I love Panera Bread, the bakery, salad, soup and sandwich chain that has great food at reasonable prices. I often go there around midday to grab some lunch, especially if I’ve been working from home and need a little human contact.
The Panera near me in Kingstowne does not disappoint. It’s always teeming with people from all nationalities, demographics and economic strata. It is a smorgasbord of food and humanity.
For the longest time, my only pet peeve about Panera was its policy of free Wi-Fi and allowing “customers” to set up shop at the tables and booths. I’m talking about the people who buy one cup of coffee and then spend hours on their laptop with their headphones on, oblivious to real customers trying to find a place to sit. Or they’re on their cell phones making business calls. Excuse me, but isn’t that what an office is for?
Now days, I have a new pet peeve. I call it the Panera Interview. More and more, I’m seeing business people conduct full-scale interviews and meetings in the middle of Panera. Or regular people having conversations that I don’t really need to hear.
If you’ve been to Panera, you know the tables are close together. If you want privacy, if you seek intimacy, if you crave confidentiality, Panera is not the place for you.
Yet, while eating my Greek salad or tomato soup, I have overheard with excruciating clarity:
- Job interviews so close to my table that several times I’ve felt the urge to pipe up and give the applicant some pointers. At the end of one interview, I wanted to stand up and shake the person’s hand and say, “Good luck!”
- A meeting of two contractors who were complaining about the lack of direction from the client. Again, I felt an urge to stop by their table and offer some advice.
- Numerous meetings with clients or potential clients where details of a contract or the scope of work are shared.
- A heated exchange between a man and woman whom I surmised were getting divorced.
- An awkward first date between a middle-aged couple.
I myself fell victim to the Panera Interview last fall when an insurance agent suggested that we meet there to discuss some liability coverage. Things were going fine until she started asking me for some personal information to prepare a quote. My God, I thought, I’m being Panera-ed! So for our next meeting, I suggested she stop by my home office.
I can see the reasons why managers might want to interview candidates outside the office. It doesn’t tip off your employees that you’re interviewing or who you’re talking to. It is a neutral setting. And if you’re a job seeker, you don’t have to be out of the office for hours pretending to be somewhere else. You can truthfully say you’re going out to get something to eat.
But in Panera, folks, let’s use a little discretion! And that goes for Starbucks, too. We wish you luck on your interview, but we don’t need to know the names of your children, your hobbies or your work history.