Identification of Key Problems in Panera Bread

Synopsis of the situation

Panera Bread is a fast food company that aims to provide a quality product. They make and sell specialty breads, salads and soups. They started strong in 1981, and currently have over 1800 stores with company managed and operated as well as franchised locations (Panera Bread, 2012). The company jumped into the frontline of restaurant chains and has gained, with great effort, a good number of customers. If you go to any one of their restaurant locations you will find similar services in each and every store. There is always a choice to dine indoors or outdoors, a fire place which aims to make you feel at home while reading your paper or drinking you coffee in the morning, especially in the winter months.

They are also known for their services of free refills on coffee, tea or fountain drinks as well as complimentary water with slices of lemons. There is also free access to the internet through Wi-Fi, making Panera locations a great study environment for college students. It is also well equipped with screens that display the product they offer which adds another great feature to their appealing design. Although they have been growing so fast, they still maintain a competitive place in the market. This is all due to their great design, dining atmosphere, fresh products, reward cards, accessible study and work environment, and efficient services.

The experience that a customer is provided with at Panera is unique in the fast food industry. All of their competitors, such as McDonalds and Burger King for instance, only offer a fast product that may be cheaper in monetary price than Panera, but at the expense of health and sometimes quality. Panera Bread combined all of their competitor weaknesses and now provide fast food services, with quality, healthy products to millions of customers and this is the secret to the business’s success (Panera, 2014a).

Key issues

For us to identify the key issues at Panera Bread, we have to look at them from a competitor stand point and compare them to what others have. It is necessary to first examine Panera Bread. Panera Breads’ focus is on small neighborhood environments and will rarely be found in a major or large city. When lunch time comes and we start to think about what and where we should go for lunch, then Panera Bread is one of the options. After finding one and driving there, you will be shocked with how busy the place is and will doubt that you will have time in the one hour lunch to wait on line to place an order and pay around 11-13 dollars for a quality meal. Then, due to the large number of customers, they usually give a machine that vibrates and flashes when your order is ready. By that time, you should run to your car and eat your meal while driving because this meal might cost you your job, on top of what you just paid. Even if you have time and decided to dine in, there will be no place to sit because most tables have been occupied by others and will probably resemble a library, since most people are sitting with their laptops open or reading a book.

A regular value meal costs a minimum of 11-13 dollars. This is their “You Pick two” value meal, which includes two items of your choice; your choice combinations of sandwich, pasta, and soups, which all come with a small piece of French bread (Panera, 2014c). The same amount of money would probably feed 2 people at McDonalds with desserts, two at Quiznos, and possibly one at Applebee’s.

Being identified as a fast food chain, just like McDonalds and Quiznos, Panera Bread involves a longer wait time. Finding a location, then parking your car and walking in to just wait on a huge line to make an order and then wait for your meal to be ready takes time. Even though they are efficient at their job, it still is not as fast as the other fast food competitors.

Panera Bread is very attractive environment for someone looking to spend the day especially with their unlimited free refills of drinks both cold and hot. A college student might sit there from sunrise to sunset studying, just like what I am doing right now, working on my assignments and leaving no place for a family or group to sit. Identification of one key problem and the opportunity

The problem: College students mostly are sitting on most of the tables without any space left for the neighborhood families or the other short term customers. In some way Panera has replaced the libraries for a lot of students due to their free drinks, as mentioned earlier. Panera is proud of their achievement of having established these types of customers. As long as they are not interfering with the other type of customer, then it is a great idea asset. However, in reality, when most of who are sitting and occupying the tables are students and almost no other type of customer, then the business operation will be compromised. When you buy a meal, you need to be able to sit to consume it and this is not possible when everything is occupied, which creates unhappy customers who are less likely to return.

The opportunity: It is possible to be able to accommodate both types of customers by making parameters to serve the needs of both parties of these types of populations. What attracts students is the free Wi-Fi that Panera provides and by intelligently controlling this feature, they can actually control the student population in the establishment and create a balance between these two populations by serving both of their needs.

The solution made through Wi-Fi control is an opportunity after identifying the problem that Panera is having. The solution involves shutting down the Wi-Fi service during lunch peak hours. At the beginning students will probably relocate and then they will most likely adapt to the change and come right back since they know they cannot get what they get at Panera at any other place. So the new lunch time hours without free Wi-Fi would be from 11am-2pm. It is important for Panera not to scare their current student population away, because these are already established customers. When it is not peak hours and the place is filled with these students, this helps to create a relaxing and a very attractive dining that is only linked with Panera locations.

This opportunity and approach will serve both of these customer populations and help build a healthy relationship with both types. This is better than just targeting one population over the other and makes it possible for both to be happy and have a good experience at Panera. Alternative solutions to the one key problem

There are some other available strategies to deal with the issue of too much student population occupying the tables at Panera. A fee for the Wi-Fi could be charged. This would, however, make them less likely to choose Panera as their study spot. This solution will not only decrease the number of student occupants, but it will also have an impact on the environment that Panera created in their locations as being known for their special dining experience and this will hurt their reputation in the long run as a friendly and welcoming restaurant.

