Takeaway Truth: Subway’s Three Pepper Chicken

Takeaway Truth: Subway’s Three Pepper Chicken

Takeaway Truth is a new occasional Lifehacker feature where we compare marketing images against what you actually get served. Today: Subway’s Three Pepper Chicken sub.

Fast food restaurants have been known to gild the lily when it comes to accurate depictions of their menu items. Far too often, the mouth-watering feast on the poster turns out to be a limp and oily morsel. In a bid to keep the fry-jockey overlords honest, we’ve decided to document the reality of fast food — it was either that, or go postal like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

Subway is no stranger to controversial advertising — the restaurant chain was recently sued for claiming its sandwiches were a foot long when they actually measured 11 inches. “We have redoubled our efforts to ensure consistency and correct length in every sandwich we serve,” the company later grovelled.

You’d therefore assume that Subway would take extra care to ensure its promotional images looked as close to reality as possible. Enter the Three Pepper Chicken:

If your taste buds need a little spice in their lives or if that tongue of yours is getting bored with the daily grind then shake a little excitement into things with the new Three Pepper Chicken sub from Subway Restaurants. Are you drooling at your screen yet?

Hmm. A more pertinent question would be — will you still be drooling in real life? In an attempt to find out, we snapped up a foot long Three Pepper Chicken sub for dinner last night. To make the comparison as fair as possible, I asked the Subway “sandwich artist” to use the same salad ingredients as shown on the poster. (I also attempted to frame my photo similarly to the Subway image.)

Below is the Three Pepper Chicken sub, as seen in Subway’s advertising:

And here’s what I actually got served:

The likeness isn’t particularly striking is it? As you can see, the chicken is soggier looking, the salad is barely visible and the bun looks like it was sat on by a pre-Subway Jared. It would be unreasonable to expect the real sandwich to resemble an identical twin, but this thing looks more like a disfigured half-brother that’s kept locked in the basement. (On the plus side, at least the length measured up.)

    Truth Rating: 5/10

Which fast food franchise or menu item would you like us to tackle next? Let us know in the comments section below.


  • As far as truthfulness Nandos do a fairly good job. But their nnot so much into advertising as what you see on posters and menus in store. Still it would be interesting to look at something like their Supremo Burger.

        • Cause i also neglected to mention that its not as nice as the alternatives, if i eat out i tend to go all out and eat the nicest thing around in my price range.

          Only 43,800 meals, by my math /3 = 14600 days, /~365 = ~40 years people only eat 3 meals a day for 40 years ?

  • lol! Maybe it’s time to go to a new subway Chris! That sub looks terrible, looks like it’s been stuffed into a bag and rushed home before any photos were taken.

    My local subway (I think it actually won an award for most popular in Australia a while back) does a fantastic job, bread looks full and plump, ingredients look nice and tasty. Definitely no match to the promo photo, but still a lot better than what’s pictured above.

    • Agreed. The subway I go to locally does a much better job than this. Doesn’t match the advertisment that’s for sure, but looks a million times better than the pic posted here.

      • I acknowledge that quality can vary from store to store, but so what? If even ONE store serves up dodgy food, the franchise should be held accountable. And lets face it, if the very first store I went to messed up on the preparation, the odds are pretty high that the problem isn’t isolated.

        • Chris, I’m one of the first to jump to the defense of Lifehacker writers, but you have to stop this.
          I’ve worked at subway, KFC and other fast food places while at university; and nobody is dumb enough to think that the hand crafted, hour long creation that is on the picture will be identical to the one they are served. You would be kidding yourself if you thought that they should be.
          You would have watched videos of the process of how extensive food photography is; as a professional journalist; and you would have seen how they use the same exact ingredients as in the store, and they take hours to prepare the meal that eventually gets shot.
          Now, when you pay your $9 (or whatever) for your meal, you are not paying for someone to painstakingly craft it in an hour; you want to eat it in the next 3 minutes.
          The people serving you are human, and your expectation that if One Single Store produces a product that is not identical to the picture; then not only are you kidding yourself; but in a legal definition; you would be considered “not a reasonable person” under consumer law if you tried to complain that your food was not what was promised.
          If you were served food that was dirty, missing pieces, incomplete or different to what you orders; to an extent that a reasonable person would consider; then there would be a problem.
          But as far I can tell, you are just being picky for no reason.

          • Stop this? Original content on the AU Lifehacker feed is scarce enough as it is admist all the syndicated US feed crap.

            I agree with the above – if even one store is serving crap food under their name, it’s a reflection on the franchise as a whole.

