One of the best things to come out of modern inventions is the creation of the fast-casual chain restaurant. Being able to quickly grab a quality meal without having to sit down in a crowded restaurant or shelling out a ton of cash is like a dream come true for many diners. Places like Chipotle or Panera Bread help make that dream a reality. Panera Bread, in particular, prides itself on being both convenient and delicious and maintains that it is full of healthy, clean food.
But is it really healthy? Or clean? Or fresh, even? Well, it depends. While Panera Bread is certainly a healthier option than a burger and fries, for the most part, there are some menu items that are better left unordered. Unfortunately, this applies to some fan-favorite menu items from Panera that you might not expect. In fact, the things that you should absolutely never order at Panera Bread might surprise you, and there’s more of them than you might assume.
The soup is a sodium free for all at Panera Bread
One of the biggest menu sections at Panera Bread is the soup. The chain restaurant offers everything from chicken noodle soup to vegetable soups and so much more. But as tasty, warm, and comforting as a bowl of soup might sound, at Panera, they’re not exactly fresh or healthy.
One Reddit user explained something pretty bleak about the soup at Panera. "The soups come in frozen bags in boxes that say ‘Institution food’ on the side of the box," they wrote. "We would throw them in a hot water cooker that would bring them up to temperature from freezing blocks to near boiling hot bags." Um, yum? But that’s not all. A former Panera employee told My Recipes that their manager gave them an ominous piece of advice when it comes to the soup: "Never suggest soup to the elderly. The sodium is too high." Yikes! If a manager says to avoid the soup, then you should probably avoid the soup.
Any pasta is a no go at Panera Bread
The menu at Panera Bread has obviously undergone some changes over the years, but while the chain has seemingly always served mac and cheese, they discontinued their other pasta offerings. Don’t mourn, as that actually might be for the best. Not only was the pasta given some pretty bad reviews on Twitter, but the way in which any pasta is prepared at Panera makes it a real no-go.
Specifically, none of the pasta at Panera is made fresh in the store. Instead, it arrives frozen and is then reheated to serve. Obviously, that doesn’t sound appetizing, but Panera maintains its quality assurance despite that awkward reality. A spokesperson for Panera told TODAY that "Mac and cheese is made offsite with our proprietary recipe developed by our chefs and using our sourced ingredients that meet our standards for our clean menu offerings." Well, whether or not it’s exactly "clean" or meets your own standards, just know that the pasta at Panera, including the beloved mac and cheese, isn’t all that fresh or homemade.
This Panera Bread cheese should be avoided
Listen, any time a restaurant — especially one that has to serve food relatively quickly like Panera — offers a ton of different dishes, then things are bound to get complicated in the kitchen. So really, it’s not as if Panera Bread or any of its employees means to mix up some orders. Panera employees are subject to a lot of pressure, from fast-moving prep lines to constantly changing menus. However, when it comes to this one kind of cheese, it’s better to stay away. Specifically, the feta cheese available for some menu items isn’t always safe to order for one really gross reason.
A former Panera Bread employee took to Reddit to explain some dirty little secrets about the chain restaurant. They revealed one little tidbit that really stood out, and not for a good reason. "Anything with feta," the user wrote of what not to order at Panera (via So Yummy). "I have accidentally served multiple customers moldy feta because I thought a piece of gorgonzola just slipped its way in." Seriously, that sounds absolutely disgusting, so steer clear of the feta, y’all.
The pastries at Panera Bread aren’t all that great either
There’s really nothing quite like a nice cup of coffee with a pastry on the side, is there? Whether you’re just craving something a little sweet with your caffeine, or want to feel like you’re living it up in Paris, it’s a totally classic combo. But at Panera Bread, not all of the pastries are all that delectable or hot and fresh.
One Panera Bread employee took to Reddit to explain some misconceptions about the chain restaurant. One revelation is particularly shocking, especially because the menu item in question is kind of in the title of Panera Bread, so you would expect their baked goods to be special and delicious. Unfortunately, they aren’t all. "Cupcakes and coffee cake are definitely just thawed, but EVERY OTHER baked good is made fresh daily," the employee explained. It’s unfortunate in the extreme that the cupcakes and coffee cake aren’t as fresh as the bagels or muffins, but at least now you know what to steer clear of.
Even the bread at Panera isn’t as fresh as you think
Did you even go to Panera Bread if you didn’t walk away with a side of bread, at a minimum? Not really. The bread at Panera is fairly iconic for the chain’s customers, after all. Whether it comes in a baguette, on a sandwich, or in high-calorie bowl form, it’s always on point. Right?
Sadly, just like some of the pastries at Panera bread aren’t fresh, neither is the famous bread itself. As delicious as the bread might taste, it’s not made fresh in each store, at least not the way you think it is. The truth is, there is no master artisan baker at every Panera Bread location, handcrafting bread dough with the perfect amount of salt, yeast, and tender care.
On the contrary, a Panera Bread employee took to Reddit to explain exactly how the bread was made in stores, and it was kind of disheartening. "Dough is sent fresh nightly from a regional facility," they explained, adding that the bread is generally "baked fresh every night for the next day". So, while the bread might be baked in-store, it isn’t freshly made from scratch in-store. That frankly sneaky loophole might make it not worth it for you.
