UberFacts recently reposted a TikTok video of a Panera employee showing off how they prepare their mac and cheese- individual portions frozen in a cryovac bag, then boiled in the bag, and then cut out and poured into the bowl.  I didn’t think anything of this until I made the mistake of scrolling down to the replies (nothing good ever comes of the comment section, why do I keep doing this)- where I was reminded of just how much people who had never worked foodservice felt the need to chime in on how little they knew about how their food was being made.  Luckily for my sanity, for every disgusted tweet there was another saying “Yeah dude, no shit, it’s fast food what were you expecting.”

Eater had an… interesting spin on the situation, saying that Panera was keeping up with the sous vide trend, pointing out that people are more than willing to pay extra for sous vide at a fancy restaurant, so you can’t turn your nose up at it a Panera.  They also commented that most of the people complaining were also the people who didn’t know what the bay leaves in their Chipotle was.

I feel like that’s a bit of an optimistic take on it.  Panera isn’t doing it because sous vide is trendy, they’re doing it because it’s consistent and it’s easy.

I work in the kitchen of a sorta-high-end grocery store chain- not saying which one since the Panera employee that uploaded the original video got fired- and I can tell you that we do a lot of similar stuff there.  All of our soups are reheated the exact same way. Our macaroni comes precooked in five pound bags that we add to gallon bags of cheese sauce- both of which can also be boiled off in the bag (although most of what we make, at least at my store, is mixed together and packaged cold.).  Just about every sauce you can think of comes in a bag. Our meatloaf comes in premixed chubs, and our chicken parmesan is a pre-breaded, frozen cutlet. We’re by no means the only chain doing it, although some are experimenting with other ways to keep up with demands while keeping costs down, such as Costco vertically integrating their rotisserie chicken supply.  

We recently had a shortage of precooked pasta, and *gasp* we had to actually cook our own pasta.  What once took five minutes suddenly took an hour, between bringing the water to a boil, cooking off ten pounds of pasta in two or three pound batches (because that’s all that would fit in the pot), and cooling it down for packaging.  And yes, very little of that was actually hands-on, so it wasn’t too difficult to multitask around that, but on top of an ordinary day’s workload, it’s just that much more to keep track of. Plus, most of the people in the department make next to minimum wage, so even if they do know how to cook pasta within the tiny window that is a perfect al dente, they’d have little motivation to give a shit.  Now multiply that much human error by hundreds of Panera locations. A company on that scale needs to be consistent, or else customers are going to complain.   

This is the reality of food service once you get into large chains-keep the food fast, cheap, and consistent by having everything premade and paying someone minimum wage for minimum work. 

One thought on “Panera In Hot Water for Reaheating Mac & Cheese in Hot Water

  1. RJG says:

    Perfect title.

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