Panera Bread vs. Au Bon Pain: Back Bay Edition

The greatest thing ever happened to me yesterday.

On a walk to Borders bookstore on Boylston Street, I passed a sign that altered my everyday existence: Panera Bread is coming to Boston’s Back Bay. I’m pretty sure there were beams of light and angels singing around the storefront window. Unfortunately that didn’t show up in the picture.

I’ve been asking God (and for the past month I’ve turned my wishes on Santa) for a Panera Bread close to my office for a year now. The closest thing to it, a Cosi, is 1.1 miles away, according to Google Maps. I once made all the girls in my office take a field trip there on our lunch breaks. Four set out on the journey, only two made it there and back. Clearly, we were putting our lives on the line for delicious flatbreads.

So for the past year I’ve resorted to getting lunch at the two (count ’em TWO) Au Bon Pains within a two (TWO) block radius of my office building. While I enjoy Au Bon Pain, the shit is expensive. I also have a peculiar relationship with a male cashier who never offers me a receipt, despite always asking the people ahead of and behind me in line if they would like theirs. I’m too scared to call him on it.

The evil iPad.

I passed the Panera Bread sign, this harbinger of hope for 2011, ran my errands (no I did not buy Christmas presents) at Borders, and, as I was on my lunch break and already there, stopped by the closest Au Bon Pain for food. I haven’t been in the Boylston Street Au Bon Pain in a while, and to say they gussied the place up would be an understatement. New floors, new paint, new tables and chairs, new food counters and…what’s this? Someone taking my order with an iPad? What. The. Eff.

For anyone who’s never been in an Au Bon Pain, which is French for turkey sandwiches, they probably have the most inefficient ordering procedure of any fancy deli I’ve ever been in. They have paper pads and golf pencils on a counter for you to fill out, write your name, and hand to an expediter – who actually makes things slower – which is then taken by the food maker and handed back to you for you to give to the cashier. Got that? Good.

So I innocently ask this man who looked like the manager where all the notepads were, to which he replied, “oh, let me just get my iPad out for you.” He then proceeded to take my order with the touch screen, and I can only assume hit some button that sent the order to an electronic device behind the food counter. It was kind of obnoxious.

The manager then hands the iPad to the Au Bon Pain equivalent of a bus boy, who goes to each individual person standing in line and takes their order. If you thought the notepad situation was inefficient, this is worse 100 fold. Plus, they only have one single iPad. How is this going to help you?

Clearly this is Au Bon Pain’s attempts to get customers on their side before the dangerous Panera Bread opens its doors. We can smell the fear (and bread bowls). To this I say, Au Bon Pain, stop buying iPads and maybe you can lower the price of your food. Trust me, that’s a better investment.


Filed under Around Town, BEST Things Ever, WORST Things Ever

7 responses to “Panera Bread vs. Au Bon Pain: Back Bay Edition

  1. Katie

    Agreed, love Panera so much. They just opened one in Newton Centre too, did you see?!

  2. rpc

    You wrote this 12/18. It’s now 3/9. Nothing has changed. Just “coming soon” posters in the window and no sign of construction. Any idea when this Panera is going to open?
    Good tip on Au Bon Pain. Will stay away. The iPad sounds completely useless, especially during the lunch rush. And the food tends toward the mediocre.
    I could use a little lunch time stroll as the weather warms. Where/what is Cosi?

  3. Dave B

    I had contacted Panera back in January and this was their reponse:

    “If all goes as planned, and there are no delays, then the Boston bakery-café, located on Boylston Street at Berkeley Street, should open in late April, or early May. ”

    I guess things didn’t go as planned because it doesn’t look like it’s on pace to open at any point in May.

  4. Pingback: Back Bay Panera Lovers, Your Wait is Over | NoMad Blogger

  5. Pingback: The Back Bay Panera Bread is Here! | NoMad Blogger

  6. John

    Does anyone here realize that Panera Bread was originally the Au Bon Pain Co.? Go to: and read the history. You may be surprised at what you read. I only bring this up because the writer bashed Au Bon Pain and others bashed Panera for not opening that one store fast enough. Perhaps it would wise to research the company you are about to blog about before writing. I did enjoy reading this blog though…..first timer!

  7. @John:

    After some digging, it would appear that Au Bon Pan bought Panera, and then sold the division that that was Au Bon Pan, and now they only have Panera Bread Co’s, Paradise Bakery & Café®, and St. Louis Bread Co stores. So Au Bon Pan is now a seperate entity, though both Panera and Au Bon Pan started from the same place… Weird. lol

    I can agree Au Bon Pan’s ordering is inefficient and their service was at times lacking, but having been to both Au Bon Pan and Panera, food-wise, I still prefer Au Bon Pan myself.

    God Bless ~Amy

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