Many of the Panera locations already have a limit of half an hour on Wi-Fi in lunch peak hours, which has left some unhappy customers (Panera, 2014b). These customers argue that Panera is advertising free Wi-Fi, but not providing the service. In reality, thirty minutes is not enough for anything. Also, Panera bread is well known as a casual place for meetings for some businesses and workers and limiting the Wi-Fi to 30 minutes is limiting the ability for customers to treat the restaurant as a work environment. This could easily transform Panera from a friendly experience to an unfriendly one (Graham, 2012). This type of control of Wi-Fi will not solve the problem in reality. Thirty minutes of Wi-Fi is not enough and it will only make people run away and be reluctant to bring their computers.

Another potential solution to this problem would be to enforce table sharing by students. Instead of one student spreading his or her papers all over a big table, he or she could sit comfortably with having someone else sit and share the table. This will make more seats available for usage by both populations of students and regular everyday customers.

Another possible solution is to identify the number of regular customers that the restaurant gets on a daily basis and know how many table is needed to serve them appropriately. Or they may just chose a number of tables that is only selected for students to sit in and limit their access to other tables. This is done by placing flags on the tables or by just disabling the electric outlet on these tables, since most students require an electric outlet to access their computers. Selected solution and why it was chosen

Panera Bread should accurately identify the amount of tables needed to accommodate all of the different populations of customers. After that, they should determine the number of tables needed to accommodate for students and the other customers who might remain seated for long periods of time using the free internet services. Then, they should mount a flag in the middle of these dedicated tables that says “Student Friendly. “ This way, the student customers will respond better and not feel as if they are being chased out of the restaurant. This will also help maintain the environment and Panera’s image as a friendly and welcoming restaurant. As a matter of fact, the customers will show more loyalty to the business.

When I go to Panera Bread myself, I notice how many student customers are sitting at the tables and the number is overwhelming. It is hard to only think about one consumer base and neglect the other, as both are important to the business. As a matter of fact, the student customers are actually the one that gave Panera Bread its unique image. Some important questions that need to be answered include: What would a Panera manager do in a location where the number of student customers would interfere with the business of the short term customers, especially during peak hours? Regardless of the answer, whether that is to leave them alone, ask them to leave, or limit their internet use, there is actually no good permanent solution for the future success of Panera to be maintained. Recommendation(s) on how to implement the selected solution

In order for the selected solution or change to be successful it has to be done smoothly without interrupting any of the current customers’ population. This is done by taking the necessary steps that would make the change as smoothly as possible. Also, this change has to happen at all of Panera’s locations. Since Panera keeps a record of a large number of customers through their reward cards, they should have access to their emails. They should start by sending emails to their customers informing them about the current change at least a month prior to the actual change.

This announcement should also take place at all of their locations by posting signs and giving out fliers notifying customers to the new change. These fliers could be given with a customer’s receipt. The notification would have to explain what the change is and the reasons behind it. Panera has to clearly state that they are willing to accommodate both types of customers and be able to satisfy them at all levels without significantly affecting the environment of the business and trying to keep a balance between both types.

If this is done, the change will be smooth and with just little effort it can effectively implement the change with the least amount of stress on the customers. When this is complete, the needs of both types of customers are met without significant interruptions. Most importantly, Panera will still be recognized as having respect for all of their customers without forcing them to new changes that they might not like. This will lead to effectively utilizing the tables for both types of customers. For students, sharing will be a possibility to a maximum number matching the number of chairs on each table as opposed to only one student sitting and unnecessarily occupying the whole table.


Panera bread is a very successful business that was established a long time ago, with a great and unique environment that they created to suit customers of both types. They have some key issues that are still waiting to be solved but the main issue and the most important one is how to control the effect of student customers, who are utilizing the business tables as libraries, with keeping the balance of not hurting the regular everyday short-term-stay customers. For the problem to be solved, they have to find a solution that will serve both types of customers without significantly changing the current services that both get. One of the solutions would be to control the Wi-Fi access in a way that will serve the everyday short term customer and without significantly altering the access of Wi-Fi that is attracting the student consumer base and at the same time not compromise the business operation. The best possible solution involves limiting the number of tables that the student customers could use after identifying the number of tables needed to serve this purpose.

Panera (2014a). (n.d.). Our History. Our History. Retrieved July 14, 2014, from Panera Bread. (2012, June 25). Nation’s Restaurant News, 46(13), 27. Retrieved from Panera (2014b). (n.d.). You’re connected to the Panera wi-fi network.. WiFi. Retrieved July 14, 2014, from Graham, J. (2012, May 17). Talking Tech: Customers clog Panera’s free Wi-Fi. USATODAY.COM. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from Panera (2014c). (n.d.). You Pick Two. You Pick Two. Retrieved July 15, 2014, from

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