- Panera Bread currently employs around 140,000 people.
- Business Insider spoke to a handful of these employees about what it’s like to work at the national fast-casual chain.
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Panera Bread employs thousands of people across the country.
But what is it like to work at this bread-centric national fast-casual chain?
Business Insider spoke with a number of current and former Panera Bread employees.
They gave us the details on the best and worst parts of working at the restaurant chain, from supportive coworkers to the chaotic drive-thru process.
Here’s what the employees had to say:
Best: Working in a tight-knit atmosphere
- Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images
Four Panera Bread employees praised the restaurant’s supportive, team-oriented atmosphere, citing their coworkers as the best part of the job.
“We are a team and we support each other like family,” one employee said. A different worker said that their fellow employees were mostly “competent” people who “operated at a high standard.”
In at least one case, these close bonds outweigh workplace stressors.
“I have only stayed at Panera because I love my coworkers,” a third employee said.
Worst: Dealing with rude customers
- John Gress / Reuters
“Just like any customer service job, dealing with people who are simply angry at the world is never fun,” one Panera Bread employee told Business Insider. “I don’t feel like I’ve done my job if you don’t leave my café feeling satisfied and it’s hard to accomplish that when someone doesn’t want to leave feeling satisfied.”
A total of seven employees said that negative interactions with customers were the worst part of the gig.
“If I never work in the food industry again, it’ll be too soon,” one employee said.
A different employee added, “People can be really hurtful. You just have to cry it out in the bathroom and move on.”
One employee questioned the restaurant’s adherence to the mantra “the customer is always right.”
“Nine out of ten customers I served at Panera were fantastic and either caused no problems or were very nice and pleasant to us,” the employee said. “One out of 10, however, were quite nasty and rude, and were only rewarded by their behavior from management.”
The employee explained that these diners would often take advantage of the restaurant by making minor or false complaints to management. They described an encounter with one drive-thru customer who demanded both a refund and a free new meal after making a “trivial complaint” about their $90 order.
“This caused us to have 30-minute ticket times for some people behind this person – who refused to move,” the employee said. “Instead of our managers telling them to buzz off, we ended up causing lots of our good customers to wait extreme amounts of time.”
Best: Learning how to handle conflict
There is one significant upside to juggling angry customers, busy kitchens, and the chaos of the lunch rush, according to two employees.
“As a younger employee, Panera has taught me how to deal with people yelling at me,” one worker told Business Insider.
A different employee said that their “customer service skills have skyrocketed” thanks to the restaurant.
“I have learned really valuable problem-solving skills, and I have been given the opportunity to learn and grow as a leader in ways I never expected,” the employee said.
Worst: Running up against management
A total of four Panera Bread employees complained about district and store management.
Two employees specifically said that managers moved around too much, leading to an “inconsistent” work environment.
According to employees, these management issues result in a lack of recognition for employees, chronic understaffing, low inventory, and conflicts with the restaurant’s catering crew.
“It is always madness and there is not a day that I work that I don’t leave with a headache,” one employee said.
Best: Saving money on food
Panera Bread employees get an employee discount of 65%. According to three employees who spoke to Business Insider, that’s one of the job’s best perks.
One employee who began working at a brand-new Panera Bread restaurant told Business Insider that they were able to snag an even better deal on the food. Because they got in “on the ground floor,” they were permitted to try out the pastries before the restaurant officially opened.
“I ended up bringing hundreds of dollars of pastries and baked goods home that would have otherwise been thrown away,” the employee said. “It was great to be able to donate it to my school and other families.”
The employee said that once the store opened, Panera Bread began donating excess baked goods to local charities, but “they allowed us to take one to two things home at the end of each night, if we asked.”
Best: Earning a good starting wage
- Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Three employees told Business Insider that the starting pay at Panera Bread is decent for the restaurant business, although one added that this is “dependent on the market.”
A fourth employee added that they appreciated the business’ flexibility when it comes to shift times.
Worst: Tackling the drive-thru
One employee singled out Panera Bread’s drive-thru as the worst part of working at the restaurant.
“Panera Bread’s food is not designed to be served through a drive-thru,” the employee said. “The expectation of customers to be served quickly – like they would at McDonald’s – ultimately causes a lot of frustration for both customers and us. This is through no fault of the customer, as Panera markets it as the same type of speedy service one would get through one of our competitors drive-thrus.”
The problem is, according to the employee, that Panera Bread sandwiches take longer to prepare. The worker said that this issue tends to snowball during lunch or dinner rushes, when drive-thru customers are putting in larger orders.
“It’s not the fault of the customer, but these orders would take an average of probably five to 10 minutes, depending on the crew and equipment,” the employee said. “This doesn’t even account for any mistakes made by the crew – if there were mistakes we could be looking at 15 to 20 minute ticket times.”
The employee recommended that Panera Bread offer either a limited menu for drive-thru customers or a maximum purchase price.
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