Being the fast food fanatic that I am, I often find myself computing the price differences in my head for ordering my lunch piecemeal and through various combos and promotions. This might sound a bit fussy and even a***-retentive (term omitted due to unappetizing nature), but everybody has their pet peeve, I always say.
The idea for this article formed today while I was enjoying a delightful repast at a local Wienerschnitzel restaurant here in Southern California. They are currently running a promo (and have been for months) for their "chili cheese dog and chili cheeseburger for $2". I asked the manager at the counter (the staff really pitches in at Wienerschnitzel) whether ordering the special and then the fries and drink ala carte was the same price or cheaper than ordering the No. 5 combo. She answered, with supreme confidence that befits a fast food manager, that there was, in fact, no difference. I promptly ordered the No. 5 for simplicity.
This is where the really picky part of the story comes in. While eating lunch, I reviewed my receipt and the menu board and tried in vain to figure out how the two different ways of ordering would come out even. In my estimation, the ala carte method would've saved me 41 cents (plus tax) over the combo's $4.79 price. To the surprise of nobody that really knows me, I went up to the manager (after eating - can't stand cold fries) and asked what I missed. I was very polite, and to her credit, she was too. She said they just raised the price of the cheeseburger and, while the price change is reflected in the combo, the $2 special remained intact. I was, therefore, right all along. Not to toot my own horn. Just doing my duty.
So this leads to my conclusion that it might start making sense to take a calculator when eating out. The myriad mixture of pricing configurations between combos, meals, packs, individual orders, super size/upgrades, etc. is enough to make anyone too dizzy to eat. My mantra is: don't let them rush you and don't take their word for it. Do your homework and you, too, could be a fast food fuss-budget!
Stephanie Allmon of the Waco Tribune-Herald (Waco, TX) recently wrote an interesting article titled "We Americans want our food NOW and fast-food is trying to kick up the pace". The article discusses the fact that many fast food chains are catering to time sensitive Americans by offering unique payment methods, timers at the counters and drive-thru windows, etc.
I believe time is a component of convenience. For some, it is extremely important. In this day and age, time truly is money for some people. Many restaurants who promote speedy service have increased business, especially during the lunch crunch.
However, in some parts of the U.S., fast food chains have successfully counter- programmed their marketing with messages like "We don't make it until you order it" (Jack In The Box). In the laid back Southern California culture where I grew up, for example, chains like In-N-Out Burger have made a 20+ minute drive-thru wait the norm. Instead of quick service, these chains emphasize the quality and freshness of their products.
McDonald's recently attempted to combine the best of both worlds, made-fresh-to-order service with McDonald's famous fast service. The results were mixed at best. Despite investing in remodeled kitchens to streamline the assembly process, it seems McDonald's patrons value speed over any perceived improvements in quality.
It will be interesting to watch these two opposing trends play out over the next year or so. Will more restaurants experiment with the fresh-to-order model, risking alienation of their convenience mantra? Or will we see even more innovative ways to get food to customers quicker? Time will tell.
I have noticed recently that several fast food chains are now attempting to separate themselves from the term "fast food", as if that's a bad label to be stuck with. A few recent examples: KFC is running ads with Jason Alexander sporting the tag line: "There's fast food. Then there's KFC." Subway has been promoting their sandwiches as a "healthy alternative to fast food" for over a year. Even Arby's is heavily pushing their Market Fresh sandwiches as a fresh choice you would not expect from a fast food restaurant.
We see this type of thing every few years as the restaurants run though their marketing cycle. during the cycle, emphasis seems to shift from, say, friendliness of staff to special menu items ("for a limited time") to convenience to healthy dining. However, I have a problem with restaurants clearly in the fast food business trying to pass themselves off as superior. Especially since even the most "healthy" most items at a fast food restaurant are not necessarily low in fat, sodium, etc. My point is that it's still fast food. And there's definitely nothing wrong with that!
One benefit of the health craze of the '80's was the fact that many of the biggest fast food chains started selling all kinds of pre-packaged salads. I don't just mean an Altoids-sized box of lettuce with a lonely tomato on top. I mean a real salad. Some restaurants event went as far as to have full-blown salad bars (e.g. Burger King & Carl's Jr.)
Alas, it seems the days of an easy break from the usual fried fare are slipping away. Burger King has discontinued salads at most of their locations. McDonald's is down to a multi-purpose salad shaker you can get with or without chicken, and even smaller chains are dropping salads and adding more burgers. Not that there's anything wrong with burgers. But even a burger-lover like me needs a break now and then.
I have been contemplating this loss ever since I visited my local Burger King, where they use the remains of their once extensive salad bar to store extra napkins, salt packets, and condiments. Like the sneeze-guard is really fulfilling it's purpose in live protecting the ketchup pump from drooling patrons.
When did cashiers in America stop counting your change back to you? Is it just another repercussion of the digital age? There are many reasons why I still appreciate it when a cashier takes the time to count my change back to me. Tell me if this doesn't sound familiar:
The cashier screws up entering the amount tendered (that's what I give them) and then gets a stricken look on their face as they try to mentally calculate what my change is supposed to be. Or even worse, they spend an extra couple of minutes either voiding and re-ringing the sale or trying to make an adjustment on the register. Worse still is when they have to call the manager to help them. Yes, this has all happened to me.
And what's up with handing you your paper change and then pouring the coins on top? Why not give me the coins first so they will fit neatly in my cupped hand?! If you were counting the change out loud, you would automatically give the coins back first (to make an even dollar) and then count back the paper. This really sucks in drive-thru's when your change goes spilling out all over the driveway! Aarrgg!
I had always dreamed about traveling around the world. I planned to immerse myself in the culture: meet the locals, kiss their sons, drink the local firewater and increase my language skills. Most importantly, I wanted to eat nothing but local food -- pad Thai in Thailand, sag paneer in India, pinto gallo in Costa Rica and yes, escargot in Paris. However, promises (especially to oneself) are meant to broken and I cracked within a mere week abroad.
The incident occurred in the Mexico City airport en route to Costa Rica. I was leaning against a wall, trying to keep my 70-pound backpack from taking me down, when the glorious scent of Mickey D's french fries wafted by. Ahhh...yaaaaahh. My friend Vicky and I plunged into our pockets and immediately went into Peso Panic. Good lord, would we have enough?? After a bit of scraping around though, we ran into the McDonald's, backpacks nearly knocking over the other happy occupants. We barely noticed and emerged with a grin of post-gorge satisfaction, licking our little fingers happily. I learned then and there about the powerful Fast Food Frenzy and decided that I just wouldn't fight it.
But I did play a little game that alleviated some of my guilt. What if I traveled around the world comparing the retail outfits of a corporate fast food haven? Each culture's version of the fare would be noted and the comparisons might lead to some uh, sort of, you know, insight. I chose KFC for this operation, specifically because 1) I love greasy chicken 2) I love Pepsi 3) Pepsi-Co is damn good at globalization and I could find the chain in the darkest recesses of the world, if necessary.
I've awarded some of the top establishments in various countries for their tasty and unique versions of KFC staples:
1) Best Mashed Potatoes: San Jose, Costa Rica has far and away the best mashed potatoes imaginable. They're chunky, yellowish and nothin' like the stuff they serve in the States. (which btw I am a fan of)
2) Best Restaurant: The KFC in Chaing Mai, Thailand actually serves their chicken with real utensils. No plastic sporks in this joint -- it's a very classy meal!
3) Best Rice: Yeah, weird to imagine, but SE Asia doesn't serve mashed potatoes. Lombok, Indonesia did have some very tasty white rice to savor. (note: I loved this restaurant because I found one of my best travel souvenirs -- a toilet sticker that showed a little stick figure squatting ON the toilet with a broad red X through it and a happy little stick man sitting ON the toilet. Copies available).
4) Best Chicken: I'm really thinking this goes to the outlet in Cairo. Middle Easterners really do their chicken right!
5) Best Corn on the Cob: I'm actually going to give this to San Jose, Costa Rica. Soft and sweet.
6) Best Biscuits: SORRY, but I cannot in good faith give this award to any of the foreign KFCs. The best I've had is here in the good ole US of A and no one (so far) can even compare. Carry reserves.
-Contributor: Jeannie Wilkinson
Since 2000, Fast Food Source has been the premier independent site dedicated to fast food lovers, offering fast food restaurant menus, and nutrition information, as well as fast food blogs, articles, forums, and fast food industry news. We offer fast food location information for over 50 cities and more than 80 fast food chains.
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