Takeaway Truth: Subway's Steak & Bacon With Cheese

Takeaway Truth is a new occasional Lifehacker feature where we compare marketing images against what you actually get served. Today: Subway's Steak & Bacon With Cheese 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.

We already gave Subway a bashing this week for its decidedly mediocre Chicken Lemon & Herb sub. We initially felt a bit bad about featuring the same franchise twice in one week, but then we saw the self-aggrandising description of the Steak & Bacon With Cheese:

"With tender, slow cooked steak, premium shortcut bacon and natural Swiss cheese, it’ll warm the darkest winter work day. This hearty sub is a big feed and it’s absolutely beautiful, try one today!"

We've seen many Subway subs before, and the words "absolutely beautiful" have never come to mind. To make the comparison as fair as possible, I asked my local Subway “sandwich artist” to use the same salad ingredients and sauce as shown on the poster.

Here is the Steak & Bacon With Cheese Sub as it appears on Subway's website:

And here's what we got served:

Blimey. This one is even worse than the Chicken Lemon & Herb sub which is really saying something. The two images are barely alike despite my specific instructions to make it look like the poster. While some of the product's deficiencies can be blamed on the sandwich artist there are clearly deceptions in the poster -- the cucumber is a completely different size and thickness, for example. The saving grace is the steak, which was a similar colour and appropriately chunky. Nonetheless, this is still one ugly looking sub.

    Truth Rating: 4/10

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


Comments

    Do you ever get a response from the companies you feature here? I mean, we don't expect the items to be exactly the same as pictured, but they should be at least recognizable as the same item!
    How about featuring one of the 'premium' fast foods like Crust Pizza or Grill'd. It will be interesting to see how the ones who charge a substantial amount more fare with their comparison.

    Last edited 30/05/13 12:10 pm

      We haven't received direct responses but the companies appear to be aware of the series -- the other week I requested an advertising image from KFC and they immediately asked if it was for Takeaway Truth. (I like your premium fast food idea btw -- Crust is definitely on the agenda!)

        I love the idea of KFC frantically emailing their franchises... "ALERT: Lifehacker is coming! Step up your game!"

        KFC are wanks anyway. I sent them photos from their main Melbourne city store, every single table had rubbish on it and all the bins were full so people couldnt throw anything about.

        You could not sit and eat in the store, a store that has two floors mind you.

        They said something along the lines of "7PM on a Thursday is a busy time, what did you expect?"

        Funny how Hungry Jacks and McDonalds next door (both same size) didn't have any trouble keeping their tables clean and bins empty, despite there being at least twice as many people in both.

        Last edited 30/05/13 1:21 pm

          Yeah, I find the same at my local KFC's, generally filthy tables and overflowing bins, I've gone as far as removing KFC from my junk food diet, because if they don't care if it's filthy in an eating area I doubt if they care if it's filthy in the kitchen hidden away from customer eyes.

        Pizzacapers I've found not to be too bad in presentation personally, possibly biased as I used to work there, but yes, you find with premium takeout like PC and Crust, the standards are far higher in terms of presentation.

      As I enjoy Grilld semi regularly, I can assure you, what they deliver is not far from what they promise. Definitely my "go to" burger when I want some quality.

        I don't think that they even have pictures of their burgers though.

    Seriously, go to a different suburb/city to do this! every article is a poor reflection of what you typically get at ANY of the takeaway places you have covered.

    All this is a poor excuse for some journalist to convince his boss/significant other to have (free) fast food at least once a week.

    I give this article a 1/10

      Seriously? I give your comment 0/10.
      Show me one media outlet in Australia that calls to task the largest food chains (globally) for the absolutely inaccurate marketing and simply put - lies - about their product.
      Unlike say, cars or clothes - which 99% of the time are exactly the same as the ad - to show a piece of food in marketing, then call it "absolutely beautiful", then for your underpaid, overworked, undertrained global workforce to deliver a product resembling a stale dog turd wrapped in a triple bypass carb-delivery device - well they deserve the shellacking they get.
      I applaud Lifehacker for these articles - and if it means the author gets a free lunch, well hey, having to eat these epic fail marketing outcomes is just part of covering the story.

        I'm not saying that this series "sucks don't do it anymore". I'm saying that this is not a representation of what the food really looks like.

        I have had probably too much fast food in my time (from numerous stores/towns) and what I see here does not represent what I receive, nor my company with me at the time. Even a Subway at a busy inner city University during the lunch rush looks better than this.

        Surely you can find some that look "normal" or is this just a campaign against fast food and its advertising?

        Admittedly the advertising is a big over the top sometimes in the big chains, but how else are you suppose to get the customers in? Unlike a piece of clothing professionally made every time and displayed on a mannequin. fast food is required to be delivered fast! so sometimes the quality is lacking in the design.

