: Sensuous

                                          broccoli *is* a weird word. btw, for future reference, you can edit your post for up to two hours.

                              2. I'm jealous that you got chips. The last (only) time we've been to Panera, we ordered the sandwiches (mediocre) and requested a "meal." They only had two sides: an apple or a mini-loaf of bread. We've never been back.

                                That said, I was at a seminar a week ago, and Panera did the catering for the continental breakfast. The yogurt and fruit cup was great, with just about the best granola/cereal I have ever eaten. Bagels and rolls were also fantastic. Maybe the lesson is don't go for anything but single-serve breads?

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: mattwarner

                                  matt: did you also find it odd that one of the sides offered with a sandwich was BREAD?? Now, I do like their bread, but that's just silly. I've always seen chips, apple, and maybe carrots.

                                  Then again, since my sandwich was unsatisfying (again, not bad, just small), maybe I should have gone for the bread!

                                  1. re: Bob W

                                    Probably because it is one of the sides offered with the "Pick Two" lunch, which is soup/ salad/ half sandwich. I always get a soup and salad, so the bread is something I may want, if not the apple, that day.

                                    1. re: Cathy

                                      Thanks Cathy -- it makes perfect sense with the Pick Two lunch. I guess they figure they might as well offer the same sides with everything.

                                      1. re: Bob W

                                        Here is a little Panera secret...(at least near Menlo Park Mall in NJ) you can order a pick two lunch...then pick two of the same things. So, half a salad, order another half... etc. :)

                                        Personally, I like Panera when I HAVE to eat lunch out...the smaller portions are perfect for my fussy stomach.

                                  2. re: mattwarner

                                    Agreed. I worked for a company for 5 years that had Panera cater EVERYTHING. The breakfast array was always the best tasting. If I'm on the road really early now I may stop there for coffee and a whole grain bagel or egg thing. But If I ever see another Mediterranean Veggie sandwich with (gross) cilantro hummus again in this life, I'm throwing it out the window.

                                  3. I used to be a Panera addict. On the road all the time I craved meal that seemed of better quality than fast food or a diner. I used to get the Smokehouse Turkey sandwich, Chipotle Chicken sandwich, and Greek Salad with unsettling frequency. One day I happened be on their website looking for locations when I made the mistake of venturing into the nutritional facts area...

                                    Unfortunately this food seems worse for you than fast food in terms of fat and calories. Although I always declined a side the sheer density of the meals made me decide to stop going outright. When you build the side into the meal the caloric intake really hits new heights. Who needs a bowl of soup in a bread bowl with a side of bread or chips anyway...

                                    1. I just got dragged here for lunch by a co-worker that I don't know well. I got the chicken caesar salad sandwich, small bag of chips and a drink. $9.27 later, I lifted up the bread and saw, not exagerating, there was maybe a tablespoon and a half of chicken salad on each half of the sandwich. Seriously? If I was with someone I knew better, I would have gone up and complained, not that I think it would have done much good. Where do they get off charging that much money for that little food? And of course, the place was packed. Whatever. Never again!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: southernitalian

                                        LOL that sounds very familiar, except that you got ripped off even worse than I did!

                                        1. re: southernitalian

                                          I think it depends on who prepares it. I've had that sandwich before and it was a very nice amount. I actually couldn't finish it. At another location it was also a nice size, too.

                                        2. I ate there recently and I agree completely. I got some kind of turkey sandwich on some tomato-basil bread and a bowl of chicken and wild rice soup. The sandwich was tiny and looked like it belongs on a kids menu. The bread had the texture of couch cushion stuffing. There were only 1 or 2 tiny slices of cheap, slimy, processed turkey, along with some unripe, mealy tomatoes and about a quarter teaspoon of some kind of mayo-based condiment. It wasn't there in a sufficient amount to tell what it was. The most flavorful thing on the sandwich was the lettuce. The sandwich tasted like something that came in plastic wrap from the Kroger deli, only with less meat.

                                          The soup tasted like canned soup, really dull and flavorless. It came with chips and a wheat baguette too. The wheat baguette with butter on it was easily the best/most exciting part of the meal, though I'm not sure why I would want to eat a piece of bread with a sandwich. The meal cost like $10 and I was still really hungry afterward despite the mountain of superfluous carbs I just ate (which made up about 95% of the meal).

                                          And the place was PACKED. The line was like 20+ people long. People were lined up like they were camping out for Air Jordans.

                                          Now they're serving these cute little tiny frozen pasta TV dinners that they microwave and hand to you for $9. They put all kinds of buzzwords on them like "San Marzano," "Sicilian" and "rustic." You can get the same thing in a bigger portion for $3 in the freezer section at the grocery store.

                                          I don't understand this place.

                                          1. Thought I would add a recent Panera experience. This was at the Panera in Newton Mass, on Needham St.

                                            Mrs. W ordered some sort of seasonal chicken sandwich with avocado. The chicken was FROZEN. The avocado was hard as a rock. We asked them to fix it. It came back barely edible, with warm lettuce. Simply atrocious.

                                            Had to take Mrs. W to a nearby Papa Gino's.

