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The BBQ Chicken Salad Experience

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

My first memory of Panera was eating their cinnamon crunch bagel. As a New Yorker, I’m not sure I can actually classify that as a bagel but whatever you call it, it’s really good. Throughout high school, Panera became a favorite spot to grab a quick lunch. My mom and I even won a yearlong subscription to Panera’s bread of the month club at a carnival. When I went away to Michigan, there was a Panera on campus that I stopped at on the way to class. Simply put, Panera was part of my life and always seemed to be there. I had even crafted my go-to You Pick Two order: The BBQ Chicken Salad & The Mediterranean veggie sandwich.

One day while driving from Chicago to Ann Arbor, I stopped at Panera. When I placed my order, I was devastated to learn that The BBQ Chicken Salad had been discontinued.

But Panera quickly regained my trust when just a few months later, I received this personal email:

My loyalty and my faith in humanity were restored.

When I moved to Mississippi, I discovered that there were no Panera locations in Jackson. I made do by stopping at Panera during my long Southern road trips for work. But then something amazing happened. 3 months after moving to Jackson, rumors started spreading that a Panera was opening. I called the shopping center weekly to get progress updates and find out when opening day was and let me tell you, opening day did not disappoint.

On the big day, my entire team drove to Jackson's first Panera for lunch. We were by far the most enthusiastic people in line so much so that Rick, the manager, introduced himself to us, gave us a free box of cookies, and gave me my very own Panera hat.

As I work to create positive customer experiences in my own career, I often go back to this moment and the feeling I had on Panera Jackson’s opening day. Brand loyalty is built through consistency, familiarity, comfort, and connection. We want to know what to expect and we want to get what we expect, which in turn makes us feel comfortable. But more importantly, we want to feel connected to positive memories. I call this the BBQ Chicken Salad Experience. It wasn’t that Panera did anything earth shattering for opening day (besides the hat, that was pretty awesome), but they did exactly what they’re known for - they made a good sandwich, a great BBQ Chicken Salad, and they built a space that resembled the Paneras I knew and loved.

That was exactly what I needed to make my new home feel like home.

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