To help you navigate that vague sense of dread
you may be feeling while you wait for your order number to be called, we’ve prepared
a list of ways to help you identify the terrible truth you are facing: You may just be sitting
in a bad fast food restaurant. Here’s how you can tell. To start with, look at the menu. Do all the pictures look like they were taken
with a phone? We’re talking grainy, blurry flip-phone photos
— those grainy, pixelated snaps that haven’t been updated since 2006. Even when the technical photo quality is okay,
there may be other issues, thanks to some owner or manager deciding they were going
to save a few bucks by shooting their food photos themselves. Harsh shadows. Weird yellow or blue light. Unappealing close-ups that magnify the least
appetizing quality of the dish, such as the way all the grease pools around the base of
a sloppy burger, or the uncooked jarred chopped garlic you’ve unceremoniously scooped onto
a dish of wet, pasty-looking fish. Or worse, photos with no proper lighting at
all, as though the meal was served to a small child trapped at the bottom of a well. At sunset. In December. Look, there are plenty of ways to cut corners
and save a few dollars when you’re figuring out how to market your business. But the first impression that customers have
of your food when they’re looking at your menu isn’t one of them. A fast food place that has such misplaced
priorities probably isn’t the place to trust with your dining dollars Sometimes, the trouble with the photos on
the menu isn’t that they’re bad… it’s that they’re good. As in, too good. White backgrounds, studio lighting, and artfully
arranged garnishes at the local hole-in-the-wall burger joint? Mysterious extra ingredients in that stir
fry photo that don’t seem to be listed on the menu’s description of the dish? Chances are, you’re looking at stock photography
that may have little or nothing to do with the food you’ll actually be served. “See what I mean? It’s plump, it’s juicy, it’s three inches
thick.” You’ll see this fairly often at mall food
courts, although that’s certainly not the only place it happens. The takeaway? If a fast food place isn’t showing you photos
of what you’re actually going to be served, turn and run the other way. Soda-spattered, crumb-covered tables are certainly
enough to give you the heebie-jeebies, and a messy or dirty bathroom is gross on a whole
lot of levels, but it’s not the practical parts of these symptoms of a bad fast food
restaurant that should bother you. As much as that layer of someone else’s toilet
paper lining the seat in the stall may be off-putting, it’s symptomatic of a much bigger
problem: An inattention to detail and a lack of basic upkeep, which could open the door
to anything from poor sanitation to full-blown pest infestations. “Was that a bat?” See, a sticky table may be icky, but it’s
also super obvious. And if the staff at the restaurant isn’t paying
attention to those obvious issues and taking time to address them, think about how many
other, more subtle parts of commercial restaurant work they are probably missing. If they can’t be bothered to peel the gum
off the sink in the bathroom, do you really think someone is on top of changing the fryer
oil regularly? Sanitizing work surfaces properly? Clearing all those moldy and mislabeled sauce
remains out of the walk-in? These are the tasks that the general public
doesn’t see, and if the staff isn’t taking care of the public-facing issues, you can
bet they’re not paying much attention to the hundreds of small tasks that take place behind
the scenes to ensure your food is safe and hygienic. Ever notice how some fast food or quick-service
restaurants have those plastic laminated placemats, sometimes decorated with an array of local
business advertisements offering everything from car detailing to discounted Zumba classes? They’re there to convince you that your eating
surface is more hygienic and safer, since the placemats are presumably replaced after
each table turns. But look a little more closely and peel up
the corner of one of those placemats, if you dare. You may find a forest of black mildew. It’s easy to understand why this happens. If you’re a freshly-paroled busboy earning
minimum wage in a restaurant with limited or no waitstaff, and your only job is to clear
and wipe down tables, are you really going to clear the placemats each time? Likelier, you’ll get a little lazy once in
a while, hit the whole table with a few spritzes of diluted cleaning solution, and wipe the
whole thing down in one go. Over time, trace amounts of moisture will
seep under the mat and allow mold and mildew to flourish. “See, this is the kind of stuff I need to
learn. Plastic menus seem like a great idea to me. When you spill something on them and then
your mom says ‘Hey, Troy, you’re ruining Fuddruckers for everyone.” It’s an unappealing visual, though it’s probably
not going to hurt you, unless you flip the placemat over and eat directly off of it. But it speaks to the same overall lack of
attention to detail that may be an indicator of larger problems lurking elsewhere. Nobody likes frozen hamburger patties, and
cheap fast food places use these mass-produced beef pellets for several reasons: They’re
cheap, and they’re easy to work with. Not only does substandard beef cost a few
dollars less per pound than the good stuff, but frozen burgers arrive ready for service,
pre-shaped and with a slip of waxed paper separating each one so they can be pried apart
and slapped on the grill with no extra effort required from the cook. “So there’s your burgers … Frozen … Thank
you.” The problem here is one of attitude and approach. If you’re running a fast food place, you need
your star player to be made with the best possible ingredients. One of the things that can make crummy fast
food places feel a little off is when they start using generic condiment brands. Even when it’s applied in a tiny little squirt
to a cheeseburger or a hot dog, we’re so accustomed to the way things like ketchup and mustard
taste, that when there’s a tiny change, our brains register the difference. For a fast food restaurant that’s down on