                                            1. i know this is an old thread, but i like -- scratch that -- LOVE --panera's thai chicken salad. i love it for the crunch and the asian flavors of peppers, edamame, sesame, peanut, hoisin…. http://www.cheeriosandlattes.com/pane...

                                              and i could really embarrass myself with devouring the spinach artichoke soufflé they have on the morning menu.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: alkapal

                                                I'm a huge fan of the "cuban" panini. I know it isn't authentic but it's durn tasty!

                                                1. re: jujuthomas

                                                  yes, mr. alka likes it a lot, too. and it is pretty good, compared with "real" cuban sandwiches. you can't quibble about the size -- really enough for two.

                                                  once i had a craving and got the tuna salad sandwich. meh meh meh.

                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                    I also like the chopped chicken cobb salad... bacon, egg, avocado, what's not to love! ;)

                                                  2. re: jujuthomas

                                                    I went in to Panera for lunch this week because I had my face fixed for a cup of black bean soup and half a Cuban sandwich. Look up at the soup board and the don't have black bean today. Oh well sub something else. Then I ask for the Cuban and I'm told they no longer have it on the menu at all! The youngster behind the counter explains that they no longer stock sweet pickle slices and since they were sort of the most distinctive ingredient for the Cuban sandwich it was collateral damage. I don't know if this was specific to my area or nationwide. Sucks because that was about the only sandwich on the menu I thought was worthwhile.

                                                    1. re: kmcarr

                                                      oh damn! I have a meeting there this week and my tastebuds were all ready for a cuban! hmph.

                                                2. Panera is fine for coffee and some bakery items (the breads are generally good though not stellar...but overpriced).
                                                  The sandwiches are hit or miss at best...but he soups they serve definitely have to be _the_ worst I've ever tasted.

                                                  I have to agree with the others who don't understand the appeal of this place.

                                                  But I do like their scones.

                                                  1. I like Panera well enough. I don't love it, but I have one very close to my house, so I visit it pretty frequently. I try to watch what I eat and am mindful of calorie counts, and I can get a variety of meals there that fit within my calorie allotment. I think another poster mentioned it, but when I want one of their higher calorie sandwiches, I cut this by ordering only half a sandwich and getting a lower calorie cup of soup to complete my meal.

                                                    I don't find the sandwiches puny, and am usually pretty full before completing my entire meal. I don't know, I've visited multiple Panera locations before, and never really had a problem with any of them. The one exception was visiting one by my work and I ordered the tuna salad. The tuna salad was not properly made and had a huge chunk of tuna in it. I mean, maybe not a big deal, maybe even a positive to some, but it wasn't what I ordered or what I wanted.

                                                    1. Since it's already been revived, I'll add my $0.02 to this thread.
                                                      Panera isn't my idea of great, but it's ok compared to the very few other options near my workplace. When the group wants to order from there, I usually get some, too. But every time (and I mean EVERY time) we've ordered, they've screwed it up. Sometimes we are missing a large portion of the order, sometimes there are things included that we didn't order. But the worst was the last time, when we faxed an order ahead so it would be ready at a certain time (written on the top of the sheet in big letters). We got there on time to pick it up and they didn't have the order ready. When I said I had faxed it an hour and a half earlier, she said "oh, you have to call and make sure we got the fax" like I was supposed to know that. The order was on their fax machine, they just apparently never check it unless you call. WTF? So we stood there for 20 minutes while they made the order and walked it back to the workplace, only to find out that they hadn't included the apples or potato chips and I think at least one sandwich was also missing. So I had to walk back again for those items. At that point I told the manager that the least they could do was throw in some cookies for our trouble. She was happy to do that, but it really shouldn't have been so difficult. And the food was just barely ok.

                                                      1. Sorry for your bad meal. Panera is only worth eating when it's free in my opinion, like when someone leaves a box of leftover bagels in the office break room.

                                                        On the other hand I don't want to trash talk them too much because they give a lot of food to homeless shelters. At the shelter I used to work at we would get garbage bags of half stale Panera rolls that were pretty good if you sprinkled them with water and rebaked (and sorted out the moldy ones).

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: RealMenJulienne

                                                          They do do a good thing with the donations... our church serves a free lunch every thursday and we get a weekly donation of pastries from Panera and bagels from Einsteins. Panera used to give us a ton of bread too, but for some reason they stopped. The muffins are YUMMY!

                                                        2. I'll add my $.02
                                                          My sweet Twitter friend in Pennsylvania called Panera once and bought me dinner in LA! I wish I could say I enjoyed it but I didn't.

                                                          Then, for my next birthday, she sent me a $25.00 Paneral gift card! I think the only thing I've used it for was a cup of coffee!

                                                          I don't mind their French baguette, though.

                                                          1. Haha jeez, Panera is relatively new to NYC, but it's funny to hear people complain about the value of a $6.89 sandwich. That same sandwich costs $8-9 in NY.

                                                            I'm not really used to eating at chain restaurants, but I actually like Panera for salads (though I always tell them to hold the shaking-my-head type of weird vaguely "Asiany" ingredients like fried wonton strips). In NYC, it's not that easy to find suburban chain-style entree salads.