What the hell is happening to Panera Bread?

Posted by brilokuloj on Mar 29, 2024

A collage of various things said about Panera Bread on Reddit.

There are so many more important things I could be worrying about right now. Like that I’m getting my very first major surgery in just a few days! Or how I need to schedule my sleep studies because I haven’t slept well in months. Or the state of the internet making it harder for me to sell commissions. Or that I should really be writing my story right now. Or this year’s wildfire season.

But of all the things happening in the world right now, there is one question that burns so hot in my mind, I just can’t hold it in.

What the hell is happening to Panera Bread?


My story begins with a time-honored 21st century pastime… Googling the food I was eating. You see, one fateful morning I was snacking upon the mediocre chocolate croissants that Lucas had brought home from Walmart, when it got into my head to Google search the words “chocolate croissant”. And what did I find but a thread from Reddit’s r/Panera, titled:

Chocolate croissant???

The post, from July 2023 (8 months ago as of the time of me writing this), is simple and sweet:

I ordered a chocolate croissant today and got this? It had regular chocolate inside. The ones I’ve ordered before have looked like the second photo and were much better. Is this a separate menu item or are they changing it?

This opened up a whole door of questions I didn’t even know I had to consider. Panera had chocolate croissants? And now they were worse? The croissant in the image was hysterical, a puck of bread. Everyone in the comments seemed really upset about recent menu changes. I couldn’t help but be intrigued.

Such began my descent into –

The Subreddit

The first thing a keen-eyed Redditor will notice is that the Panera subreddit is run almost entirely by employees. This is a bad sign.

You can learn a lot about a business and its practices through its Reddit presence. Even the little details – like downvotes being disabled – say a lot. But a bigger place of interest is the flairs. In theory, flairs are meaningless decor you can place on your posts; in practice, they’re often used as post categories. And the categories of post you can make in the Panera subreddit are downright hysterical. Here are the most common ones I witnessed, abbreviated for readability:

But it doesn’t end there; we’ve got plenty more to explore in this beautiful and crazy world. Let me take you on a tour…

One user has made multiple posts (1) (2) where they describe the chicken as “diabolical”, something which I think is going to live in my mind forever. God dammit.

A refrigeration technician asks “Why do you eat at Panera?” only to discover that this is an employee-run subreddit, and that all the employees agree. Quite a lot of posts are like this, actually.

Over here, you’ll find lots of fun food discoveries, like bugs, the Only-Tomato Sandwich, the world’s smallest bagel, and Panera’s experimental Frisbee muffins.

OK, less amazing: out of all of the fast food subreddits I’ve read in my 10+ years of using Reddit, this one has by far had the most posts I’ve ever seen complaining about homeless people. Come on, guys, do better.

Oh, and then there’s the Charged Lemonade posts.

Beware of Charged Lemonades

In April 2022, Panera introduced their new Charged Lemonades to remarkably little fanfare – so little that I couldn’t find any kind of news post to quote here. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later, when they rolled out their Unlimited Sip Club free refills service, that the lemonades got the spotlight.

So, to be clear, Panera’s Charged Lemonade is an energy drink disguised as ‘caffeinated lemonade’. It has 390 milligrams of caffeine in a large 30-oz drink, just 10 shy of the FDA-recommended maximum per day. That’s 13 mg per oz, and I don’t think you understand how much caffeine that is. Compare that to Red Bull, the stereotypical energy drink, which clocks in at 9 mg per oz… or Bang Energy, which is much denser at 19 mg per oz, but caps out at 300. And also, you know, it’s fucking labeled as an energy drink.

Even then, I would estimate that over half of my readers have debilitating ADHD (hi, I love you, thanks for getting this far into my unhinged Panera Bread infodump), so that amount of caffeine probably doesn’t phase you at all. Here’s where the real darkness sets in: the Charged Lemonades are included in their free refills subscription. People are getting multiple of these in a day.

