Subway’s new menu offerings reduce the ability to customize sandwiches

Have we reached the pinnacle of personalization?

That was my thinking when I learned today that Subway is introducing a new menu of sandwiches that are made to be served in a specific way. That’s right, this one comes from the same chain that’s famous for letting you stack all the veggies you want or letting you put buffalo and guacamole sauce on the tuna if that’s your thing. To be clear, Subway still lets you go the customization route, but you can now also choose a simplified menu of 12 sandwiches, cleverly called the Subway Series. Offerings are identified by number and name, as in #3 (or The Monster, a cheesy steak sub) or #6 (The Boss, one of the meatballs sub).

The sandwiches are clearly crowd-pleasing and not unlike what many Subway regulars order regularly. The Connecticut-based chain, which includes 37,000 restaurants, all franchisees owned and operated, and spread in more than 100 countries, said the offerings were “expertly crafted” and designed to bring out “the best of Subway.”

The chain also described Subway’s move as the biggest change to the roster in six decades. And it could be a game changer for the industry as a whole, coming after years and years of fast food chains embracing personalization. Think Chipotle CMG,
+ 4.28%
and an assembly line approach to making burritos where you pick and choose the type of beans you want (or don’t ask for beans at all). Or think Starbucks SBUX,
+ 0.33%And the
Where ordering a simple cup of coffee has almost become a sight worthy of daytime drama (have you ever heard of Edward’s drink?).

So maybe Subway discovered that sometimes less is more. To be fair, new sandwiches aren’t necessarily watered-down stuff: Monster, for example, comes with steak, bacon, Monterey cheese, green peppers, and red onions. But the idea is to rule out any option beyond the basic choice of the sandwich itself.

Restaurant industry analysts and watchers say it’s an idea that cannot be timed. Like many businesses, dining venues these days are burdened with labor shortages and supply chain issues, so they are looking to streamline operations as much as possible. As Arlene Spiegel, a New York restaurant consultant, explains, customization adds time to the equation of preparing an order — and time is money. Even restaurants can require them to have larger kitchens to accommodate additional ingredients, she notes. The key, she says, is for the restaurant to “create a system that the guest thinks they come up with their own way but is really the operator’s way.”

Plus, in Subway’s case, the need to turn things around may be a way to stand out from the competition, says Mark Kalinowski, a veteran analyst at fast food chains. It refers to a group of similarly designed sub-chains that are receiving increasing attention, such as Jersey Mike’s and Firehouse Subs (recently acquired by Restaurant Brands International QSR,
+ 0.23%
). Plus, there’s stiff competition from other fast-food chains — think Popeye’s and the chicken sandwich the world can’t stop devouring.

Of the new subs we tried, the No. 4 (Superior Meat) was our favourite.

subway

Here’s the thing: I love Popeye, but I love Subway. Part of that love is rooted in the ethos of the “Make It Your Way” series (Subway has always outperformed Burger King in this regard, despite the fact that BK was behind the “Your Way” mantra). I especially like to make a sandwich and a salad in one piece—yes, I’m the guy who asks for extra cucumber, extra tomato, and pretty much everything else.

Therefore, I can not say that the new submarines impressed me. I sampled four each day: #2 (outlaw, with steak); #4 (Supreme Mets, Italian-style affair); #8 (Great Garlic with Chicken and Roasted Garlic Aioli); and No. 10 (Pan American Club, with ham and bacon). Mind you, it was delicious enough. But they weren’t Mine Subs – and with the exception of #4, they felt a bit wasteful. Like I said, there’s more when it comes to Subway dips – and those extra veggies are a healthy way to fill in the blanks. Plus, how come there’s no tuna show on the Subway series list? (I’m all about the Subway Tuna, though with some controversies.)

Final Choice (if obvious): There doesn’t seem to be a way to shape these subs to your exact preferences, other than choosing the bread that Subway provides. I tried convincing my local Subway to throw some slices of jalapeño on my outlaw branch to make it even more outlaw. I was told: We do not respond: these submarines remain the same.

In its press announcement, Subway also explained the rules: “Instead of choosing your own ingredients and toppings throughout the ordering process, guests simply say the sandwich number or name and six inches or a foot long.” A Subway spokeswoman told me there was little wiggle room for the process, noting, “Guests can make select substitutions to their taste preferences, such as not ordering onions or mayonnaise.” But that still hardly looks like the full customization the series is known for.

And this is the exact point. And I can’t help but think that’s probably not just a good thing for the chain’s bottom line, but also for some clients who are tired of trading all the details that go into what’s supposed to be fast food. I even admit that I sometimes get frustrated when I think of every condiment option when I walk the subway line. It suffices to make one say, “Ah, to back off with him. Just give me number 4.”

For now, I’ll stick with the customization option, which Subway thankfully continues to offer. That is, until the chain has a good sense of turning one of my specialty creations – called The Extra – into the next menu item.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *