Seven months working on the other side of the counter at Panera Bread taught me two things: to be thankful for being spared from the chill of a Chicago winter, and how to transform a normal Panera Bread experience into one that’s positively mind-blowing.
So I put together seven Panera hacks that will make your time there even better than usual:
1. When buying drinks, always get the small.
Aside from smoothies, lemonade, iced green tea, hot chocolate and made-to-order espresso drinks, all beverages come with free refills. Whether you’re relaxing from a hard week with a warm cup of tea or loading up on caffeine for your all-nighter, don’t waste money on buying the larger sizes. Instead, buy the smallest size cup and refill to your heart’s content.
2. If they get your order wrong, you’re entitled to a free treat.
The sign is small and hidden on the counter, but Panera policy states that if your order is wrong, you can request a free treat. Most of the time they will give you a chocolate chip cookie, but they care so much about their customers that they will often give you another pastry if you ask.
#SpoonTip: Panera tends to bake their pastries all day. If you see a baking rack around with cookies on it, ask for a freshly baked one. It will blow your mind.
3. You can substitute meat for avocado for free.
Say you’re in the mood for a vegetarian salad or sandwich with avocado on it (because who can say no to avocado?). Instead of ordering a vegetarian version of what you want and adding avocado to it (which will cost an extra $1.59), order the meat version and substitute avocado for free. It will almost always set you back less.
4. There are many ingredients that you can add to your entrée for no additional charge.
For you veggie lovers out there, there are many vegetables on the menu that you can add to your salad, sandwich or panini for free. Some of the more exotic ones are a slight upcharge, but you can definitely get in your full 5 day’s worth without hurting your wallet.
5. You can ultimately request whatever you want (within reason).
Generally speaking, if Panera has the ingredients and tools to make the meal that you want, they’ll do it for you. For most dishes, you can ask to take out any ingredients and to add anything that they have in the restaurant, from the bread and type of leaves to the cheese and dressing (though in some cases, you may incur an additional charge).
#SpoonTip: Panera has a lot more ingredients hiding out throughout each bakery-café than you would think. It doesn’t hurt to ask; chances are they have exactly what you’re looking for.
6. If you buy an entrée and a drink, any dessert or pastry becomes $0.99.
The pastries at Panera range from about a buck to close to five dollars. If you buy a drink with your meal though, that five dollar pastry becomes $0.99. Not only will you get the pastry at a significant discount, but you get a bonus drink, and the total costs less than the drink and pastry individually.
7. If you come in right before closing, you might be lucky and get free pastries.
Every night, Panera donates the leftover bread from the day to hunger relief agencies and charities. However, if there are leftover pastries at the end of the day (which there almost always are), they get tossed out unless employees take them home. If you come in before they close and there are extras, chances are you’ll get lucky and go home with a sugar high.