Panera is a chain of bakery/sandwich/soup/salad places, but it’s at the healthier/more respectable end of chains (like Chipotle or even Starbucks).  There’s one basically in between home and work, in the Tukwila Southcenter mall area, and I have taken to (a) getting breakfast there infrequently and (b) eating the soup/salad combo there, also infrequently.  I have now gone there for a sufficient variety of meals that I feel capable of reviewing it, and in addition, I can talk about their rewards program!

One thing I really like about Panera is that their meal selection is interesting enough that you feel like the choices are different (sandwich selections feel very different, and they always have 5-7 soups available), but you aren’t overwhelmed with choice like you might be at a sit-down restaurant.  It fits in that perfect niche between fast-fast food and the slower Whistle Stop style venues.  Also, bread bowls for soup are like the best thing ever and they are EQUAL in price to regular bowls there – mindboggle!  My recommendation for breakfast is their French Toast Bagel, but their breakfast sandwiches are quite good as well.  Price is where I’d expect it, around +$0 to +$1 over Starbucks or so for equivalent items.  I rarely pay more than $6 for a breakfast or $10 for a lunch there.

Their rewards program, My Panera, has got to be the best thing ever.  Or maybe it’s just intended to seem like the best thing ever.  There are no points or plans involved – just sometimes, you get free stuff.  Very Skinneresque in nature, quite effective.  I got a free espresso drink and a free pastry fairly quickly toward the beginning of my purchases (within 5 meals or so?) so my guess is they weight newcomers more highly, which makes a lot of sense.  Regardless, it seems to be a great way to convince people to keep coming back, so props to them.

Overall: A-
Bread Bowl Bonus: 5 pts
Added Loyalty Due to Operant Conditioning: Moderate