I have always enjoyed lunch from Panera. When I was eating gluten I always had half of a Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich with a cup of soup. When I discovered my gluten allergy, I asked questions and figured out what I could eat. I always tell the cashier that I have a gluten allergy, and ask them to please notify the people preparing the food. I have eaten at Panera several times, and have never had a problem.
Usually, I eat the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad, but when my husband and I went to lunch there I saw a salad that looked good -- Steak and Blue Cheese. I asked the cashier if it had gluten in it. She thought about it for a moment, then said, "Huh. Gluten? . . . No, I think it's fine." So I asked her if she could look it up in their handy nutrition guide that lists all of their foods and the allergens. After about five minutes of searching, she couldn't find the salad. So, she told me again that while she couldn't find it, she was pretty sure it was ok. I asked for a manager.
The manager was not pleased about having to stop what he was doing to help me. He barely looked at me, flipped to the front of the book and told me that the steak salad had gluten, but I could try the barbecue chicken salad or the Fuji Apple salad, with or without chicken. Before he could walk away, I said, "Wait! I wanted to know about soups too!" He wasn't happy, but looked up the soups for me too.
When I placed my order (Fuji Apple salad with chicken and a cup of tomato soup, without the crouton), I asked for the food handlers to please be notified that I needed my food to be gluten free. She did not, apparently, because I was sick within 10 minutes of finishing my meal.
On my previous visit to Panera my ticket said: *GLUTEN FREE. The people fixing my salad called me up to the counter to make sure they were doing everything I needed them to do (I explained about cross contamination, and they assured me they'd take every precaution). This time, my ticket only had my order on it. No one asked me what they could do to prevent a reaction. The manager could have cared less about my needs. I realize that the restaurant was busy, and he was busy. But, that lunch ruined my day. I had a headache, was fatigued, felt nauseous, and ended up taking a three hour nap because I didn't have the energy to do anything on my long list of chores. When I woke up the following day I had some swelling around my eye, a headache, and eye pain. That was two days ago. Today I still have eye pain and slight swelling. Because they were too busy to take care of me, I suffered.
It's upsetting because simple precautions could have saved the day. I wish that more restaurants would take the time to educate their employees on food allergies. It's unrealistic to never eat out. I'll just have to be more picky about where I choose to eat, and more up front about what I need to stay healthy.