Graphic depicting the battle between Panera Bread and Wawa featuring a selection from each place. (Photo Juno Le)
Graphic depicting the battle between Panera Bread and Wawa featuring a selection from each place.

Photo Juno Le

Head to Head: Panera vs Wawa

November 11, 2021

Simplicity is key, especially with food. Driving along any major street, one might find themselves passing by a popular chain.

Wawa: a staple American chain of convenience stores and gas stations on the East Coast founded in the ’60s by Grahame Wood. The chain is also notable for the food made and served in their convenience stores.

Panera Bread: an American chain store of bakery-café fast, casual restaurants all over the United States and Canada. The establishment was founded in the ’80s in Boston and has grown to be a popular spot for casual munches and study sessions.

After a heated battle at FSPA District 4 Workshop, Staff Writer Jadyn Grayes and News Editor Vikram Sambasivan take their stances on which chain is the superior choice.

Panera Power

Paneras Margherita Flatbread Pizza, available for only $9.29. It is enough to feed six people and perfect for splitting with a group of friends.

Photo Cecilia Cheng

Panera’s Margherita Flatbread Pizza, available for only $9.29. It is enough to feed six people and perfect for splitting with a group of friends.

Panera, the ultimate spot for a warm cup of soup when you’re feeling sick, or a quick sandwich amid a busy day of work. Wawa, a place we stop to refill gas and grab a soda. Which would you rather?

Although Wawa has a nice selection of sandwiches and snacks to choose from, there’s one simple fact you can’t deny; it’s still gas station food. Great for a case of the munchies at 12 a.m. on a Saturday, but should this be your first choice for dinner? Absolutely not.

When I was younger, going inside the gas station was snack heaven. Walking through the isles full of chips and candy was a luxury that my parents didn’t award my sisters and me often. Now, as I’ve matured, Wawa would be my very last choice for dinner.

Why settle for gas station food when you can eat at a welcoming, well-priced restaurant? Panera offers a variety of lunches and dinners including sandwiches, soups, and flatbreads. And unlike Wawa, it was created to sell food, not gas.

Not to mention the fact that the quality of the two establishments isn’t even comparable. Panera is neat, clean, and full of friendly employees. Wawa is most of the time dirty, and a trip inside will most likely be accompanied by dirty looks from strangers.

One of the main deciding factors in the argument of Wawa vs. Panera is, of course, the food. I recently took a trip to both and ordered a sandwich and a side.

My Panera Chipotle chicken avocado sandwich was my personal piece of heaven. Perfectly warmed, perfectly seasoned and perfectly assembled.  It comes with a bag of chips that you can put in your sandwich for extra crunch or save for a snack later.

For my Wawa experience, I sadly cannot say the same. While my turkey sandwich with lettuce and avocado was refreshing and light, my side greatly let me down. I ordered a “fresh” pretzel from the bakery and was given a pretzel hard as a rock with salt that tasted like clay. Unpleasant to say the least.

Although Wawa and Panera both have characteristics that make them enjoyable in different ways, there is no comparison. Panera will always come out with the victory.

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Wawa: filling stomachs and fulfilling expectations

A+Wawa+turkey+sandwich+on+white+bread+with+lettuce+and+avocado.

Photo Jadyn Grayes

A Wawa turkey sandwich on white bread with lettuce and avocado.

What’s the best type of restaurant? 

A big nationwide chain has a lot of convenience and consistency, while a small, local, hole-in-the-wall place that has high quality and incredibly tasty food, something often forgotten in large chains. Now imagine the two combined, a big convenient chain, with the look, love, and quality of a local restaurant. Welcome to Wawa.

The promoted values of both Wawa and Panera are the same, so the real points are seen in the execution.

When I walk into a Wawa, there’s just something about it. Perhaps it’s the smiling faces of the employees and customers, or maybe it’s the wide variety of affordable, quick, and fresh food available. But, whatever it is, it feels like I’ve been welcomed into a better place.

When I hear remarks about Wawa, many sing their praises but, many also utter scornful expressions of Wawa being “just a gas station.” While sure, Wawa is technically a place that serves gas, it’s not just a gas station. Saying that is similar to calling Costco a gas station solely because they have gas.

Wawa’s true gem lies in its foundation: hoagies. Wawa has a large selection of choices to assemble one’s hoagies from. Their dangerous mix of quality and low prices makes them a competitor of major restaurant/café empires. They’ve recently added many other options including paninis, burgers, pasta and more on top of premium coffee/drinks, a breathtaking selection of snacks and reasonably priced gas. 

Whenever I’m in a bind for a meal, or if I don’t want to overpay for unhealthy food, I visit Wawa. Especially with being vegetarian, Wawa has an array of dietary-friendly options for me, while still having choices for others. With a growing vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. population, having an affordable, nutritiously balanced choice for this demographic is very convenient.

Wawa has incredible customer service. The employees are kind and accommodating, and the streamlined ordering system gives Wawa their fast service. By ordering electronically through a tablet one gets a receipt instantly, so they can pay in advance and leave within 3-5 minutes.

As you can probably tell, I’ve gone to Wawa more than a few times, but for the purposes of this story, I also visited Panera to make sure that I knew what I was talking about. 

I mentioned above that the real difference between Panera and Wawa is the execution, and that is where Panera completely and utterly fails.

While the employees at Panera were nice, that’s about all that was. After an incredibly long wait, my highly anticipated order was not my order at all. Once I finished haggling with them to obtain the food that I was not given, I wished I hadn’t. Having ordered a simple sandwich, and Mac and Cheese I figured I had set the bar low. One flavorless sandwich and an aqueous Mac and Cheese later left me borderline nauseated.

Two choices so similar, yet so incredibly far apart. Seeing Wawa get scoffed at just because it sells gas, makes me ask the question, What’s so wrong with getting something high quality for cheap? Is a brand new phone at a 50% discount less valuable than the exact same phone (or in this case, a lower quality phone) for full price?

Wawa is a food establishment that appeals to all. It is a uniting force, gas station, a restaurant, but ultimately it is a company built on a community that welcomes everyone, giving us all a place to get good food, meant to be shared and rejoiced over with friends, family, and loved ones.

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