In its two years of existence, it has killed two people and left another with a permanent heart condition.

I did actually get the chance to finally try the Lemonade That Kills People when Lucas got a free 3-month Sip Club membership from, of all things, his Petsmart loyalty membership.

starsystemerror: It felt like I was bringing home radioactive material.

I drank less than half of it. The flavor was what I’ve always imagined battery acid would taste like.

Share Appreciation With the Team in Your Own Words

Oh, hey, did you know that Panera Bread is laying off their bakers and switching to frozen bread?

Neither did the employees!

There’s a sad image here, though I struggle to put it to words. What makes me especially sad is that I never particularly liked Panera Bread, so I don’t have any deep history with the restaurant, yet I can tell this is a deep loss for everyone who did care.

Like… OK, by now most of you know how I am about Taco Bell. You remember the whole gutting-the-menu arc. It’s my #1 autism samefood. I would survive on a desert island if I could order Cravings Boxes. I would be fine with my ashes being kept in a Taco Bell soda cup. You get the idea. And from the looks of it (and personal stories Lucas told me about his sibling), there’s definitely people like that for Panera Bread. So what the hell is the company doing?

I chiefly associate Panera Bread with the middle class, something Lucas does agree with me on, as his childhood friend’s wealthy mom was obsessed with the place. But he’s got a bit of nostalgia for it himself, even if he did nearly pass out from a blood sugar spike once from eating their mac-n-cheese in a bread bowl.

Wait, seriously? Carbs served in a bowl of carbs? God dammit, I actually kinda want to try it. GETTING OFF TOPIC

Anyway, I’ve been to Panera Bread like, once. My mom took me there, I wanna say maybe when I was a teenager. If you held me at gunpoint I could not tell you what I ordered off of the menu because I did look up what it looked like around the time I would have visited and I cannot find a single thing my picky teenage ass would have eaten. Maybe the Chicken Pomodoro? I was obsessed with paninis at the time (because of my beloved Norpaco panini roll) and I just remember spending most of the meal picking green stuff out of it.

So yeah, I don’t have the fond memories other people seem to have. Which is why, instead of spending half of this article bitching about how hard it is to get people to take my food sensitivities seriously, I turned to my forums to ask for personal stories. Faultychips had this to share:

I actually like Panera a good bit, though I haven’t been to one in probably over a year. I used to go more often when there was one right next to my childhood dentist office, since after each visit my family got Panera afterwards. When I was younger I would only ever get a pastry (usually cherry) and maybe one of their Cinnamon Crunch bagels, but within the last few years I dared to try their sandwiches, and I actually really like their Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwiches. Their smoothies are usually good enough too. I’m not Panera’s diehard defender by any means, but I do think that their food is honestly pretty good. I can at least call it better than Subway, and I like Subway.

Out of all of the fast food restaurants shooting themselves in the feet over and over ever since 2020, Panera’s decline is the most baffling to me right now. Even as someone who has remarkable (and perhaps unnecessary) disdain for the place, I can’t help but feel bad watching it happen.

And then

There was

The Outage

On March 23, 2024, Panera Bread faced a system outage across the nation – everything they hosted online was now down. Employees could not access their schedules, the store’s inventory, recent orders, or even their paycheck; customers were barred from coupons, rewards, Sip Club drinks, or ordering through the app. Customer service went down, so stores became swamped with calls, having to tell people over and over that they cannot take orders over the phone.

Here’s a preview:

What has Panera said about this?

Panera Bread says: We're working on it.

And then they came back online with no explanation.

Barely any media coverage. No closure. The leading theory on the subreddit is that it was a ransomware attack – that’s the only thing I can imagine that would explain their complete silence on the matter. But then, why don’t customers get to know if their information was compromised or not?

And, get this: for many stores across the nation, this was happening at the same time as the new menu rollout.

So, again, I beg you: what the hell is happening to Panera Bread?

Tagged: panera bread fast food 2023 2024 caffeine reddit now with more bugs