A Monday each week
dress like a professional
feel like a zombie

Udon noodle soup
the look and smell compels me
to burn my tastebuds

Few people notice
The lobster aquarium
soon boiled alive

What are you willing to buy from Panera Bread for $16.99? There are three answers: two full entrees, 18 bagels, or nothing. Notice what isn’t on that list? A $16.99 lobster salad sandwich.

I was in Panera a while ago and noticed a poster with a sandwich with the intimidating $17 price tag. Immediately I assumed it was some kind of large family style sandwich or something, but then upon further inspection I realized it wasn’t. I jumped back from the menu so hard I nearly pulled a mussel.

Are they serious? Everything on the menu (outside of 18 bagels) is $8.99. How can a reasonable person be expected to pay $18.45 (tax included) on a single sandwich? Not only would that take an exceptional level of trust on the consumer’s side, but also, a lunch budget more than twice the average ticket price. I am getting salty just thinking about it.

“Why is it so much?!” I asked

The young lady insulted my intelligence by saying, in a passive aggressive tone “Lobster is expensive.” leading me to believe she has been asked this question before, good. I am happy as a clam to hear that others, like me, are also shellshocked by the price. Of course I know lobster is expensive, it’s an “exotic” ingredient you can only get from the east coast. I can understand it costing more. I have watched the Deadliest Catch (and that’s JUST crab.) “Costing more” however, by Panera standards, should mean $10.99, at $17 I expect truffle oil infused mayo and gold flakes as garnish. I dug a little harder, trying to figure out exactly why it is SO MUCH other than just (mis)-targeting rich people. She touted the freshness of the lobster involved.

A Matter of Freshness?

Fresh huh? Just how fresh exactly? Do you have a lobster aquarium installed in the back of this store, and every Panera store, just for this summer special? Are there 30 fresh Maine lobsters chilling in there just waiting for me to order them? Is there a trained chef in the back ready to (humanely) execute, shell, clean and prepare the lobster for me? I highly doubt it. More than likely they just order frozen lobster meat just like the rest of us. You know Red Lobster has an actual lobster aquarium and can legitimately get away with calling it “fresh” and even they charge only $13.99 for a lobster entree.

It’s like going to McDonalds and seeing a new Kobe Beef Burger for $16.99. I don’t know anyone who has those kinds of balls. I can go to a classy sushi place and get an entree for less than 17$ and that has been prepared by a sushi chef who is probably getting paid 80k, and it is made with more exotic ingredients than lobster. I can go to the liquor store and buy a bottle of Grey Goose and drink-to-forget this absurd summer special.

Two Separate Problems

A. To claim that lobster is “expensive,” and that is why they are charging so much, is a total crock of shit. If they aren’t flat out lying about the lobster being fresh, then maybe I can understand, but I highly doubt that claim as well. This is a common marketing gimmick. You charge more for “Gyro Meat” and “Guacamole” even though they hardly cost more than chicken and cheddar cheese. The issue is it’s 100% more expensive, not a little bit more expensive.< B. Totally out of character for the store. Panera deals in pre-made soups and cold cuts. Now I am going to trust them in preparing a lobster? They have never even dealt with seafood before other than clam-chowder (too salty). They expect me to take a total risk on a dish they have no experience preparing and pay them more than double the average ticket price for it? Get out of town!

Update as of 06-05-2011

I interviewed a Panera employee who confirmed many of my suspicions. He confirmed that they do not have real lobster, it comes in frozen just like the rest of the meat. The second confirmation is there is NOT a pound of lobster meat in the sandwich. Rather, 8oz in the full size, and 4oz in the half size (a pound is 16oz). Just as I thought. The “freshness” is a lie, and any argument about a pound of lobster is also untrue. Although Panera never made a claim that there is a pound of meat, people just assumed that for some reason.