So I go to Panera Bread several times a week (different ones for different things). Having free wi-fi is nice, and I do take advantage of it, but there are several other reasons that I think that they and not Starbucks have turned into that 3rd place for people to go between work and home.
1) The fresh bread and pastries. Esp. the bread. All the sandwiches are great and they serve them up pretty quick.
2) The size of the restaurants. Even though it can get loud, the main difference between meeting someone at Panera and meeting someone at Starbucks for a coffee is that you can actually be several feet away from the espresso machine…meaning you can have a conversation…or use your phone if you get a call.
3) The free refills on coffee and soda. They haven’t done a similar thing for tea drinkers…but now they at least put out an urn of hot water.
4) The staff…they seem like normal people instead of some odd combination of tree hugging punk rockers…
5) ok now I can say it, the free wifi…
One other thing that I can say is that they aren’t as ubiquitous starbucks…they seem to be spread out more near the edges of towns and stuff where there is parking. Most of the starbucks are in the middle of someplace where if I wanted to drive to them, parking can be a nuisance.
Anyway, there are my thoughts on Panera Bread. I do admit one thing though…the coffee is better overall at starbucks…but free refills of pretty good coffee is a more a draw than excellent coffee.