I hate how expensive the fast food experience is.
With my wife now working and me getting home late, or me having to coach a baseball or hockey tea, dinner is too often a take-out family affair.
For reference, I live in Toronto, and as such, if anyone is from somewhere else, you may not recognize a few of the fast food franchises I mention - but I'm sure you'll still get it.
Over the past month, we've had: McDonald's, Wendy's, Harvey's, Subway, Mr. Sub, Momma's Pizza, Popeye's, Chinese and Thai food, Fat Bastard's, KFC and even Taco Bell - all from local quickie restaurants.
Holy crud… that's horrible when you write it all out knowing secretly that you visited some more than just once.
Aside from gaining the best bang for my buck from the Chinese take-out knowing that I have left overs for at least another four total plates, I was surprised that the next biggest value came from KFC, which was less expensive than all others (including the Chinese restaurant), and left me with enough leftovers for a single satisfying lunch. Their soft drink selection is not my personal favorite, however. Coca-Cola, please.
At least I had vegetables with the Chinese food. I don't think all those secret spices and herbs or French fries count via KFC.
It is true… I could have had salads at any of these places, but I am an omnivore, and where possible, I prefer meat with my meals.
Besides, just listening to my wife complain, every time she's tried to order the salad she wants from a fast food outlet, she's told they are out of the salad she wants… once, twice, sure… but every time? This has happened at McDonald's and once at Wendy's a year ago.
It's like some franchisees must not be ordering every standard item in order to save money should it not sell in time. In this case, it's McDonald's, and it happens more often than it should at two nearby Etobicoke locations.
I mentioned KFC… excluding the last time I visited the nearby restaurant near the Kipling subway station, I've had to sit and wait nearly 30 minutes for my order, which isn't overly complicated, but invariably ends up wrong. And after 30 minutes.
For the record, I have been to McDonald's restaurants where if I had to wait five minutes, they would apologize and slip me a voucher for something free next time, or tell me that they added a couple of free apple pies to my order. Those franchises are top-notch.
But KFC… at least that one place… never. Not so much as an apology… not so much as eye contact… not so much as McDonald's.... though my last visit to McDonald's to get a small order of Chicken McNuggets meant that they forgot to put in my plum/sweet & sour sauce... meaning I would have had it eat it dry.... luckily I had a bottle of plum sauce at home.
I once went to a KFC/Taco Bell in my neighborhood... arriving at at 10 minutes to 6PM, waited five minutes and got the bucket of chicken and order of Taco Bell for the kid. Five minutes. They were friendly, and actually apologized for my wait. So I know real fast food service does exist.
In the past, I have waited over 25 minutes for order, so the term fast food doesn't always apply here. And, that five minute KFC order is certainly NOT the norm at that particular restaurant. It's NOT the line-up... though I have found the staff to be a little slow in taking the orders... rather it's the fact that they run out of chicken, and are in the midst of deep frying more. Chicken... it's part of the name... Kentucky Fried Chicken. Always have plenty ready for the lunch and dinner crowds!
That particular KFC outlet did have 'Help Wanted' signs up on the windows looking for staff and upper and middle-management… so that means the old guard is out, and hopefully this current and new guard helps dawn a new day at KFC. Fast food! Or at least faster food!
At the local Harvey's burger place, we receive exemplary and friendly service - so much so that my son even commented on it to me afterwards. I went back alone to the place the following weekend, saw the young woman who helped me and told her what my son said… and whether it was true or not, she said she recalls he and I coming in last week. I have a recognizable face and voice, so it is possible.
Actually, my wife went in once to the same location (My son and I were still at a baseball game), and the clerk at Harvey's asked if she was also going to order a meal for her son and husband, implying she knew us! She was, and knew what I wanted on my burger without much prompting from my wife. Now that's service!
Still… despite her great service at Harvey's... and the points I can earn for free tickets to the movies... cost-wise it wasn't exactly a bargain. Don't get me wrong… aside from those useless fried pickles (burned) and their hopeless onion rings (what the hell is that coating?!), Harvey's has a tasty menu…but I just wish it was more affordable.
Subway… I don't know when the malaise set in… perhaps when you let anyone become a franchise owner… but artiste's your sandwich makers are not. Are they all now franchisee-owned? Now every place is run by an entire family... which can be either great or terrible depending on the customer service level of the family.
On the negative Subway franchise, one practically has to beg to get a few more black olives tossed on, as each artiste seems to only be artistic at being parsimonious (stingy) with the toppings. Except for the salt and pepper… just one shake across, not back and forth and back again.
Still… for a sandwich made by an artist who may be artistic in a different medium (like having a BA in psychology or political science - useless... I know, I have one), the prices for the meal are high enough to leave me hungry. Especially a couple of hours later. My wife swears her bread wasn't fresh. Eat fresh… sure… maybe at noon.
As for the rest… the complaints aren't long, except that they seem pricey. Okay… maybe not Mamma's Pizza. But man can not live on pizza and wings alone every day. I know… I've tried.
At Popeyes… I think the biggest problem I, and my 149 IQ have, is that the menu is the most scattered piece of crap I have ever seen.
Maybe it's different in the U.S., but the only one I've been to in Etobicoke seems to have a menu that never matches exactly what the current ads on television are showing.
Popeye's used to have a shrimp po boy sandwich that was decent, but I think it went extinct from their menu. It's not clear what sides they have nor how they can be applied to the order. The food is good, but heavy on the battered skin. Which is fine… but, dahlin', I'm not even sure if there's skin under all that crunchy stuff.
Again… while service is always easy to critique for any of these fast food places, I have seen improvement in some, and not in others. I assume the workers are doing their best.
One of the biggest issues I have with fast food restaurants, is them actually getting my order filled correctly.
I would say roughly 100 percent of the time, my order from the Chinese and Thai restaurants and Harvey's and Momma's Pizza are done correctly.
The rest of the restaurants are a real crap shoot - especially when using the drive thru at say… McDonald's… I'd say we're at an 85% clip of getting things right… a percentage that is helped along by the morning crew which seems to do a fantastic job.
But that's not even the issue. Fast food restaurants original claim to fame was to provide quick, and easy foods at affordable prices… and every year they all continue to falter at one of those three key things.
Quick? Easy? Affordable?
Quick and easy, sure. When my order is correct.
But affordable, not so much.
Instead, what I am finding more affordable, and ust as tasty, and perhaps even healthier (depends on the salt values), is the ready-made meal in a package… or even the in-store grocery meals... like what I can find at President's Choice (loblaws), for example.
They sell a cooked BBQ'd chicken… that's under $10 and there's enough for a total of six to eight meals. We can add our own veggies or we can purchased something made by the grocery store's kitchen.
Granted some grocery stores have far better in-store kitchens than others, so caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.
The meals from the chain grocery stores are decidedly tastier, timelier and far more affordable than damn near anything else out there. Again... this is because of our evening sports schedule.
The grocery store pre-made meals might even be healthier than the fast food restaurant stuff, but I don't have any nutritional data to back any of that up. I'm looking for convenience and affordability.
The healthiest just might be Subway... but with a hungry kid, $30 for our dinner seems like a lot of money - especially when I'm still hungry afterwards.
I'm not anti-fast food here. I enjoy the cuisine… and while I can appreciate the fact that there are higher costs for ingredients, employees, rent, electrical and heat and all the incidentals, I really do have concerns that one of the hallmarks of fast food convenience—affordability—is going the way of the dodo.
So, with a caveat…
Do you know what I hate?
I hate how expensive the fast food experience is... oh... and getting my order wrong, too.