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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

Bagel Buddies

How quality products and service promote friendship

Published: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 12:30

When I talk about quality, I’m usually referring to how good a product is or how good the service is, especially when I’m talking about my favorite diner or cafe. But I’ll bet you never thought about how the good food and service you get at your favorite eatery can help you make friends.

You’re probably thinking I’m crazy, but I really believe that good food and service set the scene for friendships. It’s true: Provide a nice place to sit, give me good food and service, and friends happen.

Several years ago in December I went to the Panera Bread Co. in Orion, Michigan, for my favorite morning cinnamon roll and coffee. While there I had occasion to address several Christmas cards. As I was enjoying my cinnamon roll and inscribing messages in the cards, a fellow at an adjacent table asked me if I was filling out a card for him. A strange question, and yet it started a conversation about Christmas cards and the upcoming holidays. As it turned out, he was also a retired banker, and we spent the next 10 minutes or so discussing our banking careers.

The following Sunday my wife, Mary, and I returned to Panera since it is our custom to have breakfast there every week. As luck would have it, the fellow who inquired about my Christmas cards was there with his wife. We started up a conversation that lasted for about an hour. That was two years ago. Now the four of us have developed a close friendship, and we meet every Sunday morning at Panera for breakfast and conversation.

So not only is the food at Panera excellent, but the store also brings people together for informal gatherings. And just to prove that Panera Bread Co. is a magnet for establishing new friendships, when we travel to St. Louis, Missouri, to visit our grandchildren, we always stop at the St. Louis Bread Co. in Chesterfield. (Panera is the corporate name in all states except Missouri, where it is headquartered.) Each morning a group of about 10 people breakfast at the bread company, and they have adopted me as an honorary member of the group each time we come to Missouri. So now I interact with friends at two different Panera Bread companies—real bagel buddies!

And speaking of the Chesterfield’s St. Louis Bread Co., there is a gentleman there named Dave, who shows up every day. In fact, he often meets potential clients there for his Internet advertising company. Sometimes he leaves for a while, but he places a note at his table stating he will return shortly. Once I noticed this was happening, I started leaving a note for him. It read, “Sorry I missed you. Mona.” I did this four or five times a year during each visit to our grandchildren, and each time I left the same note, signed by the same fictitious Mona. This went on for two years.

You can imagine how perplexed Dave was each time he saw a message from someone named Mona. From what I understand, he asked the restaurant staff about the note, and of course no one knew anything about it. Then last year I went into the restaurant, and Dave was seated at his usual table. I walked up to him and said, “Hi, I’m Mona.” The look on his face was priceless. And of course this meeting developed into another close friendship, so much so that he has attended the bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah of all our grandchildren in St. Louis.

So in conclusion, the Panera Bread Co. has not only become a dining experience for us but has also assisted us in developing new friendships. The Panera Bread Co.’s motto should be: “Great food and lasting friendships.”


About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.


Very Nice

Bill, a general comment to those who have taken you to task about some of your "off topic" articles: This article once again shows there is a soft side to the quality game; it is not all control limits and X-bar-R charts. Panera does a really nice job with quality in every store I've visited, and I have been in stores in Alabama, Ohio, Maryland, and St. Louis. What Bill is telling us, in my most humble opinion, is that there are benefits to quality we haven't even recognized. This article points out some of them. Thanks, Bill!

Chuck Greer


Panera Bread and Moni

Chuck - thanks for your comments and support. Panera (St. Louis Bread Company), in my opinion is a prime example of what happens when employees espouse strong qaulity measures. Those qualities not only permeate the attitude and performance of the employees, those traits are then transferred to the customers making the atmosphere fully charged with happy, energetic, satisfied staff and customers. Now it's time for another bagel for me! Actually the cinnamon roll and bear claw and the turkey bacon lettuce and tomato and guacamole sandwich are my favorites.