We eat out for many reasons: convenience, timing, location, enjoyment. Sometimes we do it to try new and different dishes than we could prepare ourselves. Other times, it’s exactly the opposite: we seek the comfort of certain preparations. How many times have you gone to a favorite place and avoided even looking at the menu, ordering your usual club sandwich instead, or spaghetti and meatballs, or a burger and fries?
But nothing is set in stone. This goes for rivers and buildings, sock drawers and hemlines, government benefits and family ties. And yes, restaurant menus. Removing an old favorite can cause a lot of disappointment, consternation and hand twisting. On the other hand, you might find new love if you just give it a chance. You just have to get out of it, because, as Jay Asher wrote in the novel “Thirteen Reasons Why”, “You can’t stop the future and you can’t go back to the past”.
In the event that they do remove, there are a number of factors that come into play. Due to current labor shortages, kitchens are being streamlined to allow fewer people to prepare food more easily and more rapidly. Due to supply chain issues, some ingredients are not as available as they used to be. And as the cost of ingredients has increased, it is not always economically viable to use certain items.
Take McDonald’s. While you’ll probably have no problem ordering a cheeseburger or chicken nuggets, other more labor-intensive items have been removed. No more salads, fruit and yogurt parfaits, McChicken Biscuit or Egg White Delight McMuffin. According to a statement from Mickey D’s corporate headquarters, “Our transition to a limited menu, involving the removal of dozens of less popular national and regional items from menus, has helped streamline operations for our restaurant team while improving the experience of our customers.” Translation: it’s a lot easier to toss it in the deep fryer or on the grill than to mess around with all that healthy food.
They’re not the only name taking steps to streamline the back of the house. Burger King has also reduced its salad offerings. As for burgers, according to Tom Curtis, U.S. and Canadian president of Burger King, “We have six ways to put cheese on burgers. Put it first, last, top, bottom, three slices, two slices. We condensed that. This involves less muscle memory. And Chick-fil-A ditched its sunflower multigrain bagel and associated breakfast sandwiches. If they were expecting a backlash, they needn’t have worried: an online petition garnered only 60 signatures.
It’s not just the big chains that do this. Annie’s Diner in Kaysville, Utah is a classic local eatery, with some dishes named after regulars. Order “LaRae’s Breakfast” and you get three strips of bacon and sausage gravy on hash. New cooks should also learn how to make “Kathy and Shawn’s Sandwich”, “Donnie’s Omelet”, and “Richard’s Classic Reuben”. (In fact, Richard’s namesake is the same as any other Reuben sandwich: Richard is not a demanding customer.)
Owner Jason Sanders said the level of variety just isn’t sustainable. And so Annie’s Diner streamlined its menu, “to speed up the ordering and cooking processes,” giving the boot to Kathy and Shawn’s favorites and other customer-nominated creations. In a related move, they also cut up liver and special onions: “We had more leftovers than we were selling. Liver is not something that can be preserved, so there is a lot of waste involved. Maybe not as much of a hit as deleting Donnie’s creation, but a loss nonetheless.
At the same time, establishments of all types are adding items they hope will be fan favorites and generate additional volume. McDonald’s added a Chocolatey Pretzel McFlurry, which is a sundae with a vanilla soft serve, chocolate covered pretzel pieces and a caramel swirl. Chipotle is launching a new seasonal drink, Watermelon Limeade. Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza is already such a hit that they are running out of ingredients to make them. Even Annie’s Diner is getting in on the act, recently hiring an on-site baker and offering raspberry and orange rolls and other baked goodies.
For now at least, you can still go to Starbucks and get a Blackberry Cobbler Frappuccino, or stop by Wendy’s and get a Quadruple Baconator, or head to DQ and get a Chocolate Cheesecake Blizzard. But better do it now before it’s too late and all they offer is a vanilla cone with sprinkles.