This Panera Bread sandwich is so not healthy
Obviously, one of the biggest reasons people frequent Panera Bread is because the chain paints itself as a healthy alternative to most other fast food joints. However, not everything on the Panera menu is all that healthy. In fact, there is one sandwich that you should never order, at least if you’re trying to be health-conscious. The offender in question is the chain’s Modern Caprese Sandwich, which features mozzarella, Parmesan, and a white bean puree all topped with a delicious smoked tomato confit, basil, and a balsamic glaze.
In fact, registered dietitian, Natalie Rizzo told Eat This Not That that the Modern Caprese is deceptively unhealthy. "With 19 grams of saturated fat and more than half the amount of sodium you should have in a day, the Modern Caprese is something to steer clear of," Rizzo said. It might look healthy without any deli meat and some vegetables, but this sandwich is really high in fat and sodium, making it something you should eat with plenty of caution.
The smoothies at Panera can be pretty gross
Soups, salads, and sandwiches aren’t the only things on the menu at Panera Bread. Turn out that the chain’s beverage menu is actually pretty impressive. Panera serves up everything from handcrafted coffee to a variety of teas, sodas, and juices, but apparently, it’s the smoothies that should be evaded. They might look refreshing and healthy, but they’re actually high in sugar and kind of a rip-off. Seriously, once you know what’s actually in a Panera Bread smoothie, you probably won’t waste your time with one ever again.
As a Panera Bread employee shared on Reddit, the smoothies at the establishment are something to seriously avoid. "STAY AWAY FROM THE SMOOTHIES," they warned. "They’re literally 2 scoops of vanilla yogurt, ‘fruit purée’ that comes frozen and we thaw out in half gallon milk jugs, and ice." Yeah, that isn’t exactly the perfect picture of health, but the employee wasn’t finished. They also added that the smoothies were seriously overpriced for something that doesn’t contain any fresh fruit.
This salad should be avoided at Panera Bread
When you want something light and healthy for lunch or dinner, a nice, big salad can definitely hit the spot. And Panera Bread certainly has plenty of salads on the menu, including the ever-tasty Caesar salad (which isn’t Italian, by the way). But before you order one for dinner, make sure that you’re making the best choice from the menu, because there is one salad at Panera that the workers don’t order. Could they be on to something that you don’t know?
A former Panera Bread employee took to Reddit to answer questions about the chain, and when someone asked what they should never order, the ex-employee was bluntly honest. While you might not think about it much, they said that the Caesar salad was something everyone should leave behind the counter. "You’re paying the same as the classic salad (tomato, onion, etc) but you’re only getting croutons and a tbs of Parmesan," they explained, adding that there were "no other veggies except lettuce. Talk about a waste of money!" Honestly, a Caesar salad is one of the easiest salads to make at home, anyway, so don’t shell out your hard-earned money for a lackluster one made at Panera.
Panera Bread’s chicken can be dodgy
Chicken is one of the most common forms of protein available out there, especially at fast-casual chains like Panera Bread. But whether it’s on a salad or sandwich, the chicken at Panera is really something you shouldn’t mess with, as it has a tendency to be quite dodgy. Not only have people complained about its appearance and flavor, but Panera Bread workers themselves have advised against ordering it because of how it arrives.
One Trip Advisor reviewer had a particularly terrible review of the chicken at a Panera Bread location in Tampa, Florida, writing that "It looked like "chainsaw chicken", joints, knuckles all the reject-parts of chicken, that most people do not want to eat." Sadly, that kind of makes sense, considering how the chicken is made, or not made, at Panera. A former Panera Bread employee told Reddit users that "the chicken comes precooked in bags," meaning it’s far from fresh or gourmet. Apparently, it may also include less than desirable cuts. Clearly, the chicken is to be avoided at Panera Bread, especially if you’re picky about your meat already.
The fountain sodas are a waste of money at Panera Bread
When you’re out to lunch or grabbing dinner for the night, the mere thought of an ice-cold soda might be enough to have you ordering one. And honestly, no one could blame you. Whether you’re more of a Dr. Pepper or Sprite person, sometimes a soda just hits the spot. Still, no matter how badly you might want one, the fountain sodas are a waste of money at Panera, and not even what the chain is known for, either.
In one Reddit thread, an ex-Panera Bread worker explained that there was one shocking item they wouldn’t advise anyone to spend money on. "It’s INSANE and the markup is intense," the former employee wrote of what Panera charges customers in general. "Also the fountain sodas! They cost like 5 cents to make and they charge like $3 for a large." Yikes. Obviously, you can’t get a 5 cent soda anywhere, really, but there are a lot of places that will only charge one dollar or so for a large, instead of what Panera charges customers. Really, you’re better off sticking to the free water.
Panera Bread bagels might not taste great
Whether you grew up ordering breakfast sandwiches on bagels, or they were something you learned to appreciate later in life, a fresh bagel is always a good idea. Panera Bread is kind of famous for its bagels, but should the restaurant chain really be given accolades for these baked goods? While the bagels might be freshly baked and perfectly tasty for most diners, that doesn’t mean they’re worth the price. Especially since there are times when the taste is seriously off and there’s no way you can know whether you’ll get exactly what you asked for.
On Reddit, a Panera Bread employee actually took the time to answer some questions about the chain and its fresh baking practices. When another user asked why their Cinnamon Crunch bagel always has an onion taste to it, the employee was honest. "The baker might have baked them on the same tray as the everything bagels or they forgot to change their gloves," they explained. Listen, the bagels at Panera are obviously tasty, but who wants a cinnamon bagel with garlic or onion served alongside their coffee? No one, that’s who.