For Valentine’s Day, Panera Suggests You Have a Marriage Proposal With Your Half-Sandwich

A sign marks the location of a Panera Bread restaurant on May 5, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.
The potential location of your engagement.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Ah, Valentine’s Day. At the grocery store, a hapless fool waits anxiously in line with a bouquet of supermarket flowers and a box of candy no one likes. Across town, a “Galentine’s Day” party begins with the pop of a champagne bottle and Magic Mike XXL playing in surround sound. And, amid the haze of love suffusing the air, someone proposes to their partner at … Panera Bread?

That’s right, in today’s special Valentine’s edition of “How Did This Get Past Multiple Stages of Corporate Decision-Making?” we have a sweepstakes scheme from everyone’s favorite mall-adjacent café chain. The terms of the contest are pretty clear: Propose inside or in front of a Panera on Valentine’s Day between 9 a.m and 11:59 p.m. Eastern time, post a proposal pic with #PaneraProposalSweeps to social media, and you just might be one of five lucky couples to get your wedding catered by Panera for free.

To their credit, even Panera realizes how ludicrous this entire idea sounds: The first thing on the expansive list of terms and conditions for their sweepstakes is, “Just checking to see if we’re serious? We are.”

To qualify for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, participants must be 18 years or older, have some sort of active social media profile, and be a resident of the continental United States with the exclusion of Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Utah or Wyoming. The five lucky souls will be notified within a week of popping the question as to whether they’ll receive up to $2,000 worth of free Panera catering—which is a lot of soup and sandwich combos! I can only assume that should a couple lose, the engagement will promptly be called off.

This competition raises a whole host of questions. Does Panera really think that more than five couples will publicly get engaged in one of their stores? If you propose to a Panera employee, does that improve your chances of winning? What have Utah and Wyoming done to anger the Bread Bowl Gods? Speaking of bread bowls, can those even be catered?

I visited a local Panera to get some answers. Unfortunately no proposals took place during this reporting trip, but I did get to expense a cherry tart and some iced tea. When I asked the cashier for comment on the stunt, they had no idea what I was talking about. The manager then explained to me that the sweepstakes was a corporate decision and not a franchise one; she had only found out about the competition through social media and thought it was a joke herself at first. So if this fine Panera is representative of the national situation, don’t expect a song and dance number from employees upon getting down on bended knee—you’re more apt to be asked to let other guests get to the soda fountain. In any case, the manager doesn’t expect to see many proposals in her Panera: “I can’t see anyone actually doing this,” she laughed. “We’re not a big restaurant, I don’t see anyone wanting to get engaged here, you know what I mean?”

So far, she’s right—the #PaneraProposalSweeps hashtag is mostly full of people expressing disbelief that this is real thing, aside from one couple who got engaged in Panera back in August 2017. Then again, maybe some scenes of V-Day romance are still unfolding?