Centering the cheese


You wake up in the morning, start getting ready for the day, and decide to stop on the road for a breakfast sandwich. A great bagel with sausage and egg and cheese sounds just about perfect, and you know the spot to visit.

You pull in, order, and prepare to enjoy the delicious part of the early morning, only to unwrap your breakfast and find half of the cheese on the sandwich and half in the wrapper.

Why? Really. Why? Because, how hard is it to get a piece of cheese centered on a sandwich?

My guess is that we’ve all experienced the poorly placed slice of cheese disappointment. If not with cheese… with something. The reality is, cheese isn’t the only item that creates placement problems.

Often the main ingredients, such as the meat, will be stacked in stunning ways. Sliding off the bun, unevenly loaded toward one side, and so on.

Condiments are another source of fun. Nothing like eating two-thirds of a sandwich before getting to any mustard, ketchup or mayonnaise.

Now before you decide to start sending me some angry messages, I know. I spent a few years making sandwiches and pizzas in a shop. And when thinking about this subject, I decided to talk to a few friends that worked in fast food shops (and other take out locations) to find out some of their thoughts on the subject of my misplaced cheese. Here’s what we came up with…

First and foremost, those boxes don’t do anyone any favors. A Big Mac or a Whopper or insert-trademarked-name-here gets made, placed in a container and put in a bag. Person jostles it even more while walking to the car and unpacking it. Hardly difficult to figure out why the lettuce and burger and bun are strewn about in a mess that needs to be restacked.

Second, before asking about the person assembling your order, consider that you may not be as sharp as you think. Take a deck of cards and start dealing them out… say into four piles… and try to place each card exactly on top of the previous one dealt. How’d you do? How did you do if you tossed the card from an inch or two or three away? How did you do if you sped up? Ok… convert the thought. Rush hour at the burger joint and you have dozens of hamburgers to prepare. Are you going to be perfect when you grab the bottles of ketchup and toss on the pickle slices?

There’s more, but by and large as a group we arrived at two results. One – There are moments where a slice of cheese may not be perfectly placed, and in those moments it may not be the result of preparer’s error. Two – Still, plenty of times there is no reason for why our cheese is so poorly placed as often as it is poorly placed.

So, what is it? Are they rushed? Is it me carrying the bag back to my car? Or… is it a result of boredom, attention to detail, a lacking worth ethic?

I suppose we can pick and choose our thoughts.

The thing is, I still don’t get it. I don’t understand why the cheese… why the sausage patty… why anything is so poorly assembled. It doesn’t make sense. And yet, the only appropriate response seems to be rolling my eyes and muttering while I begin a reconstruction effort.

Why does it matter? Well… because it does. And because we’re paying for it. And because service in many places seems to be getting worse.

I headed out to one of my favorite sandwich shops this week. A place you wouldn’t consider upscale or particularly pricey… but definitely a place where as a customer you have certain expectations of quality. And, those expectations are met. I bought a whole sandwich, bag of chips and a drink. Even added a cookie. Spent just under $15.

A few days later, I stepped into one of America’s bigger convenience burger shops with Terry. By the time we placed our orders we had arrived just shy of $30.

This is a place where we might need to take a step back. I can sense myself wandering close to the edge of the path, almost preparing to venture off on a tangent equating cost and such to the cheese incident. It’s something that might be worth exploring, since so many incidents would seem to be from sources of convenience, sources of speed, sources of grab and go. Maybe the off-center cheese does happen at a far higher rate in fast food places. But there’s a bit more to consider…

We’ve reached a point of disconnect. In many places, orders are placed and paid for on kiosks. Grab a marker so your order can be delivered to your table, match the number on the marker with your order on the screen, grab your cup and head to the table.

On that $30 evening, Terry and I were waiting for a bit. We had made the decision to stop simply to grab a quick bite. Convenience and speed. Not only were we stunned by the cost, but after several minutes of waiting we began timing it. The joke behind timing it was simply that after such a wait the order had better arrive with hot fries. It took at least fifteen minutes for our meal to show up. (And a few more when I returned the cold fries and explained that after our wait we deserved a bit better.)

The point is, we are no longer thinking just about cheese. It’s the idea, not the specific. But the reality is, it shouldn’t be that hard to get most of it on the sandwich.


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