Panera Bread Has No Idea How Secret Menus Work, Alerts the Media

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It’s hard to deny the singular thrill of leaning close to an In-N-Out employee and firmly stating, “Fries please, well-done, Animal-style” and having him throw back a knowing smirk. But somehow the words “Power Mediterranean Roasted Turkey Salad” don’t sound nearly as exciting.

Recently, Panera Bread pitched us the story of its not-so-new, not-so-secret “Hidden Menu,” which features an assortment of veggie-heavy, lean protein, and low-carb menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner (you know, as opposed to the regularly heavy offerings expected of a place named “Bread”). And while the news mildly piqued our interest, we couldn’t help but feel there was something vaguely counterproductive about being pitched – (Pitched! Not even “sneakishly tipped off to”!) – a secret menu that is neither particularly secret nor particularly, well, cool.

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Here’s Panera’s full Hidden Menu, as copied from the press release:

Breakfast Options

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POWER BREAKFAST EGG WHITE BOWL WITH ROASTED TURKEY
Roasted all-natural, Antibiotic-free turkey, egg whites, warm baby spinach, roasted peppers, and basil Pesto. 180 calories, 7g carbs, 25g protein.

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POWER BREAKFAST EGG BOWL WITH STEAK
Two all-natural eggs, seared top sirloin, sliced avocado & tomatoes. 230 calories, 5g carbs, 20g protein.

Lunch & Dinner Options

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POWER MEDITERRANEAN CHICKEN SALAD
All-natural, Antibiotic-free chicken, baby spinach, romaine, tomatoes, apple-wood smoked bacon, diced eggs, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. 360 calories, 12g carbs, 35g protein.

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POWER MEDITERRANEAN ROASTED TURKEY SALAD
All-natural, Antibiotic-free roasted turkey, baby spinach, romaine, tomatoes, red onions, kalamata olives, fresh squeezed lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil. 320 calories, 12g carbs, 22g protein.

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POWER CHICKEN HUMMUS BOWL
All-natural, Antibiotic-free chicken, with cilantro jalapeno hummus, baby spinach, cucumbers, diced tomatoes & red onions finished with fresh squeezed lemon & fresh chopped cilantro. 330 calories, 23g carbs, 33g protein.

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POWER STEAK LETTUCE WRAPS
Seared top-sirloin, leaf lettuce, cucumbers, diced tomatoes & red onions, basil pesto and finished with fresh lemon juice. 280 calories, 7g carbs, 28g protein.

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As you can see, there are no White Gummies here, no Biscotti Frappuccinos, no Flying Dutchmen – just a bunch of healthy-ish foods with names and ingredients that sound just as legitimate as anything else on Panera Bread’s regular old Visible Menu.

The thing about secret menus is that they usually aren’t so much “menus” as “code words” – shorthand for crazy customer innovations or specific and complicated orders that have steadily grown in popularity over the years. Picture a stoned guy walking into an In-N-Out Burger, asking “Can I get a Double-Double? But instead of two patties and two slices of cheese, we make it four patties, four slices of cheese and you make your head stop growing and shrinking like that?” And thus the 4×4 was born.

Panera’s menu is something else entirely. Yes, it’s great the chain is now offering some desperately needed low-carb options, especially for breakfast, but considering Panera’s usual clientele, wouldn’t something like the Power Breakfast Egg White Bowl with Roasted Turkey do perfectly alongside a Mediterranean Egg White on Ciabatta? As of now, only those who keep up with this sort of thing or follow Panera’s social media channels have been made privy to the news – but it’s difficult to imagine these things not doing well if more people only knew about them.

Sure, there’s something to be said about the role of social media in all this – the logic behind rewarding those customers who actually engage the brand on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram with fancy new menu items that only they know about – but it’s an obvious marketing technique that frankly feels a bit dated. What makes secret menus fun is that they’re typically born out of individual sparks of genius and shared by word of mouth, not manufactured solely to allow brands to sneakily cash into new markets.

