I’ve decided to start a new series for this blog which takes a look at different venues for networking and talks about some of the advantages and disadvantages of each. My goal is to help people make good choices on where they can meet for one-to-one chats. Sometimes the location can make a big difference in the relative success or failure with one-to-ones.

For today’s review, we’ll look at the perennial favorite spot for networking — Panera Bread.

Name: Panera Bread
Type: Restaurant
Pros: Free wi-fi, located all over the country, comfortable seats, decent food.
Cons: Can be quite crowded during peak times (immediately before and after work and during lunch), can also be loud enough that conversation becomes difficult.

Panera Bread restaurants are just about everywhere. In the Ann Arbor area, there are four within easy driving distance and several more within twenty minutes. If you don’t have specific needs for a networking meet-up, then Panera works very well. It has counter service for pastries, bagels, coffee, and soup and sandwich style lunches. It has a few breakfast offerings, too. It even has a few drink options for those of us who are not coffee or tea drinkers (I love the low-fat Mango smoothie).

If you are planning on meeting someone at Panera, I recommend setting a time during their non-peak hours. If at all possible, try to snag a booth, too. During their peak times (lunch and immediately before and after normal work hours), the place can be quite busy, to the point of there not being any tables available. It can also be fairly loud, making it a bit difficult to hear your conversation partner.

Panera, in general, is as good a place to meet someone as any. It’s not terribly exciting, but it does the job. Try to avoid the peak hours and you shouldn’t have any complaints.