It’s time that I share some of my panera secrets.
Panera is essential part of my diet. I probably eat there an average of three days a week – at least. I make it my mission to get all of my friends addicted to the chain. Being such a loyal customer, I know a thing of two when it comes to how to get the most out of my Panera experience.
I have decided to share a few of my favorite Panera tips and tricks.
1. Order using a kiosk
I think the kiosk is the best idea the company ever had. Like many other people in this world, I know exactly what I want and that can make me seem a little picky. Use the Panera kiosk to order your meal instead of going to the counter. You can completely customize your meal the way you want it. Want to add avocado to your Roasted Turkey & Caramelized Kale Panini or put arugula on top of your Tortellini Alfredo Pasta? Now you can! You can make you order as customized as you want.
2. Get dine-in meals whenever possible
Panera is more than just food. It’s an experience. Sometimes I feel like I don’t get the full Panera experience unless I eat there. Unfortunately, sometimes I’m in a hurry and have to order my Panera to go. Most of the time when I do this, my meals aren’t prepared as well as they would be if I dined-in. One of the biggest problems is that my salads aren’t filled in the box as much as if they were prepared in a bowl. This is why I try to dine-in at Panera whenever possible.
Another plus of eating in the restaurant: If your meal isn’t prepared exactly how you want it to be, you can send it back. Of course, you can do this with your to-go meal, but only if you catch the problem in time before you walk out.
3. Ask for a subsitution for meat
Being a vegetarian is hard, especially when a lot of the salads at Panera already come with meat fixed into the price. You can easily ask for the meat to be left off, but then you’ll end up paying for something you’re not going to eat. Try to substitute meat for another protein. One flaw of the kiosk is that it will charge you extra for adding avocado to your meal, even if you’ve requested the chicken to be off. The best solution to this would be to order at the counter and ask your cashier to kindly substitute cheese, avocado or another protein for chicken. Most of the time the cashiers will give you the substitute. If you run into any problems, contact the manager or contact Panera’s customer service after your visit.
4. Order extra lettuce on your salad
It’s free to add almost any veggie to your salad, flatbread or sandwich. This is such a great feature to take advantage of, especially when it comes to salads. There’s an array of different lettuces (kale, romaine, cabbage blend…) you can add to any salad. To get the most out of your salad (and your money), ask for extra lettuce on your salad. During lunch rush and other busy times at Panera, my salads have looked a little sad (i.e. barely filled, missing ingredients, etc.). I definitely suggest ordering extra lettuce during this time, so you get a happy salad.
Another pro-tip for college students: Order a half salad with extra lettuce to save money. I do this often and receive a beautiful, (almost) full-sized salad for the price of a half salad.
5. Ask for your Sandwich bread toasted
I had no idea I could get my sandwich bread toasted until a bunch of my friends worked at Panera back in high school. Back then, I was a meat-eater and addicted to Panera’s tuna salad and chicken salad sandwiches. The down-side is that tuna and chicken salad can’t be pressed on the panini machines (probably because it would make a huge mess and because of allergies). My friends who worked at the restaurant told me that I could ask for the bread on my sandwich to be toasted before the ingredients are piled on. This creates a twist on a typical sandwich, and gives the tuna and chicken salad sandwiches more of a melt-feel. It’s a great trick for people who prefer hot sandwiches.
6. Take advantage of the 99 Cent pastry
If you’re paying for a meal and a drink at Panera, I don’t know why you aren’t getting a $0.99 pastry. It’s a genius marketing tool that not only gets Panera more business but also gets you a little treat. The bakery items at Panera can go for $2+. It just makes sense to get a drink with your meal so you can get a $0.99 pastry. You end up saving money but getting more food! The best part is that you can save your pastry for another day. How about eating the pumpkin muffin for breakfast tomorrow morning? That sounds like a great way to start the day.
7. Share a You Pick Two
Not terribly hungry? Instead of ordering only a half-size salad or sandwich, order a You Pick Two and share it with a friend. The price per item could be anywhere from a couple cents to a dollar less when you order it as part of a You Pick Two, opposed to ordering a “Half.” Most of the time, you end up getting the same portion of food anyway. A half-sized Strawberry Poppyseed & Chicken Salad goes for $6.39, while it is only $5.39 as part of a You Pick Two. If you’re not in the mood eating a lot, definitely share the You Pick Two with a friend and split the cost. It will save you money in the end.
Did you know that you can order two of the same thing for a You Pick Two? That’s right. You can order two salads, two sandwiches or two soups for your meal. If you and a friend are both craving the Fuji Apple Salad, you can order that. Maybe, you want Fuji Apple but she wants the Romain and Kale Caesar Salad – you can order it!
8. Always order a side with your meal
All Panera meals include a side in the price, but there is an option for “No Side.” I think it is a waste of money to not get a side because you end up paying for something you’re not getting. If you’re not hungry enough to eat the side, order it anyway and save it for later. If you want a healthier option than the French Baguette, you could get a Sprouted Whole Grain Roll or an apple. Chips are a great side to order when you aren’t hungry enough to eat them at that time. They come in a to-go pack, which makes it easier for you to bring home or give to a hungry coworker later.
9. get a MYpanera reward card
If you go to Panera at least once a month, get a MyPanera reward card. Sometimes the rewards don’t seem like a lot, but they pay off in the end. Saving $1 on a bowl of soup can make a big difference. Plus you can get other cool rewards, like a free drink or cookie, and sign up to take part in challenges. I took part in the June challenge this year. I had to visit Panera 10 times during that month to get a free You Pick Two meal. I completed the challenge and was able to order whatever I wanted for my free You Pick Two. Things like this really pay off in the end.
One more thing to keep in mind: MyPanera gives out rewards based on a transaction basis, not a monetary basis. You could spend $100 or $5 on your order. They are both considered one visit. If you are going to have a more costly order, I suggest paying for it in different transactions. Your MyPanera card will be swiped more than once. It will then be counted as more than one “visit” and will give you a faster way to earn rewards.
10. Recreate the Tomato Mozzarella Panini
The Tomato Mozzarella Panini was by far the best thing Panera ever offered on the menu. Last year, it was replaced with the Tomato Mozzarella Flatbread, which is good but not as amazing as the panini version. Some of the ingredients from the original panini are still offered on the menu. My final Panera hack is to teach you how to recreate the Tomato Mozzarella Panini. I like using a kiosk to do this because the ingredients are very specific.
- On a kiosk, start with a Classic Grilled Cheese sandwich and select the “Customize.”
- Under “Breads,” select Focaccia.
- Under “Cheeses,” deselect American and add both Fresh Mozzarella and Sliced Mozzarella.
- Under “Toppings,” select Sliced Tomatoes and Tomato Sofrito.
- Under “Condiments,” select Basil Pesto (the original Panini had a sun-dried tomato basil that was TO DIE FOR, but now this is the closest option).
- Wait for patiently for your recreation of the Tomato Mozzarella Panini!
So there you go. Here is my way to recreate the Tomato Mozzarella Panini. This is the best way I’ve found to recreate it, but please let me know if you have an even better way.
Since I practically live at Panera, these are a few of the tips and tricks I’ve learned over time. I am always eager to learn more. Use these hacks to better your experience at Panera!