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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

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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

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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 4x4 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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