My first visit to Panera and my wife's second. She got a grilled cheese that had zero flavor. I got a smoked turkey that was not terrible, but lacking on meat. Since it was a panini they did a half assed job at pressing and toasting it.
In the end it was overpriced for poorly prepared food. Had McDonalds or Arby's offered the same thing would hipsters be so forgiving and continue to hang out and be cool? Arby's market fresh stuff is way better than panera and cheaper.
Similarly, we were going to Panera for lunch last week and the parking lot was full so we went to Wendy's drive thru and ordered salads. Wendy's salads were surprisingly delicious and cheaper than Paneras. Panera might be losing some of our business...
I can contrast the experience with Cheesecake Factory... Got lunch last Saturday and got the soup, salad, sandwhich special for under 10.00 without tip. And was great. not a single complaint.. Well one. the waitress was way too perky.
Panera is not offering it as kid's food, and the government cheese they serve in schools is more flavorful.
That is my point. I believe they are not above the fast food segment in food quality. I think Chipolte does at least provide quality and freshness. Arby's does a better job with its food. But I will stick to the sit down lunch at any number of higher end places that are not chains.