With all the heavy talk on here recently about people going hungry (like this post about very hungry people I met in Haiti), perhaps it’s time to take a lighter look at food. In particular, Arby’s fast-food.
I don’t eat Arby’s much. Not that I don’t like it, I do. It’s just that I’ve found it’s hard to get out of there without spending an arm and a leg. I think their marketing department intentionally devises schemes to reel people in and sock ’em with exorbitant prices when they aren’t looking.
Trick 1 – Luring Me In the Door
For instance, their original 5 for 5 deal. Sounds like a great way to draw folks in, but who wants FIVE roast beef sandwiches? Especially when they come devoid of plastic cheese, the best part?
Arby’s strategists anticipated this problem and offered an alternate: 5 varied items for $5.95. Notice the sneakiness already? Though they still call it 5 for $5, it’s really 5 for $6!
When this promotion was new I remember going in, looking at my options, and realizing there was no way I could eat five things. Ok, maybe there was some way, but it wouldn’t have been healthy. So I ordered 4 things, all items off the same value menu. To my surprise, the cashier – with a straight face no less – says, "That will be $7.50 please."* How can it be more expensive to buy 4 things than 5? Yet this is the Arby’s way, I’ve found.
Now, let’s pause here. Some people would change their order at this point. But me, I’m too embarrassed to protest. I just fork over the dough in resignation, but make a mental note to never repeat the same mistake.
Trick 2 – You Charge What for Extra Plastic Cheese?
Months later, I find myself in Arby’s again… Now that I’ve learned my lesson regarding their sneaky 5 for six dollars deal and 4 for seven dollars deal, this time I decide to order a standard combo meal where everything is on the up and up.
Wow, look at this? For $3.99 I can get a paltry little roast beef sandwich. So I’m like, "Yes, I’ll take that smallest, measliest combo deal, but could you please – for the love of food – add some cheese to that anemic specimen?"
The guy furiously punches buttons on his register, then, "No problem, that’ll be $7.50."* What?! How could cheese cost that much extra? But somehow it does, or they have a “$7.50 sucker button” for judicious use on anyone looking as absent-minded as myself. Once again I’m too embarrassed to contest.
Trick 3 – Rigging Everything That Looks Good
It was a long time before I ate at Arby’s again. But I finally did… I had forgotten. Not only had I forgotten, I fell into their ultimate trap: I ordered what looked good. "Yeah, so I’ll take that oven-roasted triple-stack southwest-style cheddar-jack roast-beef chipotle-sandwich covered in aunt-Jemima’s-bacon. And douse it in Arby’s sauce, please.”
Then I remembered with horror, “The price, dummy, the price, how could you forget?” The cashier blissfully punched some keys on his diabolical machine, then looked up with a wide smile, "Hey, that’s a great choice! And your grand total comes to $9*, would you like to add some fries and a drink for only a little extra?" My jaw is hanging there. Do these guys get paid on commission? Stammering, "No fries or drink, I’ll just take the sandwich, thanks." Again, too embarrassed to change my order.
Trick 4 – Coupons
So I recently received a sheet of Arby’s coupons in the mail. Looking at the pictures my mouth began watering, but, "Dare I take the chance?" On my lunch break the other day, I decide risking the gamble of getting in and out with wallet intact.
First thing I notice pulling in their parking lot is a massive poster stretching across the building featuring an amazing roast beef mushroom melt loaded down with extra cheese and I think, offhandedly, "That looks good, I should get that."
Not that I like mushrooms or anything, but the photo was doctored and photo shopped in such a way as to look enticing. Luckily, alarms and bells began resounding through my head, "That’s what they want you to do, fool! You must stick to your coupons! It’s the only way!"
I drive up to the ordering menu. There’s one guy ahead of me. No one else in sight and it’s noon on a weekday. Everybody else in town has learned their lesson…. but at the rate they charge, Arby’s doesn’t need to trap many into their spider-web like racket.
A raspy voice ensues, "garble – garble – would you like – garble – mushrooom – garble – triple cheddar – garble" I have a flashback of the poster out front and hastily interrupt, sticking my fingers in my ears, "NO! That’s NOT what I want! Look you, I have this coupon. C-O-U-P-O-N. It says I can get an entire meal for $3.99, and it’s called the Charred Arby’s Melt Deal."
Silence, then "garble garble? ….. garble? garble?!" I tense up, they’re asking some sorta question but I can’t make it out. I decide to play it safe, "No, I don’t think so, probably not. Nope."
Now the raspy voice sounds exasperated, "Are you sure? – garble – it’s free! – cinnamon – garble garble – and it’s FREE!" I should know better, but it sounded like it was free, and I’m not one to turn down free food. Especially food that has the word cinnamon in it somewhere. Knowing I should probably resist, I instead respond, "Well, sure… if it’s free, yeah, toss it in the bag."
I then hear, in a perfectly clear voice (why was it so garbled before?), "Great, that was an exceptional decision, please pull around to the next window with your card ready. And I hope it’s nowhere close to the limit." I assure her it has at least four bucks left on it.
With apprehension, I gently ease up to the pay window. Now understand, some of this story has been stretched a little, but what I’m about to say next is absolutely true. No joke, the lady opens the window, reaches for my card and says, "That will be twenty-two dollars." I about go through the roof.
As you know, I don’t generally contest my order, but this was getting out of hand. I say in a rush, "Look, I’ve got this coupon, and go ahead and take the $20 cinnamon thing off my order, and this isn’t right because I small sized everything and only got this teeny little value meal, and it’s charred even, and I have a coupon, and I -” she interrupts me and disappears back inside, muttering something about needing to talk with the manager.
After a while the window re-opens and she sticks her head out and apologizes, explaining, "This is my first day on the job."
“Right,” I think, “I bet you were just seeing if I’d actually pay. You guys probably have an entire file about me in there with ‘sucker’ written in big letters at the top.”
In the end, it was quite an inexpensive meal for the crazy amount of food I received. In fact, with the extra free Outside-In Cinnamon Bites (as I later learned they were called) I even started feeling sick afterwards.
This blog is supposed to have a spiritual focus. So…… the moral to this story is that Arby’s is often a lot like Sin: they can both cost you more than you ever think they will…. But on a serious note, it probably isn’t nice to be too down on Arby’s. I do like it, that’s why I keep trying to go back. Especially the plastic cheese, that’s the real draw.