From Mechanicsville, Va — 01/12/2009
Pay: I started in Christiansburg making $7.25. After six months I was given a $0.14 raise, which was pretty random, but understandable. Management was given an amount of money (based upon how that particular store rated) to divide amongst the employees that had shown for every shift. After transferring to Midlothian, my new GM told me he would even my pay out to $7.50 (not $7.39). After two paychecks I realized this never happened. I transferred lately to Mechanicsville. They offered me a raise to $8.50, but I had to wait three more months for my GM to enable it (I guess it has to stay between the annual raises time frame). I am now satisfied with my pay, and I think it reflects my effort.
Respect: I think this depends on the manager for sure. I'm not saying they disrespect you, but we've got one that can be very... intimidating. He's just cocky and can be an ass during a rush. My GM is very friendly and makes working very comfortable.
Benefits: Health insurance does not apply to me, but I know they offer it for an okay (but not amazing) price. We do get 60% off all food and free drinks. Managers usually allow anything free if we ask. The latest you'd ever have to stay at night would be 10pm...definitely a plus over waitressing.
Job Security: It's really HARD to get fired from Panera. I once knew an employee that had stuck a sign on the drive-thru saying "Out of Order," and she just texted and fooled around all night. She was, of course, fired; but then rehired less than a week later after apologizing. If you don't show for work on multiple occasions without an excuse, you are fired. That's all I've ever witnessed.
Work/Life Balance: Panera will call you outside of your schedule if you have open availability. You don't HAVE to go in though. I can easily request time off and adjust any scheduling problems with other employees or managers. If I want more hours they seem to listen. It's fine.
Career Potential/Growth: Panera seems to really excite new employees. I remember being hired with early recommendation to become a shift supervisor. They must have been desperate, because I was encouraged to send my resume to hire management soon after. This, however, led to no reply and the position was soon filled (by someone much more experienced). If you are cool with the managers, they will offer you greater potential. The work you put in eventually pays off. I am now a black hat trainer, because I came in on my own time to do hours of e-learning (online training for all areas of the cafe). After working at three different Paneras for a total year, I think that's appropriate. If I stay at Panera, I believe to have more possibilities (or at least great resume builders).
Location: Panera is one of the fastest growing businesses right now, so they're pretty much close and everywhere. I live about 20 minutes away from work now, but they're building a new store just down the street by summer! (I'm hoping to transfer...AGAIN!)
Co-worker Competence: It bothers me that someone who tries half as much as I do could be paid the same or receive the same treatment. My current shift supervisor is completely scatter-brained and has been working with Panera less than I have. The first day I transferred to Mechanicsville he asked me how to make Chai tea and Frozen drink mix (if you work for Panera, you should know this is ridiculous for a manager to ask an employee...especialy because the directions are on the base mix). Throughout the time there I feel as though I have taught him other random tidbits rather than him teaching me anything. He was unaware how to get steamed water out of the coffee brewers, unaware of temperature danger zones and how long food lasts, unaware how much sugar goes into the sweet tea, etc. It's very frustrating. I do, however, believe that most people know (at least somewhat) of what they should be doing there.
Work Environment: This depends. Some days at work can be really fun, while other days can put you in a horrible mood. It depends upon the manager's moods and really how busy it may be. Slow days could be incredibly boring, while busy days can be frustrating from customer complaints or desires. Adding to the obesity of America is not exactly the most rewarding job, but I feel so much less stress from Panera as I did from any previous waitressing. It's an overall relaxed environment.