The Cost of Lettuce

January 17th, 2006 by Potato

This has been a very bad year for hurricanes, with some very large, devastating storms hitting the equatorial region (notably New Orleans), and with the season extending well past the usual end-date, exhausting the prepared list of named storms and spilling over into greek letters.

Last year, storms damaged lettuce and tomato production in Mexico, leading to shortages in grocery stores and Subway restaurants. This year’s weather hasn’t improved the supply situation too much (though the notices in the windows have long since come down). As a result, Subway staff have really been skimping on the toppings for the last year or so, and that’s really starting to get on my nerves.

You see, I really like Subway. They’re furiously expensive (getting subs for two people costs as much as pizza for 3, and IMNSHO, pizza tastes better — or to put it in Wayfare’s terms, you get leftovers with pizza, so that’s two meals you don’t have to cook!), but even at the end of the day the sandwiches are hardly ever skanky, and it’s no trouble to get your sandwich built the way you want, even if you’re a freak of nature like me (no, just one slice of tomato for me). I can even fool myself into thinking they’re healthy (as far as I know, they’re the best of the fast food options out there, but still not as good as a nice plate of mashed potatoes or an actual salad with actual low-fat dressing)

But lately, Subway’s been pissing me off. First came the lettuce shortage, which hit me the hardest since basically all I get on my sub is lettuce (bun, cheese, lots of lettuce, bit of onion, cucumber, and if the tomato looks good, one slice of tomato). Sure, it tripled in price for a while there, and hasn’t fully come down, but it’s still the cheapest of the sub toppings. It’s still filler… like popcorn at the movie theatre, it’s not a big factor in the final sale price. It used to be that I’d ask for lots of lettuce, then if they didn’t put enough on, I’d ask for more, and they’d comply. The last few times though, I’ve asked for more and they’ve looked at me and just put on like two leaves, which barely brought the whole affair up to what used to be the default amount of lettuce before the shortage (nowhere near my salad-in-a-bun “lots of lettuce” sub). They’re even skimping on the other toppings, with the cucumbers being sliced so thin lately as to be transparent. Here’s a quick hint: lettuce & cucumbers are virtually tasteless, their purpose in my sandwich is to add crunch, and thinly sliced toppings in small quantities add no crunch, it just leaves me with a soggy bun with green stuff in the middle.

Though maybe it’s an attempt to get me to toast my bun so that I’ll recover some manner of texture.

Anyhow, next up came the cancellation of the “Sub Club” stamp program. This also hurt, since it effectively raised the price of eating there by about 10% (one sandwich of every 9 was free, but you had to buy a drink), and there was no corresponding decrease in base price. Keep in mind that the reasons stated for axing the program were theft: when I asked, one employee told me people were printing sub stamps by the roll and selling them on eBay (I have to wonder though, if they were printed off or simply stolen). So by axing the program they should have been saving enough money to pass some along to their loyal customers, whether through base cuts, or a new sub club program (perhaps just carry the card to flash for a 10% discount, along the lines of the coke card that ran for a few summers). But no, instead, prices have gone up! The thing is, unless the fraud was really widespread, I can’t really see them losing that much money, since you still have to buy a drink.

Which brings me to my third point, and this one actually predates the lettuce shortage: the nebulous Subway price structure. When I go in to order a sub, I have no idea how much I’m going to have to pay when I get to the register. It varies store-to-store quite significantly, and even a little visit-to-visit. When I first started eating there it was $4.25 for a footlong veggie sub at the UofT cafeteria, and $4.59 at the subway down the street. Prices have gone up since then, passing the magic $5 price point. The one close to the hospital here typically charged me $4.94 for a veggie sub, then raised it to $5.05 after about a year. Since then, it’s fluctuated almost daily between $5.05 and $5.26. The one by the grocery store has never rung in below $5 for me, usually at $5.15, but sometimes going to $5.74 (are they ringing me in for extra cheese I didn’t order, I wonder?). I’ve seen the phenomenon mentioned on other blogs too, so I know that I’m not the only one who’s seen this.

And then my yearly Subway coupons arrived in the mail, the same as usual: a few coupons for buy a drink and 6″ sub, get another 6″ sub free, and a few for the 12″ ones for 99 cents. But the ones that came to Wayfare’s parents’ house (for some reason, my parents never get any good coupons) were 49 cents for the 6″ and $1.49 for the bonus footlong. Now the prices have even gone up for the two we could get with coupons? What a rip-off!

But then I got some Quiznos coupons in the mail yesterday, and they’re better deals (and more of them, too!). A straight $2 off coupon if you just want one sub and nothing else, a free upgrade to a combo, and a buy one get one free coupon (no need to buy a drink if you’re taking it home anyway). I’ve never been to Quiznos, largely because their angle has centred around the toasted subs (and people always tell me they’re more expensive), which just doesn’t work for my plain veggie sub. But with these decent coupons, I think I’ll try them soon and let you know what I think.

2 Responses to “The Cost of Lettuce”

  1. rez Says:

    Vegans have no business in a submarine sandwich establishment. Take your business elsewhere, freak!

    Just kidding. I’m a sub-lover myself, and the only reason I avoid Subway and Quizno’s is the price-point. To make a comparable sub at home costs only about $2 and a little elbow-grease (ok, maybe just a lil’ elbow-olive-oil). But of course I’m lazy so when I make a sandwich at home it’s really just some bread, meat, and mustard. At Subway I get the works.

    Quizno’s is the best sub place I’ve tried. Their veggie sub is quite good (don’t ask me why I tried it). It has guacamole and is, of course, toasted. Your friends are right about the price, though; it’s quite a bit more expensive than a similar sub at Subway. But it’s well worth it (at least for the meaty subs).

    Anyway, my suggestion to you is to just make yourself a salad with croutons. Sounds just like your sub, but all mixed up, like. :)

  2. Potato Says:

    I’ve had some decent sandwiches at home, and I really don’t mind the work involved. My problem is that it just doesn’t taste as good, which comes down to three basic problems with my ingredients:

    1. The bread. I’ve tried a number of different breads, ranging from Wonder/Dempster basic sliced bread through panini buns to submarine rolls and none of them ever seem to taste nearly as good. If I could just find a good bun to base a do-it-yourself sub off of, I’d be set. Oddly enough, the very inconsistent A&P store bakery does occasionally have some very decent sub buns… but more often than not they’re really dry and tasteless.

    2. The cheese. Their cheese is cheap and I doubt it’s very good for me (it looks really processed) yet it has a distinctive flavour that gives it points even if I would prefer a nice marble or swiss were I to eat the cheese on its own. This is the least important barrier to creating flawless subs at home, but deserves mention nonetheless (while not a problem per se, it is a unique Subway characteristic).

    3. The dressing. I don’t know what’s in their (Italian) dressing, but I’ve really come to like it. My Kraft stuff just doesn’t quite compare (though it is probably less fattening). Once, my parents had some fancy premium label stuff that came in a glass jar that was really good (and I’m sure, really fattening). Unfortunately, the next time I was there the dressing was long gone and no one has any idea what it was. I haven’t seen anything similar to it in stores, so it was probably something local or from the premium food store my mom sometimes goes to (and I don’t want to get into the habit of using $15 salad dressing… though come to think of it, that’s probably still a net savings over going to Subway).

    This is by far the most important concern though, since my choice of sandwich filling basically just confers crunch, and the flavour is entirely dependent on the cheese & dressing (and, if I opt for a fancy herb & cheese loaf, the bread).