Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

I Love Bruegger’s Bagels, or Why Panera Can Seriously Bite Me

My love-hate relationship with Panera Bread has officially turned to all-hate, all the time.  I spent the majority of last Sunday at Panera’s Brookline location, in an effort to plow through my workload uninterrupted.  Mind you, the food at Panera is delicious for fast food…ever since my high school days of sneaking away to Panera for a cheap PB&J on whole wheat, I’ve respected the chain’s healthy fast food mentality.  But after my first thirty minutes online, I was a bit annoyed when I had to refresh my browser and accept the Panera wifi TOS all over again.  Still, it was worth the small effort…until my battery wore down a bit and I noticed that the store only had two electrical outlets accessible to customers.  Ooookay.  I found a new spot near one, set back to work, opened Twitter, clicked a link and…discovered tinyurl was blocked?!

You’d think that would have been the last straw, but no – I stayed for the rest of the day. Then I blogged about it, and attempted to make contact with Panera and SonicWALL, their filtering software company.  I noted to SonicWALL that tinyurl is not, in fact, a circumvention tool (their response was to tell me that they thought it was and will continue to mark it as such).

And then I got in touch with Panera. I explained to them that, while tinyurl appears to have circumvention properties, if a site is in fact blocked by SonicWALL, then tinyurl will not allow one to bypass the filter.  For example, Panera blocked access to http://playboy.com; if I send you a tinyurl link that redirects to Playboy (assuming tinyurl were unfiltered), you still would not be able to access Playboy.  Panera’s response?  Totally lame.  They had a disclaimer on it, so I can’t repost the entire message, but here’s the gist:

Tinyurl is blocked because the site is well known as a source of potential malicious activity and presents a risk to our general WiFi user community

While it does appear that tinyurl has been used for malicious purposes, I think “presents a threat to our general WiFi user community” is a bit strong. And that statement still doesn’t explain the fact that SonicWALL classifies the site as a circumvention tool.

So today I ventured back to Brookline Panera to test out more sites. I’d just settled in, started to create a list of blocked sites, then noticed my connection had disappeared. And when I went to refresh and log back in, Panera told me that I had exceeded my thirty minute peak time limit. Nevermind the fact that the store was half-empty.

And so I moved to Bruegger’s Bagels down the street, where the food may not be as great, and the soup selection is weak, but they serve great (Green Mountain) coffee, and invite you to stay as long as you like on their network:

brueggers-wifi

Additionally, their TOS is quite amenable (containing even a clause on Usenet News!) and they don’t block tinyurl or a whole lot of other allegedly offensive sites that Panera does (including a number of sites I might use for work purposes).  I don’t dare check if they block porn (wouldn’t want to violate the TOS!), but if you find out, let me know!

19 Comments

  1. Very interesting. Wifi is just starting to reach a critical mass in London and Damascus too. And my favouritist cafe in the whole world just changed their access from open to 30mins with any purchase. Grrr.

    And in Damascus, filtering is rife (and seems to be even more aggressive than the ISPs’ long block-list), except for one cafe. Domino in Bab Touma.

    Anyway…my point…I feel your Boston-wifi angst!

    • Wow, the filtering in Damascus cafés is WORSE than the government’s filtering? I guess that makes some sense, given that Syria doesn’t block much porn, but still!

      Booo for filtering anything any other than porn in public places (and even that I’m agnostic about).

  2. I was at Starbucks trying to make deadline while in DC for the Inaug. First, they didn’t have wifi (so I paid with Boingo) and they didn’t have a plug an-y-where. Blogger panic. Also, I always feel awkward just using wifi from a business without making a purchase but at Starbucks the line is always out the door. Annoying. Back to my point, I did a quick google search and found out that there was a Bruggers nearby. It rocked my world. The wifi was fast, there were no lines, and I got more work done than I would have even at the library.

    • Starbucks is lame, period.

      Bruegger’s seriously saved my life yesterday, AND the guy behind the counter had let me pay for fresh coffee so many times that he just started giving me free refills (um, around 5 pm…)

  3. That is ridiculous!

    I also just wanted to let you know that I really love your new website! It looks so gorgeous – the colors, layout – everything! Great job!

  4. Why would Playboy be blocked? Because if you’re sitting against a wall and the laptop is facing you and nobody else, someone might walk by and see you licking your lips at bunnies? What about the stories?

    All kidding aside, I grasp the concept of filtering software for children. But you’re of age. You should have the choice if filtering is on or off. Or does the store think you don’t have good judgment? Because if THAT is true, then you don’t belong in Panera anymore!

    • I am officially boycotting Panera! It’s obnoxious, really. I can get behind filtering in schools (to some degree, and age-appropriately), and even the opt-out filtering as it stands in public libraries (you can ask to have access to the full Internet but can get kicked out for viewing pornography openly). But filtering anything more than pornography (or even that!) in a public space? Ridiculous. Panera also says they block “occult” web sites, whatever that means.

