I like stuff.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger.

Today, I went to Carl's Jr. (for those elsewhere, it's the same corporate entity that owns Hardee's, just sayin')

Was on a short schedule, just needed something quick to eat. I was thinking a cheeseburger. A bit of processed dairy glop, a bit of meat glop, some vegetable and spice glops, all packed in some sort of processed grain substrate.

Perhaps you should try this sometime. Decide on some item you want outside the context of their advertising. Now walk in the door and try to find the closest match on the menu.

Went in, and there it was. The Menu. A couple years ago they replaced it all with plasma screens so the menu was entirely dynamic. Some parts even showed videos advertising their combo meals. Inexplicably, a year or so later it was replaced again with the older standard acetate light box thing.

But I'm peering at this menu, and they had something like 18 combo meals. One panel just for breakfast items. Five or six of the panels had full color pictures of the featured item, three per panel, with differing prices underneath indicating matched pairs of fries/drink sizing.

Wait, over there on the right. The fine print panel. The items that don't deserve pictures. Let's see...

uh, some milkshakes, cross-cut fries, fried zucchini, huh...no plain hamburger, no plain cheese burger. Walk up uncertainly to the register.

"Yes. I think I want a cheeseburger. Just ketchup, mustard and pickles. Nothing else."
"Do you want onions on that?"
"No. No onions, lettuce, tomato, just ketchup, mustard and pickle."
"Do you want a combo meal?"
"Oh, no thank you."
"For here or to go?" (I'm thinking "Uh, it should be in a wrapper. Can't just hand it to me sans extra bag or tray with some more advertising on the tray slip? Forget it, not the sort of philosophical discussion I want to have with this person that's clearly already getting nervous dealing with the unstable individual standing in front of them.")
"Uh, to go."

$1.39. Ok. Still cheaper than most of their menu. Wondering if I should've got the 99c chicken sandwich instead.

Secretly remembering a chain of fast-food restaurants around town when I grew up. "The Original Hamburger Stand." They aimed to be the generic McDonalds. (remember generics? plain packaging, no frills, good enough but usually significantly cheaper? This image of the P.i.L album, Album might be reminiscent. You know, before the world gave us "Store Brands" instead.) Anyhow, they would sell you a hamburger on-par with the larger franchises for 25c. Given the price, 3 or 4 of those were at least as filling as the larger, premium items elsewhere. Eventually, they had to bump up the price a few times, 29c, 35c, etc. but still pretty darn cheap. I think they went under. (as an aside, I learned an interesting social and economic lesson there accidentally when I was a lad. If I got milk instead of soda, my mother would reward me by buying me a cookie as well. It wasn't until I just typed this out that I realized it still might've been a zero-sum game. She meant well, and at least up until 10 seconds ago, thought of it fondly without much cynicism.)

After standing there silently moving my mouth and occasionally twitching, they broke me of my nostalgia and called my number. Handed me a bag. Asked if I wanted anything else. I declined.

When I opened the bag, I found more or less what I was expecting. Glops of varying natures, all assembled into one slightly more complex structure.

What I wasn't expecting was the additional embellishments. It was wrapped in that sort of not-quite-wax-paper that fast food restaurants have been so fond of ever since they finally clued in that the food wasn't really worthy of styrofoam armor. Upon this wrapper was printed "Big Burger With Cheese."

After about 15 years of eating there on rare occasion, I never once heard of said "Big Burger", with or without cheese. It certainly wasn't on the presented menu. I've never seen it in one of their insipid commercials. But there it was, a thing of mystery. They must have planned for this moment, they had the wrapper all ready for it. I didn't notice any large quantity of dust or fading in the printing that suggested it hearkened back to some dark ages of Carl's Jr.

Just a simple fast food cheeseburger, nestled in its wrapper, with a "No Onion" sticker clearly affixed and a rather mysterious hand-written sticker with the number "3167"

A local chain of better quality, mostly local to this area, is In-n-Out, and they have a famed Secret Menu. But who knew Carl's Jr. had one?

As such, I have come to a decision: It is our mission to discover these things. I am totally ordering a hamburger the next time I make my annual trip to Arby's.

1 comment:

Reg Broadchest said...

This post is a reprint from another article, but I can't remember the original source. On the economics of hidden menu items: