Regular readers won’t need reminding that Matt’s got a bit of a weakness for fast food. By contrast, dainty Cat will often raise her pert nose and walk past even the most tempting of burger joints.
One day when The Cat was away, Matt recruited some expert assistance to try out Subway’s franchise on Ryde’s Union Street. Junior reviewers Bill and Jack – no strangers to the discipline of surreptitious photography – were joined by Subway aficionado and reviewing neophyte Toby, who promised faithfully not to blurt out the purpose of their visit.
So, on a rainy afternoon, Matt shepherded his little flock through the big green doors. The shop was clean and tidy, if a little worn around the edges. The ubiquitous group of students was in one corner, eking out some meagre provisions and whiling away an afternoon in the warm. Otherwise the place was pretty empty. Toby boldly led the way to the long counter behind which a Subway myrmidon stood inertly.
For Matt, entering Subway was an interesting and novel experience. Readers may scoff at his gaucheness but he’d actually never set foot in one before. In fact, despite his fondness for fast food it’s a pleasure in which he rarely indulges, and living on the Island the choice of such chains is limited. You won’t, for example, see any reviews of Burger King or Domino’s on Matt and Cat’s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide – or not yet anyway. The fast food franchise archetype, McDonald’s, by contrast has two restaurants on the Island, but Matt is disproportionately proud of the fact that he’s never entered a McDonald’s or eaten their food, and has no intention of breaking his duck – or at least, not until Ronald McDonald begs him to do so on bended knee. Which, on reflection, might be something worth seeing. How about it, McDonald’s?
The Unique Selling Point of any franchise eaterie is, perversely, it’s lack of uniqueness – it’s supposed to be the same wherever you go. And so the experience is carefully crafted and regulated to make sure that it is.
The franchise and the virus work on the same principle: what thrives in one place will thrive in another. You just have to find a sufficiently virulent business plan, condense it into a three-ring binder — its DNA — Xerox it, and embed it in the fertile lining of a well-travelled highway, preferably one with a left-turn lane… (Neal Stephenson 1992, Snow Crash)
Some franchises – Wimpy, for example – are fairly laissez-faire and vary widely. Others are less so. However one thing that franchises all like to do is give ‘special’ names to things that would otherwise have a straightforward name. Perhaps the most obvious one here is the word ‘regular’ -now hijacked by drinks franchises all over the world to mean… what? Big? Little? Something in between? Who knows. Some people are very angry about it. However, those angry people could not level their complaints at Subway, because apart from calling a filled sandwich a ‘sub’, their product nomenclature is commendably clear. As the Matt and the lads approached the long bar, they could quite clearly see what was on offer, as it was all there in front of them. Bread comes in five styles – a sample of each one is right there for customers to gawp at. Sizes are similarly straightforward: small sandwiches are called six-inch, and large ones are called footlong. Even the youngsters, to whom imperial measurements are an arcane mystery, had no difficulty in understanding this. Similarly, everything else is laid out on the counter in front of you, you don’t even have to speak, you can just point and grunt.
Matt chose chicken teriyaki in a footlong Italian bread sub, with all the salad and bits. Soft drinks are available in at a nearby machine, and the lads soon discovered that there was an infinite supply. Once you’ve bought a cup, you can fill it up with whatever drink you want, as often as you want, and even add crushed ice. The nippers found this game even more diverting than the subs – throughout the meal they were up and down like yoyos refilling their cups and occasionally dropping ice cubes down each other’s shirts.
The sandwich was actually pretty good, as sandwiches go. It had plenty of filling, and although it was late in the afternoon the bread was fresh-tasting. A sub with teriyaki chicken, it is suggested by Subway “weighs in at under 5 grams of fat“. Horrors! Matt had unwittingly chosen health food – and enjoyed it!
The lads also enjoyed their subs, although it’s probably fair to say that they would have preferred an Indian takeaway. Nonetheless it’s unlikely that any Indian restaurant would have provided as much entertainment as the free drinks machine did.
Subway provides a relatively healthy, low-budget option for diners who want a quick bite without having a full sit-down meal. It’s not challenging or innovative dining but it is simple and effective.