  5. I’ve gone to Panera at least once per week for years. I stopped because they block tinyurl

    Oddly, Panera does not block sites just like tinyurl, such as bit.ly, ow.ly, and is.gd

    Eventually Panera will realize sonicWall is hurting their business and they’ll fix the problem. I wonder how long that will take.

  6. Honestly guys?You think this issue will hurt their bussiness? Most of the customers go there for the FOOD?BREAD! The WiFi is just an added convieniencs, not the main attraction. On another note, yes, some child may see you checking out porn, tell their parents, then PAnera gets sued.

    This is life.

    Deal.

  7. Honestly guys? You think this issue will hurt their business? Most of the customers go there for the FOOD/BREAD! The WiFi is just an added convenience, not the main attraction. On another note, yes, some child may see you checking out porn, tell their parents, then Panera gets sued.

    This is life.

    Deal.

    • Hahaha. “This is life. Deal.”

      The Panera in my neighborhood has, at any given time, 15-20 people on laptops. In fact, it is one of only 6 places in the neighborhood with wifi, which means that it needs to be highly competitive to keep people. Fortunately, it does have great food, so that’s a draw, but in order to compete with the other businesses, it needs to loosen up its wifi restrictions.

      Second of all, filtering porn is totally acceptable; that has nothing to do with what I’m arguing or with Panera’s filtering of tinyurl.

      Third, why should a child be sitting in Panera using a laptop anyway?

      And finally, there’s an easy fix for that, anyway. Create two filters and allow adults to opt-out of the strict one.

      Seriously, get a clue before you argue with me.

    • Panera’s wi-fi practices have already hurt their business — they lost me as a regular customer. I know I’m not the only one.

  8. Okay well, read a little better before you argue with me.

    I said:

    “On another note, yes, some child may see YOU checking out porn, tell their parents, then Panera gets sued. ”

    I did not say a child would be using a laptop. Also, Panera is not concerned with competitors Wi-Fi “practices”. Kind of how in most places Panera does absolutely no advertising, its just the way the company is designed, there is no need to compete.

    I was just telling you my opinion since I used to work for this company. Apologies if I offended you, that was not intended.

  9. I’ve rarely only seen blocking of sites on Bruegger’s wifi but they do it. Companies like Caribou are worse because they use a third party company to provide the wifi (like your example of Panera Bread) and they will not remove filters if requested. I’m actually amazed you got a response with your removal request. Wanderingwifi, Caribou’s wifi provider, does not respond and that’s after jumping through hoops to send them an email via their contact form. (They don’t like correctly formed email addresses and appear to block many public domains.)

    My problem with Bruegger’s wifi, at least with it here in Charlotte, is that it’s rather slow. It also has a habit of disconnecting every 15-20 minutes and resetting. Haven’t gotten a response on that complaint. Downloading files I’ve purchased from such site like iTunes is nearly impossible.

  10. I don’t know when Panera changed their policy, but I’ve been back a few times and they no longer block tinyurl or bit.ly.

  11. Just an update from my previous comment.

    I finally gave up on Bruegger’s Bagels. After finally submitting a feedback with documentation about the problems with wifi, I was confronted by a state level Operations Manager in one of their stores who, instead of discussing or dealing with the issue, let loose with a loud 3-5 minute profanity laden streak where I was bullied and threatened. When I asked for the name and contact information for his boss, he banned me from their stores. That was two months ago. Bruegger’s corporate, after an email saying that they took this matter very seriously, has refused to respond. Not that it’ll do any good but I’m in the process of filing a BBB complaint. My attorney has sent off a letter to their owners, Sun Capital Partners, althought I doubt we’ll hear anything back.

    I won’t step foot in a Bruegger’s or any other Sun Capital Partners operation ever again. I vote with my money. I only deal with stores and chains that believe in customer service. While I have no problem with the individual stores, their corporate leaves a lot to be desired.

  12. I am at Panera right now, not doing work but waiting for my son who is at a birthday party. We are an hour away from home so I needed to stay nearby. I ate lunch and dinner here so I don’t feel guilty. But I mostly watch Asian dramas when I’m filling time and they have blocked some of the sites I visit, and I have no idea why. Also, there is no notice it’s blocked. it just won’t play the videos. The site loads, but the videos won’t play. it took me a while to figure out what was going on. These sites don’t play adult content, just foreign content and maybe that’s the criteria.
    I don’t mind blocked sites at all if I understand ahead of time. i suppose I could to next door to Barnes and Noble and try out their wifi but I won’t be buying a book so I came here.

  13. Hey, figured I’d mention that its pretty easy to get around Panera’s time limit. I put some info on how down on a website:
    http://paneratimelimit.com

    Feel free to copy the info and share.

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