So should Panera get rid of its new Hidden Menu? No, but it should absorb it into its regular line-up and preserve the sanctity of the true “secret menu” by only including foods that deserve to be on it. Personally, I’m holding out for a Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bagel or Sriracha Cream Cheese. Now those sound like things worth whispering about.

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PicThx Brand Eating



Dominique would be a foodie if she had money to pay for food. For now, she gets by just looking at food photography, which results in at least one more starving journalism student every time Instagram breaks down.



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  • Linda Lovelush

    Panera sucks.

  • Anonymous

    go in to a panera and order a western steak sandwich….if the associate gives you a weird look, its a steak and white cheddar panini, sub regular cheddar, sub bbq sauce, no caramelized onions, add bacon with frizzled onions on the side. when it comes to your table open it up and add the frizzled onions for a crunch. great sandwich.

  • ardeth01

    Gag me! If this is their “hidden menu”, their up-front menu must be a real winner. Don’t they have any vegan fare at Panera?

    • http://playstationlifestyle.net/ Paulmichael Contreras

      I doubt it. Vegans are in the serious minority.

      http://www.gallup.com/poll/156215/consider-themselves-vegetarians.aspx

      • ardeth01

        Granted we’re a “serious” minority (I don’t need to look at your poll to know that), but if more restaurants and fast food joints offered vegan fare, there’d be more of us at places like Panera. Trust me on that. People want convenience when they eat out, and if they can’t just order something already vegan rather than having to tell the clerk to hold the meat, cheese, eggs, etc., they’ll stick to the animal-based entrees.

        • abby

          Maybe Panera doesn’t want you. You are not their target market.

          • ardeth01

            Well, duh, yeah, abby. But there are more vegans (and closet vegans) out there than most restaurants realize who don’t patronize them because they get tired of searching for something entirely plant-based on the menu and asking about ingredients. And these restaurants could make money off of us. That’s their entire raison d’etre, n’est-ce pas? A restricted menu seems like a poor business model to me.

          • abby

            “A restricted menu seems like a poor business model to me.” – So… Vegan restaurants should offer steak? After all, you just said a restricted menu is a poor business model.

          • face

            >no reply

            fckin owned

  • Halal Buzz

    But at least they managed to get some publicity from the media!

  • I Luv InO

    was this a late pickup on your press releases? I came across this tongue-in-cheek promotion of a “secret” menu when they emailed MyPanera members back in Feb. this year. Even going so far to call it their Power menu items:

    http://mypanera.panerabread.com/articlestips/article/access-into-paneras-hidden-menu/

    I don’t feel it was a desperate attempt, rather it was more of like “Hey! In-n-Out has it, Jamba Juice has one, we kinda-sorta have one too, so here’s what it is!

    I tried ordering the from this Power selection a couple of days after the announcement with success, but the next attempt wasn’t so futile. The second time around, the order taker wasn’t too keen on what was the Power menu until another co-worker pointed out that there was a Power button option on the order-taking screen.

  • BeckyL

    The author totally misinterpreted Panera’s motivation for putting up the secret menu. I don’t believe that they are trying to use the secret menu as a marketing ploy to gain millions of new customers. It is more of a courtesy to a very small population of their customers who are trying to eat a certain way to cure or avoid health issues. If a person has gluten or lactose intolerance or other food allergies, this would be a good option for them. Everything on this menu also fits nicely into a Paleo diet as well. Panera probably knows that this menu would not appeal to the mainstream public. If they were to put it up on their everyday menu they might have people complain that they are getting just plain olive oil instead of a dressing with “secret ingredients” or that no bread came with their salad. For the select few people who would rather pick from a “secret menu” rather then pick from the main menu and get “secret ingredients” that may cause health issues, I applaud them. Thank you, Panera Bread, for putting up the secret menu.

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