So, apparently Panera has a HIDDEN menu…

I just heard – Panera has healthier, low-calorie menu options!  From what I can tell, there are options that are gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.   Oh, but they are on a secret menu…

For the new year, Panera started serving a “hidden menu” that has lower calorie paleo-ish items.  This is great… in theory.  Panera’s made-to-order business model certainly allows for enough customization of the menu for just about anyone to stick to their chosen diet.  However, so many of their soups and sandwiches are sneakily caloric.  Even the salads have piles of nuts and cheese, which certainly pack on the calories (they are calorie-dense, even if they ARE delicious and have some nutritional value).  I was pretty excited to learn that they are now offering these newer items – things like a Mediterranean Chicken (or turkey) Salad, Chicken Hummus Bowl, or Steak Lettuce Wraps.  Nice.

Here’s my problem with this – WHY is it a hidden menu?  At this time of year, when everyone is thinking about healthier lifestyles (whether a New Year’s Resolution or just getting back on track after the holidays), they could probably draw in a lot of business with these options.  Plus, without advertising the menu, people might not hear about it, and it won’t be profitable.  If it isn’t profitable, it won’t last.  This is sad – there aren’t many quick, healthy options out there, and I think people would embrace these items if they were on the regular menu.

So, if you want to try it (and you are in the U.S.), you have to tell the cashier that you are ordering from the hidden menu… and try not to feel silly doing so!  Next time I go to Panera, I plan to give it a whirl.  If anything, I will be voting with my wallet.

Isn’t the whole thing kind of strange, though?  Why develop a new menu concept, but then not do everything possible to make it succeed?

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