        If you would rather them make it perfect every time (like, as others have said, Grilld) then you should be prepared to wait, even during the busy lunch rushes and fork out greater cost. Or have them pre-made and probably lacking in taste (soggy, dry) or unhealthy for you (Salmonella).

          I'm saying that this is not a representation of what the food really looks like.

          I assume Chris went and bought this at a Subway store and this is what he got. So unless he's actually tampered with it himself to make it look worse, then this IS what the food really looks like, at least in the time and place that he bought it. If you had better luck somewhere else then good for you, but that doesn't make his experience any less valid than yours.

            I can only assume that he came across a very poor store/someone having a really bad "I Can't Be Stuffed" day as I have never had a Subway sub that looks that bad, and I am talking about hundreds of them across more than a decade and several countries.

            I am not being hyperbolic. The bread doesn't even look properly cooked! The steak and cheese is one of my favourites, so I order it quite often, and it has never looked like that one has!

            I am not implying he doctored the pic for effect but, geez, he certainly hit a winner today!

            Last edited 30/05/13 9:54 pm

          lol of course they could find some that are "normal", they could visit 5 stores and find the most "normal" one of the bunch to post up, but that doesn't represent what the average customer does, do you visit 5 stores ordering and paying each time until you hit a winner, no, you go to random (sort of) store and order there, if its good or bad, you get what you get, this is what this article represents

            Yeah, of course due to time constrictions (an hour lunch break!?) the author/critic is limited as to where to choose from, so likely the local/office area at close vicinity. The culinary examples I have seen on here are indeed absolute garbage, but from my own experiences with take-away franchises in ACT or regional NSW all products have been average to above. To call a spade a spade, I will say that without the atrocious standards and lack-lustre effort on behalf of the (teenage(?) staff at these stores in this shitty suburb (which it wouldn't surprise me if that was enough to merit the actual inception of Take-away Truth) there might not even be an article in at all. I'm not attacking anyone here, but flame on should the urgency to initiate defense mode. If you must, Flame Grilled please, and a large Onion Rings while we're at it to!

              i can see your point in saying that this series is slightly flawed if the food is only brought from one store (per franchise) in one suburb, is there any evidence of that though im pretty sure the locales havent been mentioned, any comment @chrisjager ?

              that said the idea that shitty suburbs are allowed to have shitty takeaway and by that logic better suburbs would have better takeaway is ridiculous, besides the fact all franchises are representatives of the brand and therefore should uphold its quality across the board, ive been to some outlets in some pretty upbeat suburbs and its still staffed by "could care less" teenagers who cant make a burger right worth a dam

                I cover a pretty broad area with these articles -- I've bought in the Sydney CBD, Circular Quay, Penrith, Kingswood and several areas in the Blue Mountains.

      You're a subway manager aren't you...

        Actually, Subway staff are trained to call themselves "sandwich artists"....

          Well, managers are still called managers (or supervisors, sometimes)

          Which I put up in the credibility stakes of things like 'Apple Genius' and 'Dell Technician' :)

    People defending the aesthetics of take away food giants. Oh how far can you fall dearest humanity?

    As a non-fast food eater, I love these articles they make me laugh every time!

    I know you've mentioned it before but how do they keep royally screwing up the bread? I mean they bake the bread in house and it sits there unimpeded by anything. Are they using them as seats? The stock image shows it toasted. Maybe that holds the stability?

      I was about to mention this, because while my subway isn't picture perfect, on the whole they look better than the ones on here, partly because the bread is toasted, i think, but also because I eat it in store.

      I was going back through these fast food articles and just had to reply as a (thankfully) ex subway sandwich artist - it's a matter of the bread being proofed (allowed to rise) for the correct amount of time. If you're in a rush and running out of bread, this can be the result. Or if your proofer's temperature starts going wonky, or someone forgets to put water in it, or the dough isn't totally thawed when it goes in. The bread is generally not squashed after, and toasting makes no difference to shape, it's just bread that got a bad start in life. :(

    The subway by your work must be absolutely horrible - the last one you showed was horrible built, and so is this. Half the filling isn't even in the bread!

      Subway's problem is that they wrap every item. A perfect sandwich can be undone by shoddy or clumsy wrapping - or even, unwrapping!
      Every fast food place has this challenge though, unless you are dining in at specific places like Grill'd.

        True that.

        Though my burger last night at mickey-d's was just shoddy start to finish - they closed the box with the bun half outside it! I mean, they don't even 'make' burgers anymore, they just throw sh*t in a box in a certain order and then close it with the ingredients inside.

        I don't know how you screw that up.

          I used to work at Maccas as a young'un and, I dunno if this is still the policy, but if you're unsatisfied with the food for any reason send that bugger back and get a new one. I've often sent fries back to get new ones if they're not warm or if they're soggy. I've also sent back drinks if they taste weird because they've reached or almost reached the end of the syrup bag.

