It strikes me as odd, too, that the smell of a Burger King reminds me of young love. Something about that flame-broiled bouquet, I suppose.
Actually, it has to do with my wife, a Burger King alumna of the era of our early marriage.
My wife’s uniform had large splashes of orange and red, as if an autumn elm had fallen into the wash, and the material looked like nothing found in nature. She wore a cap that appeared to be a newsboy variation, only with an exaggerated uplift in the front.
In this, she took orders for and custom-dressed thousands of Whoppers. That, after all, stood as the brand’s promise, pimped in any number of commercials:
Hold the pickles.
Hold the lettuce.
don’t upset us.
I never worked in the fast-food business. My first job had been as a porter at a Holiday Inn, a sort of catch-all position on the staff that had me delivering room service and rollaway beds and plunging reluctant toilets.
For my duties, I wore a clip-on tie and a plastic name tag with the company logo and the name “Kenny” underneath created in green by a label maker.
My closest brush with the food industry came later when I hired on as a dishwasher for a restaurant with the culturally unfortunate name of Sambo’s.
Its specialty, of sorts, seemed to be pancakes, which came with nearly every order, enhanced with what the restaurant chain trademarked as “Tiger Butter.” As best I could tell, from my outpost beside the Hobart machine, it was just butter.
Occasionally, a restroom problem would arise, and the Sambo’s manager would seek me out and hand over a plunger, a bit of typecasting I did not relish. These occasions would inform me as I sought to complete my undergraduate studies in later years.
None of this means to suggest a vast knowledge in this particular business sector, nor to wax nostalgic over the way my wife looked in that polyester Burger King outfit. Instead, I find fascinating the fine points of milkshake profitability.
A news story came out last week both greatly disturbing in its content and enormously heartening in its reception.
It turns out that a disappointing earnings report emerged from the parent company of the chain Steak ’n Shake. The restaurants had come out millions of dollars behind for the quarter.
In a discussion of how to combat a portion of these losses, an executive said the company could save at least $1 million a year by no longer putting cherries on top of its milkshakes.
The milkshake-drinking public, in a fit of First World umbrage, said in mostly unanimity that if they did not see a cherry atop future Steak ’n Shake products, they would take their business down the road.
Brand loyalty of that sort might instantly reverse the fortunes of this chain.
More alarming to investors, I would think, might be the lack of vendor oversight in the procurement of cherries.
By my calculations, you can buy jars of cherries off a retail grocery shelf for about 5 cents per cherry. At that rate, Steak ’n Shake could sell 20 million shakes, each enjoying a good-sized markup.
And I would hope a volume buyer could drive a hard bargain in the maraschino negotiations.
My wife told me the hardest part of the Burger King job had been dealing with late-night drunks who, for some reason, often desired milkshakes. They could have it their way, but the treat there did not include a cherry.