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Panera Bread Is The Largest Provider Of Free WiFi 350

ayb11 writes "According to this article, the Panera Bread chain of Bakery/Cafes (think Starbucks that bakes their own bread) is the largest provider of free WiFi in the US. Their web site says, " There are currently 573 Wi-Fi enabled Panera Bread bakery-cafes, from California to Virginia. More are added every day." (Even my retired dad takes his barely-used laptop over there so he can get free refills on coffee.) Their full list of hotspots is here."
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Panera Bread Is The Largest Provider Of Free WiFi

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  • by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:08PM (#11703753)
    Actually, the one right down the street from my apartment constantly has people hanging out in it with their laptops, drinking some tea and eating a bun or something. They'll be sitting there for hours.
  • by AnotherEscobar ( 852831 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:08PM (#11703758)
    Panera's became my home office for 3 months last year. Every day, constant free coffee refills, and plenty of lunch-crowd eye-candy from the local office complex.

    Course, there was that time when someone sniffed/watched-over-my-shoulder while I was paying my bills and the next day I had to dispute a bunch of charges... but for just hanging out, a great place.

    Had hoped they could force T-Mobile to be more competitive, but this isnt something new and last I looked Starbucks still had ridiculous fees.
  • by krgallagher ( 743575 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:10PM (#11703782) Homepage
    "Companies act like it is a cripling cost, but what $60/month for cable, when customers will use this feature if you have it, it will even draw people to your store."

    I agree. I travel a lot so I am usually living out of hotels and eating in resturaunts. One of the fist things I look for in a city is a convenient resturaunt to go to that has free wifi, good food, and at least one decent beer on tap.

  • I'll take it (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:18PM (#11703873)
    I find their food reasonable and reasonably priced, and they given free refills on the soda. Thus, I'm off to my local Panera whenever I need to download system upgrades... I get up early on weekends anyway, and would go w/o the WiFi - it's merely a big plus for me.

    I've seen a number of laptop's there some days. It's also good to know where I can get both food and WiFi when on the road. It's like A/C was years ago, a cost of doing business if you wanted people in your store.
  • by Manchot ( 847225 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:21PM (#11703927)
    Panera is a St. Louis based company, yet there are no Paneras in the entire city. There, are, however, a few dozen St. Louis Bread Companies. St. Louis Bread Co. is the original name of the chain, but Panera is the name that they decided to expand nationally under. Other than the name, though, pretty much everything else is the same.
  • by MixmastaKooz ( 621146 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:22PM (#11703941)
    I live a couple blocks from the HQ and when I was new to the area, I walked into their offices thinking I'd order a sandwich...the secretary pointed across the street where their closest restaurant is located... Their operation in St. Louis is pretty tight (and called St. Louis Bread Co...we St. Louisans are rather provincial) but I was shocked a while ago when I noticed brochures for their wi-fi access and was very impressed. I almost bought a wi-fi enabled PDA (I was in the market for one at the time) hoping to frequent Bread Co... If you go to their store near Washingtion U. in the Loop, laptop/pda usage there is high and basically, they've nailed it: it's a great way to draw in the young professional/student crowd.
  • by anjrober ( 150253 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:22PM (#11703942)
    The Panera buy my office has a fireplace section with couches and stuffed chairs expressly to encourage people to lounge all day. I've had coworkers have meetings there and not order anything at all. On Saturday nights they have live music after that continues after people have stopped ordering food. I've seen the same people in there when I bought coffee in the AM and lunch in the PM.
  • by dmorin ( 25609 ) <> on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:35PM (#11704102) Homepage Journal
    I'm pleased to say I did my part to make this happen. The Panera in my hometown has wifi. However there's no value in me hanging out there on workdays when there is another Panera exactly halfway along my commute, right on the highway. So I wrote them some feedback on their web site saying that if they had wifi then on bad commute days I could hang out there for hours getting my work done and still see how the traffic is coming.

    Not only did they respond, but they actually left me on the list as they kept hitting reply-all and I got to hear all the details about the progress of the mall's wiring that was holding them back (they told me they had to wait for work being done on the mall).

