Au Bon Pain & Other Fast Casual Restaurants Have Gone Stale

Maressa Brown

au bon painThe casual cafe bakery joint Au Bon Pain sounds like it's going through a painful midlife crisis. The Boston-based chain recently redesigned some of its 318 locations, adding create-your-own-salad stations and is testing taking orders with iPads. They've also added new menu items like cupcakes and new soup and salad value combos.

Call me a food snob (I prefer foodie), but I'm really unimpressed. Of all the updates, submitting your order through an iPad seems to be the biggest excitement, which is pretty sad. Because it's just a gimmick. Otherwise, all ABP seems to be touting here are mediocre corner deli offerings, likely factory-made cupcakes and "value" combos you can get at a gazillion other places. As far as I'm concerned, this is not an update worthy of 2011. It sounds more like 1991.   

I would guess we're more eco-conscious, health-conscious, and globally aware than we were when ABP was founded in 1978. We have more options than ever before, many of which can be delivered to our home or office doors, especially if we live in major cities where ABPs compete for customers.

If they really want to compete for our taste buds in the new millennium, I'd suggest ABP start with adding newer flavors, fresher ingredients, and sustainable and/or organic items to their menu. I mean, come on -- have these people learned NOTHING from Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle? As it stands, a lot of what they have to offer is grilled chicken, red meat, or meager seafood options slathered in aioli or mayo. Maybe they've missed the memo that lots more of us are vegetarians or vegans these days, too.

To be fair, it's not just ABP that seems stuck in a 20th century taste rut. Subway's new claim to infamy right now is that they have "AHHHHHvocado" (yes, spelled like that) on top of sandwiches with bacon. Mmmm, processed fried meat topped with a "mashed avocado spread." (Probably filled with preservatives.)  And McDonald's (oh dear, how I hate this place -- let me count the ways) wants to make us salivate over Starbucks-esque interiors and DIPPING SAUCES ... like HONEY mustard. OMG. Did they get that idea from Bobby Flay?! How gourmet.

In all seriousness, I'm sure that all of these fast casual places are attempting to give the masses both a higher-quality experience and menu options, but in the end, it just feels like they're trying too hard while missing the mark. That's not a winning recipe, no matter how you slice it.

What new menu options would you like to see at your favorite fast casual restaurant?


Image via Ben Brophy/Flickr

Read More