How Much Does No Cheese Cost?

This blog entry is now included as a part of Resisting the Challenges of the 21st Century

As a kid, I used to love grilled cheese sandwiches. Nowadays, people can argue endlessly about the poor health that results from frying gobs of cheese in white bread covered with blobs of butter, and perhaps it was the heaping helping of fat that made them so attractive. Somewhere in my teens, however, dairy became a problem: if I ate butter, my tummy would start to hurt. I can still eat cheese, but as often as not, I will gag and possibly even throw up. Mercifully, eating ice cream was not too bad, but I rapidly developed a taste for Slurpees instead (a Slurpee was the 7-Eleven equivalent of the Icees that were common in the rest of the country). It was not long before even whole milk was a problem. If I eat cold cereal now, I tend to use 1% milk on it to minimize the misery that is probably coming later, but I tend to eat oatmeal and Cream of Wheat instead.

So it probably isn’t a real surprise that I do not eat cheeseburgers. Or pizza. Or a lot of other foods most people consider to be staples of their diets. I even used to fight with my mother over getting toast that didn’t have butter on it since she insisted that not putting butter on one of the pieces of toast that got cooked in the oven was a lot of extra work. It turns out my mother was not the only one who sees leaving something out as a problem; all my life, I have fought with fast food places over how I wanted my burger prepared.

Burger King made a big deal out of competing with McDonald’s with the jingle, “Have it your way” since their burgers were put together on demand rather than being mass produced to be identical, but even that was a problem. Burger King used to pre-assemble their burgers by broiling the burger and putting it inside a bun with pickles and dropping that into a steaming heating bin. Since I was also not a big fan of pickles, I used to have to order a Whopper with lettuce and tomato ONLY that never had pickles on it, after which I had to watch the staff like a hawk make sure my meal get assembled properly.

I could stand a mild taste of pickles even though I did not like it, but my stomach did not want anything to do with cheese on a burger. Ordering a Big Mac with onions only and no cheese was not an easy task, and I had to all but climb over the counter sometimes to get it done right (but I did get very good at adding “and no cheese” to all my orders).

Two years ago, perhaps in an effort to boost income, Wendy’s restaurants in our area made a nasty change: a single automatically became a single with cheese. After successfully getting singles with no cheese a few times, I noticed something evil: since a single without cheese was no longer on the menu, I had to pay for cheese I was not getting, adding what was, to me, a significant expense to an already expensive burger. Complaints did not help: the staff could not (or would not) argue with the computer that ran their registers, so I simply stopped eating at Wendy’s (although I do get spicy chicken sandwiches from time to time when I have a coupon for buy one, get one free).

But then I had a far worse experience at Rally’s. On the way to work, I noticed big posters outside the restaurant that proclaimed Rally burgers with cheese were only a dollar. I parked the car, walked up to the order window, and ordered two Rally burgers with lettuce and tomato only and no cheese. I was all set to pay when the bored employee asked me for over three dollars. In confusion, I looked around and asked if they were still on sale. The woman at the window told me that only the burgers with cheese were on sale—a Rally burger without cheese was $1.49. She even refused to hit the cheeseburger button on the register and simply turn to tell the other employee who was making the burgers to leave off the cheese.

For a moment, I was ready to channel Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. In the film, he tried to order toast in a restaurant, and the waitress insisted that it was not on the menu, so he could not order toast. Eventually, he ordered a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast. No butter, no lettuce, no mayo. Moreover, when the inflexible waitress started to walk away, Jack also told her to hold the chicken salad. Poof! Toast. It did not end well—you can watch the clip here.

I find it easy to believe that pieces and parts of that scene were based on multiple actual events. There was no table for me to clear, so I decided that I would leave before I got thrown out, and I probably won’t return to Rally’s in the near future. Taking them off my list of potential food sources is too bad because their store is located in the parking lot of the same strip center as our store. I really, really hate paying somebody for less work or fewer ingredients, so they now have one less potential customer.

Somehow, this poor level of customer service seems like a good place to bring in the Rolling Stones to bemoan the poor level of customer service we face almost daily.

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