A thread about Applebee's got me thinking about eating out. Very few restaurants meet my standards for taste. Its nigh impossible for an independent restaurant or chain to match food grown from my own garden, and served the night the food is harvested.
So, when eating out its not about the taste of the food. Nor is it about cost, very few dishes can be made for the cost of restaurant food. Pizza is about the only exception. For some reason its cheaper to order pizza out then to make from scratch.
So, its not about the taste nor price. Then, what does Panera Bread have going for it? The atmosphere. Eating out is all about the atmosphere. I tend to just order the cheapest item on the menu and not even touch the food. Usually a soda, if there is a $10 minimum I get the minimum.
What we lack today is a sense of community. The cathedral squares of old or market squares. What Panera Bread's niche is a place to hang out.
To stare at your soda while talking with friends. You never know who's going to walk in that door. If you get hungry, just hop outside and eat some travel rations. Then, hop back in.
Some of my fondest memories are playing games at the large tables in the back. The casual and friendly employees didn't mind if we spent all day playing games. I find the restaurant clean, well lit, friendly, and casual. Who cares if the food is only fit for the garbage disposal.