You know what I hate? Tofu (insert sound of angrily indignant health-conscious readers here).

Actually, what I really hate is when I do business with a company that makes a promise and doesn’t keep it. There are lots of flavors and shadings to that, of course, and I understand that sometimes there are things that are beyond your control.

Panera Bread, you lose.

I travel during my business day. I carry my Droid and from it I can manage a lot of what has to get done while I’m out. But sometimes I need to get on line from my laptop and so I go in search of a Wi-Fi signal. Starbucks gives me nearly-free Wi-Fi, and McDonalds does the same. So does Barnes & Noble. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see me as I move around.

Yesterday, for the umpteenth time, I went to the Panera Bread in Roxbury NJ. Panera advertises that they have free Wi-Fi, and at the other Paneras I’ve visited I’ve always been able to get connected. Not only that; Panera’s signal feels better and faster than the ones I get at many other places.

Not in Roxbury. The Wi-Fi at the Panera Bread in Roxbury just can’t be counted on. I’m not going to give you numbers like “one time in four”; it works sometimes for months at a stretch, and then it doesn’t work for months at a stretch.

I’ve asked the people who work there to reset their router. They refuse, citing corporate rules. I’ve spoken to their corporate IT department (no, I’m not kidding). Those people were polite, tried to be helpful, troubleshot the issue with me and seemed as though they wanted to do something about the problem, but ultimately failed.

So what? I’m ranting, right? I want free Wi-Fi and want to make an example out of Panera Bread? Not exactly.

While it’s true that I want what I want and do wish to use Panera as an example, the point isn’t to whine, vent my anger or get something. The point is that Panera Bread advertises free Wi-Fi as a way of getting people to come be in their stores and then doesn’t deliver it.

I mentioned that I’ve spoken to Panera about this problem, and the people I spoke with “got it”. I pointed out that it wasn’t really about getting the free Wi-Fi so much as knowing that when I walk into Panera Bread with an hour to kill and some work to get done that I’ve chosen the best place to stay productive. If I go into a Panera only to find that their W-Fi doesn’t work and the staff in the store refuses to help me, now I’ve wasted my time and need to go looking for another option.

Panera, listen: I really want you to fix your Wi-Fi, because when I’m out and it works you’re my favorite place to set up shop for a few minutes. But I can’t run my business if you can’t run yours.

By the way, there are a couple of really simple solutions:

  1. Stop advertising free Wi-Fi at Panera Bread
  2. Teach your in-store employees to reset a router

The solution that will not work and will chase people away from Panera is to promise something you won’t deliver.

Business is a tough enough sport for all of us without getting in a loop where you set customers’ expectations one way and deliver something else. And when you actively refuse to do what you’ve promised, you’re asking to be the next Panera Bread. I’m done with Panera, and until they fix this very simple issue I’m asking you both to take the lesson and help with the practical solution: stay away from Panera Bread.

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