When you’re craving something that feels a little fresher and healthier than a deli sandwich or fast food, but still quick, you might find yourself heading to Panera Bread. With its mix and match options of soups, salads and sandwiches, it has become a lunchtime staple across the country.
But is Panera as fresh and healthy as it looks, or are there secret calories and other issues lurking in its flavorful sandwiches and soups? Here are some secrets the channel probably doesn’t want to know. Plus, read on to find out how to score free treats and which dishes to avoid.
Panera paints the picture that ordering from the app even when you are sitting in the restaurant is more convenient for you. However, there’s another reason the chain is pushing its use of the app: customers who use the feature spend more money. “We’re seeing more control, which is really interesting to see,” said Panera Chief Digital Officer George Hanson in an interview with catering company. Ordering through the app also frees up workers to perform other tasks and saves on takeout packaging. “It allows our associates to engage with customers in a more value-added way,” he said.
Last year, a TikToker went viral for finally learning why she was unable to sleep after spending the day at Panera. She was a fan of the loaded lemonades that come in a variety of flavors. However, she didn’t realize how much caffeine was in each one. She regularly drank five lemonades in one sitting, which equals 1,300 mg of caffeine. That’s the equivalent of about eight average cups of coffee!
While Panera doesn’t hide the fact that the drink contains caffeine, some customers thought fruit drinks should contain more than one warning. Even workers agreed that the caffeine content should be displayed more prominently than it currently is in stores.
A former employee advertised the chain’s soups a few years ago on Reddit. “All of our soups are indeed made fresh, but they are frozen in giant blocks and then placed in a refrigerator-like box filled with very hot water to thaw them,” they revealed.
Snopes also reviewed TikTok videos that claimed to show employees defrosting frozen soup, mac and cheese and chicken, and confirmed they were real. So, although the food is delicious, it is not prepared in every restaurant. It’s honestly not unhealthy or unusual, but if you were expecting a chilly soup, be warned!
Another former employee suggests ordering soup after the 11 a.m. rush since yesterday’s thawed soup is used first.
When you walk in and smell that bread baking, it’s hard not to imagine bakers in the kitchen mixing up delicious creations. Well, that’s not quite how it works, says a former Panera employee on Reddit, who wrote: “I really bake the bread. The bread is simply mixed in a large factory, then transported to us every evening/morning, so that we can let it rise.” The pastries are delivered frozen and baked on site.
If you are dining at Panera, the most economical solution is to always order a small glass. The chain offers free refills, so you can take your little mug back to the soda fountain as many times as you want. Plus, if you’re a frequent Panera flier, you can join the Unlimited Sip Club which allows you to top up several of the chain’s drinks for free, including loaded lemonades.
When you spend your hard-earned cash on a meal, you want to get the most out of it, and The Krazy Koupon Lady has a great hack. She suggests adding all the free toppings available to your favorite sandwich.
Check the Panera website or order through the app to see all the options available in your store. Common free toppings include red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, and greens, plus super flavorful additions like basil, cilantro, curly onions, and pickled red onions. Be aware that some vegetables, like avocados, cost more, so be sure to ask when ordering or use the app to see all prices before adding them. Another great sandwich option for under $1 is parmesan chips.
PS you can also do this to add a free topping to salads.
Are you following a plant-based diet or are you just trying to reduce your meat intake? While there are great vegetarian options on the menu, there’s also a pro-level Panera hack – you can swap the avocado for meat on any sandwich at no extra cost.
If you’re a regular at Panera for its soft, chewy bagels and love its flavored cream cheese, consider getting an 8-ounce jar you can keep at home or at work for just $2.99. You’ll save about a dollar on each bagel, and you can cut calories by using a lighter twist.
If you’re hungry, know that when you order your Panera soup in a bread bowl, you only get one cup of actual soup. For a little extra, says The Krazy Koupon Lady, order the bread bowl without soup and get a bowl of soup — which is 12 ounces of soup — and just pour it yourself.
Just remember, before ordering your creamy soup served in (or alongside) a bread bowl, a bread bowl will add 670 calories and 1160 milligrams of sodium to your meal. Considering the famous broccoli and cheddar soup already contains 840 milligrams of sodium, you might want to reconsider. In fact, a former employee revealed that their manager once dismissed them and advised them never to recommend soup to older people because the sodium content was way too high.
Now that you know Panera soup has just been reheated, why not try making the soup for a fraction of the price? We have a great copycat recipe you can try. You can also grab one of their famous mac and cheese recipes from the internet, or just buy a container of soup from the nearest grocery store and heat it up yourself.
A previous version of this article was originally published on November 5, 2021. It has been updated with new information.
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