What the Distribution of Paper Products Says About the Economy

March 2, 2010

There are a number of metrics that are used to evaluate the state of an economy or compare two different economies. Often, this is done in a manner that is, at least in part, an attempt to interject a more humorous feeling.

One example of this is the Big Mac Index, which is basically the comparison of the cost of a single Big Mac Burger between two countries.

Originally published in 1986, the Big Mac Index can provide a way of comparing the purchasing power of two nations, as well as how the two currencies are related. While comparing the cost of goods between two countries is nothing new, the Big Mac Index uses a product most people are familiar with and can easily relate to.

Along the same lines as this, I have noticed a trend in regarding the distribution of paper products at fast food restaurants when you purchase a sandwich to go.

I try to avoid eating at fast food restaurants as much as possible. This is in part because I am pretty frugal with my spending, but also because the food tends to be really unhealthy.

Probably the only two Fast Food Restaurants I do like are Cook Out, which is a fast food chain founded in Greensboro NC, and Snoopy's , which has been in Raleigh since 1978.

However, from time to time, I do grab a burger or breakfast sandwich, most often when I am working on-site or don’t have time to pack a lunch. I never really liked drive- thru’s all that much, perhaps having worked in one when I was 15 has something to do with that, so I prefer to go inside, even if I am getting food to go. Along those same lines, I rarely drink from soda fountains, although I must admit I am swayed by the allure of sweet tea occasionally.

It used to be that when you got something to go, the clerk would put a few napkins in your bag before they handed it to you, the same way they do in the drive-thru. Now, however, they simply fold your bag and hand it to you, with the expectation being that you go to the beverage counter and grab your own napkins.

I realize there are probably many factors that go into this change in policy, which seems to be universal at fast food restaurants with eat in dining. For instance, most people get a fountain drink with their meal, so going to the beverage stand to fill up your cup and grab napkins is natural. Also, the a big part of having the napkins out there in the first place is to make them more accessible for the customer, while also saving employees time, so I am sure this is a big part of it too.

With that said, the purpose of getting a sandwich to go is kind of negated by not including a few napkins in the bag. Further, the way that the bag is folded and handed to you implies that everything you need is already in the bag. On several occasions, this has lead me forget to stop and grab a handful of napkins.

Since so many of their other tactics are aimed at cutting costs, even if it is only a small margin, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t, at least partially, implicit.

Another napkin related observation is that where napkins are handed out, primarily in the drive thru, the clerks are much more restrained than they used to be, typically only handing out one or two per customer. I almost feel this would be a better approach for all take-out customers, even if it is done for wholly non-cost related reasons.

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