          Oh and in all my 7 years working there I never once saw someone deliberately spit in or degrade the food, we didn't care if you didn't like it we just tried to make it better. Dunno if that's true of everywhere though.

    Why don't you interview a food stylist as to how they make the advertising photos... If a store served up food that looked like the photos, I don't think you would want to eat it!

    I think the main issue being dealt with in Takeaway Truth is the acceptance of food styling and image enhancement in food advertising. There's no way you can get the real food to look like the idealised images when the props have used PVA glue instead of mayonnaise and fillets are sprayed with glycerol, then lit under beauty dishes and soft boxes.

    Chris I think a great contrasting counterpoint to this series would be the Asian noodle/dumpling bars with the photo menu boards - you know the ones, where a chef just cooked a meal and then takes a photo with his or her compact camera, complete with on-camera flash. Quite often I find the experience refreshing - when the food you get served looks so much better than the menu photo!

      Maccas already did an exposé on how they do food styling.

      All real ingredients, no fake food:
      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2162080/McDonalds-Photoshop-video-reveals-menu-burgers-look-like-youre-served.html

      I don't care so much how they (or anyone) does food styling. I care about the difference between marketing and reality. This is where Lifehacker rubber hits the road.

    It would be good if you could do restaurant chains like Hogs Breath, outback steakhouse, Crinitis etc.

      Then it wouldn't be takeaway truth!

    I have had 2, I don't really care what they look like... It all ends up in the same place. They tasted great which is all I really care about.

    I love this column so much, and Wow, that one is a visual mess.

    I've been noticing a poster that is just "too good" for the KFC Grilled Salsa Twister ( http://fbcdn-sphotos-a-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/p480x480/603784_10151644054288126_362133308_n.jpg )

    The artistic placement of the lettuce, almost as if it is a gentle, crispy verdant cup for the tender seared chiccken irks me.

      Glad you're enjoying the series! The KFC Grilled Salsa Twister has already crossed our path. It wasn't pretty: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2013/05/takeaway-truth-kfcs-grilled-salsa-twister/

        Wouldn't you know it, the one I miss is the stylised ad that annoys me the most; just for it's sheer implausibility. And you are right, it's a shocker. A salivary let-down.

    Truth Rating: 4/10 That's a bit high me thinks, did it at least taste any good... :)

      It scored a bit higher because the steak didn't look too bad, which is the primary ingredient. As for taste, it wasn't anything special.

    I have to say Chris, all the food you're given by the stores is very very unappealing. Whenever i've been to KFC, Subway etc. I've never received anything that looks like anything they present to you.

    Was the steak all tough like I have been told it is?

      Or perhaps you just aren't noticing the marked difference because the advertisement isn't right in front of you? When viewed in isolation, none of these photos are awful -- it's the side-by-side comparison that makes them look bad. That said, I'll admit that I've been a bit unlucky when it comes to Subway -- my buns always seem to be squashed.

      I didn't notice the steak being overly tough.

        Whilst that's a very valid point, I usually don't really much notice of the pictures in store. Yeah they sure like giving you the short end of the stick when it comes to the roll haha.

    I think I'd personally find these articles more interesting if there was some element of crowd sourcing the content. I.E. you post that the next item is going to be X from Y, and then we can all go out and get that and share our photos with you. That way you can get a better selection to base your rating on. It also gives Lifehacker readers lunch suggestions :)

      This idea has been suggested before and it's a good one. I'm definitely keen to give it a try if the interest is there.

    visiting one store is not going to give you a true picture.
    all you have done is the opposite of the advertising picture.

    it's pretty stupid to only sample one product from one store only made by one person, what if picked the most rookie sandwich artist there?

    I used to work in subway (but I'm not here to do them any favors), and I have never seen something made as god awful as the one you've photographed

    Last edited 30/05/13 5:14 pm

      The product in the above photo came from a Subway restaurant. It has therefore been given their stamp of approval. If they're happy to unleash "rookie sandwich artists" on paying customers then I have every right to judge the crappy results for what they are.

    Honestly these articles are pretty stupid. They obviously make the food they are advertising appealing to increase sales not to compare it's aesthetics to what you're getting. They buff up the product in the ads by using items such as toothpicks to uphold a burger or replace ice cream for mash potato. So you can definitely expect to NOT have your food look like the one in the ads unless you want to be munching on toothpicks or any other health hazards items.

      As I've said numerous times in the past, it's not about expecting an identical product -- of course the advertised image is going to look better. But some companies/products are more visually deceiving than others. There needs to be a limit to what they can get away with, which is what this series is attempting to define.

    i used to work at subway. not defending it, but there is so much cvarience basedon who makes the sub, and the time you visit the store. if you visit in the middle of the lunch time rush, you can expect up to 4 people being involved in the construction of your sub, so things can go wrong easily. that said, i used to work at a subway store, and i could manage to make subs in record spead with extreme accuracy. the main thing you need to remember is that the staff are being paid piss poor wage.

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