TOO MANY CHOICES
In the early days of fast food establishments, things were simple. Most burger stands offered just hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, soda, and milkshakes. That was it. And it was all you needed. Even the buildings were simple, most just small stands with windows to place and receive your orders, with just an enclosure for a kitchen. You sat on an outside bench to eat, or in your car. Think of drive-ins without carhops.
Before long, more choices were on the menu. Bigger fancier double burgers, secret sauce, chicken and fish sandwiches, coffee and tea, then breakfast sandwiches. The simple stands were being rebuilt into sit-down restaurants, all the while adding menu items. Big menu boards hung behind the counter showing so many different items.
Bewildering. You thought you knew what you wanted. What is that sandwich? When did they start offering these new things? Can I still get a plain old cheeseburger?
Small medium and large. Super-size me. Eight different versions of what was once a simple burger. Chicken. Fish. Seasonal sandwiches like BBQ pork. Kid’s meal combos.
One chain offers a “Big” sandwich and meal. The other chain offers something similar, called a “Super”.
Health issues arise and business slows down. For a little while, until they offer “healthy” choices, such as salads and natural fruit drinks.
Now you stare at huge TV screen menu boards, wondering what to have. You thought you knew what you wanted. You, and a few others, gawk blankly at the menu while the counter people try to get someone to place an order.
The most popular sandwiches were once already made just minutes ago, waiting to be placed in a bag or on a tray, truly fast food. They moved quickly so plenty were ready to go. With so many menu choices, they don’t do that anymore, so your “fast food” is now more second-gear “medium” speed. They call this “fresh cooked to your order”.
In a similar vein, how do diners manage to carry everything listed in their ten-page menus? I can see fast movers, like bacon and eggs, and burgers; easy to keep inventoried fresh. But what about less-popular items, such as liver?
I’ve always enjoyed liver and onions with bacon, a family favorite for years. It’s something I order frequently at a local diner. Since most people I know claim to hate liver, how can they keep an inventory of something that doesn’t really sell? Do they keep it frozen and quick-nuke it before cooking, or is it waiting in the refrigerator? How long can they keep it before it has to be thrown out?
Ten pages of menu items. I wonder what the turnover in fresh food items might be. So many meat products have a very short shelf life. Is there a lot of “spoilage”? Is today’s featured soup actually "Cream of Yesterday’s Special"?
I have no idea about restaurant management, so I can’t understand the intricacies involved. But I often ponder how long the raw ingredients have been kicking around.
Restaurant rescue TV shows show how bad things can get. Filth, rotten raw food, rats and mice and insects. I can see how fast things can get out of hand and how much is involved in just keeping things clean. Cleaning probably takes more time than the actual food preparation.
Food trucks, now referred to as “mobile ristorantes”. I remember plain old hot dog trucks parked on the side of the road. Simple menu, hot dogs with a few condiment choices such as chili or cooked onions. Soda in cans. Sold from an old converted bread truck operated by a retired guy.
Now these trucks have become so upscale, offering anything a traditional sit-down restaurant might have. Exotic ethnic choices from Mexico, Italy, Thailand, and most everywhere else. Sushi from a truck. So many trucks, designed to be mobile kitchens and costing a lot of money to design and build. More and more brand new shiny fancy-painted stainless steel showpieces, fewer converted step-vans or school buses.
Still, some old school examples still survive. Nothing can beat the efficiency of a roach coach, coming to the jobsite, armed with a limited menu of sandwiches, buttered rolls, doughnuts, soft drinks, and always great coffee. In and out quick, ready to go, no waiting for something to be prepared.
Old fashioned as I might be, I still enjoy stopping by the old guy with the old bread truck and buying some good ol’ hot dogs from him. Cooked in beer, delicious, nothing like it – dirty water dogs. Brown spicy mustard, maybe some chopped onions. Never with ketchup, that should be against the law. No hurry, a relaxed atmosphere, some nice conversation. Always a real nice guy with stories to tell. And the money he makes selling hot dogs helps him in his retirement.
I ran a hot dog truck many years ago. It was fun and I met so many interesting people. The money wasn’t bad either. I kept my inventory simple, kept supplies for an average day so there was little or no waste, and every other day’s income was pure profit. I’m not an expert in any of this, but my system worked. A hundred-pack of hot dogs from the area meat purveyor always had a few more in it, a bonus. Fresh rolls from a local bread supplier. Store brand canned soda. I made my chili and chopped onions at home the night before while supper was cooking. Nothing complicated.
Thousands of TV channels (and usually not very much worth watching). Cell phones that do everything but make coffee (that’s probably next). Smart this and smart that, all that seem to be making people less smart and devoid of common sense. Long drawn-out intricate answers to simple questions from people who could complicate a paper clip. GPS gizmos that confuse the user when a plain old paper map would do the trick. Interactive TV screens mounted in the dashboards of new cars (sure, no chance of any distractions with those).
Things are always getting more involved. As I grow older, I look back to the Days of Olde when things were so much simpler.
All I want is a plain old cheeseburger.