its luck and trying to pinch pennies anywhere they can, it must be tempting to switch to
no-name brand condiments, but the difference in overall food quality can be so drastic,
that it’s a sure sign a company is circling the drain financially. While paying half as much money for ketchup
might seem to make sense, it has the side effect of making food taste weird. An owner or chef who takes his/her food seriously
would be reluctant to cut corners in this area. One of the reasons we eat fast food at all
is that we sometimes don’t have time to wait around in a long line of impatient customers. Say what you will about fast food, but one
of the biggest things it has going for it is that it’s basically ready at practically
the same time it’s occurred to you to eat in the first place. Sometimes, however, food that’s ready instantly
may be an indicator of problems. If the guy behind the counter is plunking
your burger order onto a plastic tray before you even finish ordering, it’s a good sign
that food is being prepared well in advance. If a fast food place is busy, that’s not too
big a deal; after all, the difference between a McDouble made 30 seconds ago versus one
made 90 seconds ago is minimal. As the lines thin, though, it’s likely those
burgers and fries have sat around for more than a few minutes, drastically reducing their
deliciousness. Y’know how there’s that one fast food place
in town where it’s consistently impossible to get a milkshake, because no matter what
time of day or week you go, the machine is “broken?” “Oh boy…” According to Business Insider, this could
be because the shake machine isn’t broken, but is instead going through its nightly four-hour
“cleaning” cycle, which is supposed to take place after-hours. Get a closing crew on duty that’s anxious
to get the doors closed and the blinds drawn, however, and they may start cleaning the machine
early, leaving you McFlurryless for the foreseeable future. Worse? Sometimes, the machine is being “cleaned”
midday because some lazy soul didn’t bother to do it the night before, and the gummed-up
remains of thawed cellulose gum and carrageenan have ruined it for everybody. Whether it’s because the machine is being
cleaned either too early or too late, both indicate a staff that’s trying to cut corners,
and who probably aren’t too preoccupied with delivering you a satisfying fast food experience. You’ve probably heard the disclaimer at the
end of some fast food commercials: “Price and participation may vary.” Or maybe you’ve seen the text at the bottom
of the screen saying “Only at participating restaurants.” But have you ever wondered what that was all
about? Franchise agreements can vary from brand to
brand, but many franchisees operate not as employees of the parent company, but as a
sort of affiliate or partner. This means that while Burger King may strongly
suggest that franchisees start stacking BBQ sauce and onion rings onto their Whoppers,
the franchise owner doesn’t necessarily have to. Here’s the problem: The whole reason people
buy into established franchises in the first place is to align their skills with a well-known
national brand. Instead of creating and marketing a burger
for themselves, franchisees are choosing to instead make someone else’s, saving them a
fortune in promotional expenses, training, and time in the test kitchen. So what if a business owner has bought into
a franchise, and then stops doing the bidding of the franchise owner? There’s probably a reason, and none of the
possibilities are encouraging. “Your tone is quasi-facetious, but you do
not realize that Taco Bell is the only restaurant to survive the franchise wars.” Sometimes, a line of traffic that wraps from
the drive-thru speaker all the way around the block is a sign that a place is doing
something right; peak ordering hours and a popular fast food place can be a recipe for
an extended wait. But if it’s, say, 3 p.m. on a Wednesday, and
there’s a line wrapped around the same decrepit KFC that’s been there for 20 years, there’s
probably something else going on. Fast food restaurants are notorious for their
rapid turnover in staff; employing an army of disposable teenagers is part of what some
fast food places build their entire business plans around. In fast food, mistakes tend to snowball, and
with no experienced, well-trained staff on hand to help course correct, a mistake on
the grill line cascades to the front-of-house cashiers, and eventually to the drive-thru,
grinding service to a near standstill. You’re all pumped up to get your kids the
new Batman/Lego/Hello Kitty promotional tie-in that’s been splashed all over Happy Meal marketing
for a week, but what’s this? My Little Pony? AGAIN? Usually, fast food places will lob any old
leftover toy they have left laying around into your kid’s meal, regardless of what the
current promotional posters may say, because giving away a few extra Pinky Pies is easier
than sending them back to corporate. This can sometimes be an indicator of lower-than-expected
product turnover, which may in turn point to less-than-fresh ingredients elsewhere in
the restaurant. Most chefs have a trick that they don’t talk
about very often: When they can’t get something to taste better, either due to budget limitations
or lack of ingredients, they know they can turn it into a winning dish by packing as
much fat, salt, sugar, and calories into it as humanly possible. “Yeah, can I get the love handles, the double
chin, and some blubber.” We all know that fast food isn’t the healthiest
option, but some chains are punishing us with more fat, salt, and sugar than others. When comparing fast food nutritional panels,
if one chain seems to have artificially high numbers, when compared to a similar item elsewhere,
it may be because they’re trying to disguise cheap ingredients or lower-quality items with
an assault of fat and calories. “Skip past the less invasive procedures
and move right to a quadruple bypass burger.” Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Mashed videos about your favorite
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