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Panera Bread's Free WiFi: A Smart Business Decision
Ed Kohler
I had yet another lunch today with a few coworkers at our local Panera Bread. Why Panera Bread? Free WiFi. Oh, and they have great soups, sandwiches, and salads. Since discovering Panera's free WiFi service, our company has eaten at Panera at least once a week; both at restaurants near our office and while on the road.

The best things about Panera's WiFi service are:

  1. It's free.
  2. It's reliable
  3. It's easy to get online
  4. It doesn't time us out after a fixed amount of time.
  5. It's always worked for us.

According to this article, Panera is the largest supplier of free WiFi in the world today.

I did a search on for [panera free wifi] to get a feel for what people think of Panera's service:

Satisfied Users (evangelists) of Panera's WiFi:

  • Goodbye Starbucks, Hello Panera - "I belong to the ?Ǩ?free wifi?Ǩ school.Considering the cost of setting up an access point and the monthly charges associated with it, businesses should give it away for free. My average per visit spending at Panera is ~6$ /hour and Panera is getting that money from me, just because of their free wifi (and the chilled green tea). A few more customers and sure they would get to be in the black on their wifi investment."

  • Why I don't eat at Crispers - "I don't eat at Crispers anymore. If there is a Panera Bread nearby I will always choose Panera. Why? Free wifi."

  • Props to Panera - "I?ǨѢm sitting in a Panera Bread in Chevy Chase, MD right now, getting some work done. I've visited several Paneras in multiple states over the past few months when I really needed to get connected to the Internet ASAP. I don?ǨѢt see a reason to pay for it at a Starbucks when it?ǨѢs free at Panera, which has almost 700 restaurants with free wireless access."

  • Free WiFi Hotspots - "I visit there all the time and have had a link to their site off to the right for over a year."

  • Free Wifi Highspeed Internet - "I was quite surprised to see just how many places I could go for Free. Looks like all or most Panera Bread Company stores and all Apple Retail Stores are offering the Free Access."

  • Panera Wifi - "The loyalty they've generated is worth 100x more than the nickels and dimes they?ǨѢd get by charging per-minute rates for Internet access."

  • Active Duty at Last - "I won't be starting serious training until January but it is good to get back into the military frame of mind and the culture of the Marine Corps, which I have sorely missed. I will be writing more soon, although I will most likely be updating from a local Panera Bread restaurant with free wifi until I get a permanent room in late January. "

  • Panera Bread Rocks! - "Anyway, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Panera Bread. I'm currently sucking on their free wifi. Saving my life at the moment. They have awesome sandwiches too."

  • Panera Free WiFi Rocks - "If you have a laptop equipped to go online wirelessly, you can go online for free at most Panera bread stores. What makes this even better - their coffee is good too."

  • Dispatches from the WiFi Zone - "Consider that I am only a block away from Starbucks and Caribou coffee. I prefer both places, especially Caribou, to Panera. However, they do not have free WiFi."

And a Frustrated User:

One complaint, and it came from someone who ate at Panera more than once while using the WiFi.

A smart move for Panera?

The blogerati seem to think so. Shareholders don't seem to be complaining either, especially when compared to Starbucks over the past year.

Why don't more restaurants do this?

Many will over time. Until then, the early adopters will have an incredible competitive advantage over slower moving companies, or companies who think they should be in the paid WiFi business.

Of course, this will all be mute in towns where cities provide free WiFi like New Orleans. Restaurants there will have to go back to competing based on providing quality food and service. Either way, I think Panera Bread is a winner.

Join us in our crusade for free WiFi for all.


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1. Posted by: Daniel Monday on September 29, 2006 10:57 AM:

Nice feedback from customers. Sounds like we've both had great experiences with Panera, along with a number of other folks. Can't be a coincidence, they obviously know what they're doing. Free WiFi, a relaxing atmosphere and great food are hard to beat!

2. Posted by: CyberialGypsy on August 5, 2007 10:27 AM:

Where is the Wi Fi help desk to handle problems logging into Panera Wi Fi? How are they contacted?

3. Posted by: Joe Blow on October 1, 2008 6:52 PM:

Painfully slow wi fi took over 20 seconds to load google (one of the simplest pages to load) Always sporadic. I love there food for the most part and I would probably go there on a daily basis if there wi fi actually worked.

4. Posted by: Jacob on October 15, 2008 6:15 PM:

Panera use to have good wifi up till about mid to late 2007. Now it seems they have throttled the speed down (probably to save money in the downturn). First their food starts to slip and now this. I've tried several locations in the St. Louis area (the home of Panera) and the wifi sucks at each one. It was my primary reason for going there and I won't be going any longer. What a shame.

5. Posted by: Hayley on February 10, 2009 11:56 AM:

I'm at Panera right now, and it's SO SLOW. It's so frustrating sometimes because the internet will just "time out" after a while for like 2 minutes and I'll just have to sit there refreshing. Why does it do that???? Certain sites will "crash" my internet connection and I"ll have to wait. It's so frustrating.

Starbucks now has free Wi-Fi if you use their prepaid cards (which doesn't actually COST more, just a little formality). Their WiFi is MUCH faster and more reliable. WTF Panera

6. Posted by: andrew garcia on May 16, 2009 12:50 AM:

what is the ip address and the wep key?

7. Posted by: Lori on June 29, 2009 5:51 AM:

I LOVE Panera Bread!!! I also love to have my meetings there. Having a small business, consulting in HR and Finance ( it is very beneficial to have a central location to meet potential clients and to have Internet access to capture meeting notes right there. Thanks Panera Bread!

8. Posted by: Richard smith on August 23, 2009 9:18 PM:

Is it possible to use a Skype WiFi phone (like the belkin F1PPP000GN-SK) at Panera bread? Has anyone ou there used one at Panera Bread? If so, how do you key in the access taken?

9. Posted by: Richard smith on August 23, 2009 9:18 PM:

Is it possible to use a Skype WiFi phone (like the belkin F1PPP000GN-SK) at Panera bread? Has anyone ou there used one at Panera Bread? If so, how do you key in the access taken?

10. Posted by: TripleJackInGA on February 5, 2010 9:55 AM:

While many restaurants, and other places, offer free wifi to lure people in, the reason Panera has had such success with it, and why I will always look for one if I need to get online while traveling (and of course buy something), is because it is reliable!!

You have no idea how frustrating it is to go into a place just because they have a sign that says "FREE WIFI!", and they either don't (McDonald's is good for this), or it's not working, and of course they haven't a clue about why.
As a matter of fact, if I'm in a place that is supposed to have it, and it doesn't work, I've stopped asking about it, since it's pointless.

I think in the MANY times I have been in a Panera and wanted to use the wifi, I have had 1 or maybe 2 times when it didn't work.

I have noticed in the past year that during peak hours they limit your usage, based on time, but that's usually only during rush-hours.

If businesses are going to use this to lure customers in, MAKE SURE IT'S RELIABLE, or it just frustrates the customer, who will then not want to come back, even for "FREE WIFI!".

11. Posted by: John on February 22, 2010 3:52 PM:

I'm new at this Wifi stuff ... How do I connect to the Internet while sitting in a Panera Bread facility? Can I connect while sitting in their parking lot?

Thank you

12. Posted by: Jeff Yablon on April 29, 2010 11:04 AM:

I've had it with Panera.

Actually, I hope to be able to reverse that comment, but for now I'm trying to get their attention by getting people to stop going there.

The Best and Easiest Way to Grow Your Business: Just Deliver What You Promise:
(are you listening, Panera Bread?)

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