Monday, January 30, 2012

Panera, Peanut Butter, and Pickles

Ever since Panera opened up in our neighborhood nearly 5 years ago, we've been regular, faithful customers.  My better half (we'll call him BH), creature of habit that he is, derives great pleasure from the little things, like morning coffee and bagels with his family.  So every weekend, we drag the kids out with us to spend an hour chewing, sipping, and basically just hanging out in a booth.  Up until Panera opened, there had been a void in our Saturday morning routine, after moving from bagel-laden Orange County to  bagel-barren Ventura County 90 miles north.  Panera's arrival brought back the ritual we had lost when we relocated a year earlier.

Our support of this local establishment isn't limited to weekend visits.  BH stops for his morning coffee before work.  Religiously.  And then about once a week, he runs over for a quick dessert to top off our "date night at home" (that's what poor folk with too many kids do).

From a product standpoint, this place is a-mazing.  Bread to die for, bagels that are consistent, and baked treats that are always outstanding, these are the reasons we've single-handedly kept this place in business.  And the service is typically above-average.  When BH approaches the counter, he's greeted by name, like he's Cliffy climbing onto his barstool.  You know what they say:  you want to go where everybody knows your name.  And they all know his name.

Surprisingly, after all these years, we've rarely tried Panera for lunch.  Partly because it just doesn't feel like a lunch place to us, but mostly because it's kind of pricey.  But today, we couldn't settle on anything, and we were short one kid, so I suggested Panera.  Why not?  We'll take advantage of the lemon water and one less kid.  Should be fun.

And here's where the story turns sad.

Lunch rush was in full force when we walked in at noon.  To their credit, the line went quickly and smoothly.  Leaving the line, we went in search of a table.  This place was busy, and as expected, the tables were mostly full.  Of the tables that were empty, each one had discarded plates of food on them.

Nothing raises my ire more more than having to put my hands on the cast off dinnerware of a stranger.

Taking a look around, there was enough staff to be on top of this, but clearly it wasn't a priority.  So I staked a claim at an open table for two and carried the dirty dishes away.  After finishing this task, a table for four opened up.  Great news for us, but those departing diners had also left their dirty dishes!  Really?  This isn't a sit down restaurant, folks, nobody's getting tips for the great service.  Fortunately, a runner was nearby and picked up the dishes.  The crumbs, globs of food, and streaks of mayo were left for us to wipe up.

This was disappointing, but I guess not totally unexpected.  I mean, we see this kind of stuff in the morning; just not to this degree.  Maybe morning people, by nature of being morning people, are different.  More considerate.  Cleaner.  I kid.

Food arrives.  Trying to hide the disappointment by how meager the kids' meals appeared, we get ready to dig in.  But I can't get over this.  This is what $5 buys for a kid's meal?

Pretty sparse.

M's peanut butter sandwich seemed especially lackluster, so I opened it up.

Peanut butter-less sandwich.

BH, in an unintentional dead ringer impersonation of Julius from Everybody Hates Chris, says "We paid $5 for this?  That's only 8 cents' worth of peanut butter on there." 

You'll see what I'm talking about at around the 30 second mark.

My vegetable sandwich was ok, nothing to write home about.  But the pickle spear (which I look forward to) was clearly the runt of the bunch.  And by now, I'm in the mood to criticize the pickle.  I would've asked for another, but after making them give me more peanut butter, I wasn't feeling up to it.  To top it off, they gave me a bag of chips instead of the requested side of bread (give me a break, I like my carbs).  Defeated, I ate my sandwich and seethed about the $40 we had just spent on lunch.

Does this change my opinion of our beloved Panera?  Yes.  Is it going to change my spending habits at this eatery?  Not really.  I just need to remember why we don't do lunch here next time we get tired of Subway.


Crying is the New Croquet said...

That peanut butter sandwich is bringing tears to my eyes. I take my food very seriously.

NumberWhisperer said...

So do I. Especially anything that has the word "butter" in it.

You're Lucky I Don't Have a Gun... said...

The butter thing must run in the family.

I don't even like peanut butter and that sandwich is making me irate.