          • I think the writer is trying to say that we should at least get something slightly resembling what is marketed to us, rather than whatever the teenager or uni student behind the counter can be bothered slapping together. However, in the age of ‘food must be prepared in under 30 seconds in order the drive through line to keep moving’ the companies themselves are also much to blame. McDonald’s expects a cheese burger to be assembled in under 10 seconds. No wonder most come out looking like they were dropped on the floor!

          • Companies shouldn’t advertise a product which customers aren’t delivered in store. What subway are doing in this example are just using a VERY sneaky marketing strat. Most people probably don’t care so much and that’s why a lot of food stores get away with it. If they used the real pic to market their food, they wouldn’t do very well at all so they dress it up. IMHO they should make what they advertise… that 2nd pic looks terrible in comparison to what it is advertised as!

          • Stop this? Please dont. These companies need to be held accountable for false advertising.

            I just posted this article on subways facebook page. I suggest everyone does the same.

        • So I went to a prison the other day. First guy I spoke to, was a criminal. Following your logic, all men are criminals, and should be held accountable, as the odds are pretty high that the problem isn’t isolated.

  • To be fair, one should try to order the most identical item possible. Choose the same bread, not italian herb and cheese. Maybe it’s poor folding or poor posing, but there appears to be significantly less vegetable matter in your sandwich, too.

  • You should watch this for an enlightening insight into fast food photography.


    If you aren’t happy with the sub then you could always complain to the head offices of subway and they will probably go and make sure the store is following correct procedures – a single complaint won’t do much but if people are regularly doing this it can get the franchisee in trouble. Most fast food franchises will inspect their franchises periodically and use mystery shoppers to asses them from time to time but the system isn’t perfect.

  • This article series has promise, but until you take like-for-like photos, you fail to make any point. Use the same background, photo angle, and ingredients. Bile yellow surface and crusted bread?? C’mon, you’re better than that.

    • This photo is the best of the series so far.
      I think angle and lighting for correct shadow drop is imperative which they’ve done well here.

      No need to split hairs over the background, and let’s be honest using a different bread or different choice of fillings would not make any difference in the likeness here.

    • The point of this series is to judge the appearance of the product — mentioning taste would muddy the message. (For the record, the Three Pepper Chicken sub wasn’t anything special. I would’ve preferred more spice.)

  • I like Subway. I eat a lot of Subway. In my experience, Subway doesn’t do crumbed chicken of any variety well. Always soggy and gross. Funny thing is, the chicken parma is their most expensive sandwich, and its god awful.

  • I’ve had lots of Subways and they have always looked appetizing. I’ve never had one that looked as disgusting as that one.
    Also, the term “gilding the lilly” refers to trying to improve on something that is already perfect – not to trying to dress something up that is substandard.

  • Doesn’t the chicken sit in a covered bain-marie when it’s being warmed up? The excess moisture it would absorb from that would explain its sogginess. Plus these guys work fast when they make a sandwich anyway; one can’t expect it to look picture perfect if these guys are working to serve 5 more people down the line.

    It’s unrealistic to expect it to look like the ad though. If they showed what the food looked like normally, no one would buy it. It’s as simple as that.

    • Granted, a fast food item will never look the same as it does on the poster — but how far removed is it from reality? There are different degrees of deception, and we think that’s worth investigating.

    • Nope, or at least not according to the rules. For a product like that, it will be delivered frozen, then prepped by putting in the fridge for at most 48 hours before being chucked (or hopefully sold). Should be microwaved (toasting oven also microwaves) fresh for any order.

      Also, that is a really crappy sandwich. I would have been ashamed of that (used to be a ‘Sandwich Artist’).

    • I would say is unrealistic to expect Subway(or anyone) to advertise a product which they do not serve.
      You are right that no one would buy it if the food looked like that 2nd pic. Maybe they should provide more training to staff?

  • Does anyone know what they do the chicken to make it seem aerated and mushy all at once. I had one of these yesterday – the subway had no pickles – no pickles how do you have subway with no pickles. It was disgusting, mushy, and had no texture.

  • I know the idea is to make them look as bad as possible, but these photos are just terrible. Is it the outlet’s fault that your photos are usually horribly lit and exposed, often from significantly different angles? With those obstacles in the way, it makes this series pretty pointless.

  • The truthfulness really should consider the accuracy of the contents – not necessarily the appearance. The food labelling and advertising laws require that it’s reflective of the contents, in that your sandwich should have contained a bed of lettuce, 3 slices of tomato, 3 slices of cucumber, and so forth – although the numbers are a bit fungible. I’d accord a rating for appearance (here, a 3 seems fair) and for accuracy of contents compared to ad (hard to tell!)

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