    The service was actually activated months before they told me that it would. I've used it several times since then. Very nice! Now if I could only bring myself to take up a table for 3 hours while enjoying a single bagel...

  • by mavantix ( 16356 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:54PM (#11704368) Homepage Journal
    Funny, I just sat down w/ my g/f and our meal, and the first /. article I read is about the WiFi I'm using to post. I thought /. had tapped into my mind causing illusions for a second...
  • Bread? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 17, 2005 @04:54PM (#11704370)
    I don't know but I don't seem to recall Panera having especially good bread. My definition of good bread is that you can make a sandwich with it and it's the bread that holds the sandwich togeter, not the filling holding it together. I hate sandwichs that disintegrate before you finish consuming them.

    The best bread I've had is from Bread Alone []. All others crumble in comparison. Their pumpernickel is the real thing, not the fake rye with charcoal and caramel coloring. Unfortuantely I can't get it here in MA so I'm making do with lesser bread. And don't get me started on bagels. Real bagels, not the bread dough ones. Genuine water bagels, the kind Daniel Pinkwater says you can crack a tooth on.

  • by SyntheticTruth ( 17753 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @05:06PM (#11704511)
    My wife works at the local Panera. Not only do we also have the fireplace and couches, but I can vouch that they actively invite people to sit and hang-out. Overall, I would think, people who do so *also* purchase food and drinks.

    That said, I've heard the local WiFi doesn't work quite often, but it's not the WiFi router, but their local 'Net connection.

  • by MooseGuy529 ( 578473 ) <i58ht6b02@sne[ ] ['ake' in gap]> on Thursday February 17, 2005 @05:25PM (#11704718) Homepage Journal

    Good point.

    I've often wondered if Linksys could include a coupon with their wireless routers that allowed you to become a hotspot on their network. You would sign up, it would turn your router into a captive portal, you would be able to add your own computers, and other people would be charged a monthly fee and authenticated against Linksys's servers. Then you'd get a share of the profits. Given how widespread their routers are, this could be a good situation for the router owners, the users, and Linksys.

  • by ShatteredDream ( 636520 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @05:25PM (#11704725) Homepage
    The one time I took my powerbook into the local one I found that it was slow as hell and that it erred overwhelmingly on the side of caution in terms of filtering. My blog got hit as "mature-adult" even though there is nothing pornographic about it. Not that I care, but it's sorta funny when I can even post blog entries because it doesn't discriminate between the Movable Type panel and my actual published pages.

    Personally, I prefer the starbucks cafe that is practically next door to our Panera. It is $4.00 for two hours but basically is good enough to be like my Adelphia service at home. I haven't tried the local Daily Grind's (Virginia's Starbucks competitor chain) but they have free WiFi and knowing them I bet that it's at least decent.

    In the end you get what you pay for. If I am going to be actually staying at a place for longer than to check my email, then I want something reliably usable. At Panera, I am paying indirectly because they factor the cost of the cheap WiFi into their food. At starbucks in our Barnes & Nobles, I don't even have to buy anything other than the access. Not only that, I like Starbucks coffee more than Panera's.

    It's one of the great things about living in a growing college town. 25% of our population are college students and that means that local businesses can easily afford to provide these services cheaply or for free. All of our laptops are configured with WiFi cards now because the school has I think between 30 and 50 WiFi points at least now. Though ironically those stuck on campus cannot have WiFi in their dorms, even if they use 128bit WAP and restrict IP addresses.
  • by chia_monkey ( 593501 ) on Thursday February 17, 2005 @06:20PM (#11705416) Journal
    The business model is a great one for not only Panera but also for hotels and such. Hell, hotels probably spend more on the free coffee per month than they would on providing free wifi to customers.

    Ponder this. For $60, they get their broadband. Pop in the access point and a gateway and you're good to go. That's it. A one time charge of maybe a couple hundred bucks (including labor) and recurring cost of $60, you'll be getting people coming day in and day out JUST because you've got free wifi. I know companies that have blown ten times that amount on marketing that brought zilch in revenue. This is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to bring people into your establishment.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!