Let me start by clarifying …I love Panera! Even as I write this, I know that I will continue to patronize this American staple. After all, when a girl’s got a hankering for a chocolate croissant… the body wants, what the body wants!
However in recent months, I noticed that, when it comes to restaurant choices, I’m in a bit of a rut. Fast food or dine in, my tendency is to stick with selections that are close, known and familiar. I have literally lost my food mojo, my curiosity to try new things, and my adventure for braving unchartered territory, and I did so in the name of convenience.
A few months ago, a friend and I were making plans to meet for breakfast. When she suggested that we meet downtown, I gasped inside, “What? Why fight the traffic and parking if we don’t have to?” The irony to this story is that my new friend just moved to town a few months earlier, and somehow she already knew more about our city’s offerings than I did! Have I mentioned that she has three small children and that her husband spends most of his time working out-of-state? So much for my “mommy” excuses!
As I drove downtown the following week for breakfast, admiring the view of our city’s skyline, I wondered, “When did I become such an old fuddy duddy? When did convenience and comfort overshadow my sense of adventure? Perhaps, embracing all that life has to offer means being inconvenienced every once in a while.
And thus was born my desire to break up with Panera (at least partially). Interested in venturing out beyond your tried-and-true stomping grounds? Here are a few ideas for getting started…
Embrace a little hassle – Ever since meeting my new-to-town friend for breakfast, I have begun to slightly pause before making lunch plans. Sure, there are times when my friends and I only have a brief window to connect at a local joint, and that’s okay. Simply catching up is the priority. However, there are also times when expanding the prospective restaurant list beyond my suburban neighborhood is both viable and, in the end, well worth the effort.
Sure I may have to leave a little earlier to find my way, and it might even cost me a few bucks to park. However, in the end, isn’t five dollars a small price to pay for the gift of a new experience?
Befriend younger and/or hipper friends – The truth is that hipper friends tend to inspire us to branch out of our comfort zones. I have a friend, Krista who, while the same age chronologically, is much younger in so many other ways. Krista has always been the kind of “big city spirit” friend who inspires me to pay closer attention to trends within food, fashion, and the arts than I ever would have without her influence. That’s why it came as no surprise when Krista started a “foodie” group last year.
Each month, Krista and a group of her “foodie” girlfriends head out to a new part of town to try some local cuisine. In addition to being a great venue for girlfriend time, Krista enjoys researching and selecting each month’s location – it’s the perfect opportunity for her to put her unique “big city” skills to good use.
Consider starting a lunch or breakfast club of your own, and try forgoing your usual haunts. Think creative book club, only with food. Yum!
Act like a tourist – Ironically, when I travel to new cities, I rarely eat at chain restaurants. If I’m there, I want to really experience the city’s vibe beyond the tourist scene. Why is it then, that in my own city, I forget to push those same boundaries?
Having friends and family come to town can be a great motivator for trying new restaurants and stepping out of our comfort zones. And even if it’s just you and your local girlfriends, pretend that you are tourists. What areas of town would you most like to explore? Find out which local restaurants are receiving the most buzz by doing a little homework or by simply asking your local Facebook friends.
So, you may be wondering how I am doing with my new year’s goal of branching out beyond Panera. So far, so good. Just this week, I met a former colleague for lunch. My initial thought was “Maybe we can meet at my favorite Thai restaurant,” which while quite tasty, hasn’t changed much (or at all) since my early career days.
Thankfully, I paused before responding and thought to myself, “Where would be a fun place to meet if convenience wasn’t a factor?” And, then it came to me. It had been years since I ventured into Mt. Adams, our city’s swanky weekend nightspot for twenty-something’s. While the diner demographics are more of a match for me in the daylight hours, I had not eaten lunch there in many, many years.
The old fuddy duddy within reminded me, “Parking can be tough to navigate there, and those one-way streets can be tricky.” And, yet the adventurer within declared “Be willing to be inconvenienced!” Gladly, I listened to the latter. Sure, it took a few extra minutes to park, and truth-be-known, I did get a little lost on my way, but when I arrived to meet my friend, I was taken aback by the restaurants’ beautiful back room with its impressive atmosphere. Suddenly I felt like a tourist visiting a new city, a cooler, hipper one. In fact, I actually felt a little giddy, as the young woman within me rejoiced, “Yay! Something new!”
And so, to my beloved Panera… I say, “Let’s remain friends. I love your food and will continue to visit, just not as often. It’s time for this creature-of-habit momma to put on her big-girl boots and start exploring the world around her!”