Where Everybody Knows Your Name

The Fuji Apple Chicken Salad (FACS) at Panera Bread is great.  I love the combination of flavors…mixed greens, chicken, tomatoes, pecans, gorgonzola, red onions, white balsamic apple vinaigrette, and apple chips.  Often when I’m eating it – especially when I get gorgonzola, pecan, and apple chip in one bite – I think about the scene in Ratatouille when Remy attempts to stimulate his brother, Emile, into significantly higher levels of food appreciation by allowing him to experience the taste explosion that comes with combining flavors into a single bite.  I never used to be a salad guy, but when I made a commitment to cut my carb intake, I started eating salads regularly and realized what I had been missing.  The FACS quickly became my favorite.  FACS…apple on the side…iced-tea…that’s almost always my order…$9.93 with tax…every day I can get there.

Today was different.  I had a small bite to eat home to help clean out some leftovers, but still found myself wanting to go to Panera to eat something light and do some work.  I walked in and Taryn greeted me from behind the counter, “Hi, Kurt.”  I replied, “Hi Taryn…a little curve ball today.  I’m just going to have a bowl of French Onion soup, an apple, and an iced-tea.”  After taking a quarter step back, Taryn keyed in my order.  A moment or two later, just as I was getting my change back, she began laughing lightly back and forth with the women preparing food some 40 feet away.  It turns out, Virginia, from the back of the store, saw me come in and prepared a FACS for me.

It would be easy to say that Virginia made a mistake…that she wasted the company money.  I don’t see it that way, and I don’t think anybody in my shoes would either.  To me, the fact that Virginia knows what I order and took initiative to serve me well says that I’m not just a transaction to the folks at Panera Northvale; I have a relationship with them.

The truth is, there are a lot of menu items at lots of restaurants that I like enough to eat everyday.  But I almost always go to Panera Northvale.  It’s quick and convenient, I like the environment, and the value equation is right for me.  But, at least as importantly, Robyn, Taryn, Darlene, Ingrid, Virginia, Bryan, Daneisy, Kimberly, Joanne, and Dawn know my name and what I order.  And when I see any one of them and we talk, I never feel like I’m only worth $9.93.  They seem to understand that while transactions are over quickly, relationships last.