Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Everyone's A Moron But Me

Yup, one of those days. I'm obviously feeling a bit surly. I have no idea why.

I'm the "lunch guy" in my group. Pretty much every day, I head out and pick up lunch for the group. Usually, this is dumped to a lower functionary, but I've been gladly doing it for years. It gives me 20-30 minutes off the desk, shortens the day, and means I have control over what I'm eating (otherwise it'd be burgers, bad Chinese, and the like every day instead of jus the end of the week). So I pretty much know every food court in the area (Toronto has the largest underground pedestrian mall in the world, and I work over it, there are a lot of food courts). I've seen chains come and go, poorly-conceived restaurants dry up, great ideas die due to shitty locations, and stood in more lines than I'd like.

Today, our food court just re-opened after 2 years of renovations. It was the scummiest, ugliest, most 70's-styled food court on the PATH. By the time it up and died, even Burger King had long since pulled out. Now, it's modern, well-lit, and has shiny new places. I think the layout is a bit ass-backwards (it's a loooong walk from the escalators to the food, and you have to pass through the seating), but it's an improvement. Worth two years? Not really.

So I decided we'd try the Sandwich Box today. Made-to-order sandwiches and salads. At their other locations, there's a selection of pre-made salads and sandwiches for quick service. Here? Nope... all made-to-order. This does NOT work in a downtown environment that caters largely to the financial world. One woman doing salads, one woman doing sandwiches, with a couple more people behind them to do things like toss and transfer to containers. Oh, and it's all done by weight.

Why doesn't this work? Because there are a lot of people like me, who have orders for 3-5 people, and I'll be damned if I'm picking out individual items for each person. On top of that, the space and staffing is simply inadequate for the demand salad and sandwich places get. Similar options have the longest lines in their respective courts.

Now, I've never started my own business, so maybe Riggs can back me up here. My though is that if you're opening a business, and there are other established, comparable businesses in your neighbourhood, a good idea is to scout them out to see what works and what doesn't. Why does that sandwich place have 4 panini presses and we only have 1? Why does that salad place have ordersheets people fill out while waiting in line? Why, they even have a menu above the counter with "chef selections" that aren't pre-made, but are pre-selected (ie.- still made-to-order, but the ingredients are standardized). Maybe they learned something along the way?

Specifically, the other sandwich place once had but one grill, which was wholly inadequate to the task, so they added more as needed. The other salad place does the bulk of its business with those "chef selections", because it's fast and requires minimal though. If I want a cobb, I should be able to say "Cobb please" not "romaine, cheese, avocado, bacon, turkey, egg, tomato, and vinaigrette."

On top of that, you have NO idea of the weight until it's weighed. You can say "keep it under $8", so there's that I suppose. The problem is the opposite - I ordered what should have been a healthy salad, and it was light on everything and totally unfilling. I walked away thoroughly disappointed, vowing not to return until they fixed the problems. Trust me, within a month, they'll have pre-made options, chef-selections, and twice the staff... or they'll be getting ready to sell their lease.

Don't get me started on the "new and exciting" food options - Tim Horton's (coffee, donuts, sandwiches, soup), Harvey's (fast food burgers), Swiss Chalet (BBQ rotisserie chicken), a Chinese fast food place, a random Greek place, and the salad/sandwich joint. Things I can find one building over in any direction. No sub place yet though. Why the hell aren't there some gourmet options? A South St. Burgers instead of Harvey's for example? Share that space with a New York Fries. A Soup Man franchise? You know... something DIFFERENT.

Everyone's a moron but me. Okay, and you, since you obviously have impeccable taste in blogs.

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