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In the next seven months, Panera Bread will open three stores in the San Diego area. Meghan Gates, regional training manager, talks management.

Please tell me a little bit about your management-training program.

It’s about a seven-week program. Trainees go through three nights of overnight baking training and two weeks of associate training where they learn all the areas of the hourly positions. They have three days of catering training and three full weeks of shift management training, store openings and closings.

How does one get into the program?

External hires apply on the Panera Bread website. I go through those applications, and from there, I do the first interviews. Our district manager does the second interviews for anybody that passes the first interview process.

For internal hires, we have what we call modules. They’re the different areas in the bakery café where we train. So in order to be eligible for an internal promotion, you have to have seven out of seven modules completed. And then you have to be an associate trainer for us, so you’d go through the interview process and then go through a class that teaches you how to train our new hires. And then from there, their general managers will nominate them and they’ll have an interview with me.

If a person comes in as a regular employee, how long until they can start thinking about applying for the managerial program?

It’s kind of up to them because it’s a matter of how quickly they get through all the modules. If it were someone’s goal, it would probably take about four months to get through all the modules and be comfortable in them. If it’s something they want to work for, a lot of it’s very self-driven.

And what’s the pay to come in as an hourly employee?

It ranges. For someone who has never had a job before, it would probably be about $8.15, but that’s up to the general manager at each café. But if they’ve worked before, they would more than likely get a higher pay rate.

How many San Diego locations are training stores? And is a trainee guaranteed a job in San Diego, or is there a possibility of relocation?

We have our Mira Mesa location as our certified training location, and we’re in the process of certifying the La Mesa location at Grossmont Center. They’ll be one in about the next 30 days.

Trainees are guaranteed a job. But quality of life is very important to us, and we want people to be able to work where they live, so we wouldn’t relocate anyone.

But if someone wants to move, then it would be easy to work in Orange County or L.A. because they’re also part of our franchise group. If they were to go to another Panera franchise group, they’d still have to get interviewed. But the training is the same nationwide, so they wouldn’t have to go through it again.

Did the face of the

program changed with the economic downturn?

I would say it has a little bit, but nothing that’s too noticeable. We’ve had people that have come from more administrative backgrounds join our team, which typically didn’t happen before the economy turned down. It was people who were moving from one restaurant genre to ours.

So, let’s say I’m someone with previous management experience. How might my background differ from the experience at Panera?

I think the thing that’s the hardest transition for people that come from a non-restaurant background is not the management of people but the service side. It’s being on the restaurant floor eight hours a day making sure that everyone is getting the best guest service possible. If you’re used to managing people from behind a desk, it can be pretty taxing to being on your feet for eight hours.

What kind of person are you looking for to become a Panera manager?

First and foremost is guest service. We can absolutely teach someone all the other things, but having a passion for guest service is important, too. We’re a Christian-owned and -operated organization, and our owner of our company would say it’s faith, family, and then he gets the rest. So as long as somebody is happy with their family values and strong in their faith, then when they come to work, they’re pretty happy to be there. You don’t have to be Christian to work here, but it’s nice to know whom you’re working for. They’re gentlemen who want to make sure you’re working in a healthy, safe environment.

Are managerial positions salaried? And what are the possibilities for promotion?

Our general managers are salaried. And our assistant managers are given a salary base, but it’s still broken down hourly so that if you work more than a 45-hour work-week, you get paid that overtime. Or if you work less than 45 hours, you get paid for those hours only.

Most of our internal promotions become a shift supervisor, and external promotions come in as an assistant manager most of the time, which is the next step up. And then comes the general manager. And after that is the executive manager, who manages their café as well as other cafes. Then you have the district manager.

Do you have any advice for those thinking about applying?

If it were somebody external without restaurant management experience, I would encourage them to join as an hourly associate first, to see if the restaurant business is really something they want to be in.

And for someone external who does have restaurant experience I’d tell them that at Panera, it’s all about the people. If you treat your staff well, then they’ll treat the guests well. We’re in this business for guest service.

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