Why is Subway so miserly with the black olives?
December 8, 2013 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Subway puts such a comically small amount of black olives on their sandwiches and salads (even if you ask for extra, or "a bunch"), and so consistently, that it could only be due to a policy of the chain borne of some solid business reason. But I can't imagine what that would be. The obvious possibility is that black olives cost more than the other toppings, but I think they'd have to cost WAY more to justify this, and in my experience black olives don't cost a whole lot. Thoughts?
posted by Mechitar to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If I recall correctly, there was a very clear point at which Subway started having a set amount for everything. When they first opened back in the day, I seem to recall that the amount of meat/tuna/seafood/meatballs was applied pretty liberally, without a set standard. Then a time came at which it was three scoops of tuna or seafood per 6", and a predetermined or prepackaged amount of meat or meatballs. I'm guessing that the olive thing is part of a standardization for all ingredients, and probably isn't something they would mind giving a little bit extra for without cost. The other main ingredients, though, are money makers if you want more.
posted by SpacemanStix at 2:49 PM on December 8, 2013

Honestly I think it's just that the people making the sandwiches are generally not as fond of black olives as I am, or as you evidently are. They're thinking of them as a 'light sprinkling' sort of topping, and so even extra isn't much--I have found that 'a ton of black olives' tends to properly impart the kind of generosity I'm expecting and usually gets what I'm looking for. I tend to get, for this, looks that don't so much say 'why are you wasting the money of my corporate overlord' as 'oh dear god another one of those black olive weirdos'.
posted by Sequence at 2:50 PM on December 8, 2013 [25 favorites]

Anecdotally, I have never had this problem at any of the Subways I've visited. Black olives are my favorite topping, and when I ask for them I always get a big ol' handful of them. Have never had to ask for extra.

This makes me think that Sequence might be on to something - perhaps you've just encountered sandwich makers who aren't especially fond of olives.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:53 PM on December 8, 2013

More than nearly any other topping at Subway, olives tend to go all over the damn place. The person who ends up stepping on them and cleaning them up for an eight-hour shift may be less willing to just let 'em fly.
posted by Etrigan at 2:56 PM on December 8, 2013 [13 favorites]

Have you thought of asking the store's manager? That would probably give you the best answer.

FWIW, I am an owner of a restaurant that has sandwiches on the menu and we have set recipes for them e.g. two tablespoons of X, an ounce of Y. The issues are (1) keeping our food margin in check and (2) consistency. It may be that Subway's guidelines have a pretty small (in your view) amount of olives as a sandwich topping. I do remember going to Subway many years ago and having to ask the person making the sandwich to add more olives after he made the first pass. "It will cost more," he said. Fine, yes, I will pay the extra 25 cents.

But, I think you should just ask the employee or manager the next time the olive issue comes up.
posted by Tanizaki at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2013

I worked at subway for a period of 2 years. My manager at the time had a wall of awards from the Subway corporation for being complaint with company standards.

We were supposed to only put 3 olives per 6 inch section of sandwich. Same with pickles. Those were the regulations. Naturally when she wasn't there I ignored this.
posted by hellojed at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2013 [24 favorites]

Remember back in the day when airlines used to serve food on their domestic flights? A news story back then came out that an airline removed a single olive from their salads, and the total savings was in the tens of thousands of dollars. Olives must be expensive!
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2013

There probably are strict amounts of each topping that are supposed to go on each sandwich (especially meat because otherwise "double meat" wouldn't mean as much), but some store and/or workers care less about them than others.
posted by JHarris at 3:04 PM on December 8, 2013

If I recall correctly, there was a very clear point at which Subway started having a set amount for everything.

My ex-boyfriend worked for Subway and they sent out this letter to all the employees saying "Putting ONE EXTRA OLIVE on each person's sandwich costs the company $1,000,000 a year!!!" and stuff like that. So I assume it's just that your request for more olives doesn't override their training to regulate toppings, especially since it's not like they can just magically come up with a dollar amount to charge you extra.

On the other hand, I always say "light on the oil and vinegar" and they ignore that too, so I'll just say standards/aren't supposed to argue with customer/don't care/force of habit.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:05 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

A news story back then came out that an airline removed a single olive from their salads, and the total savings was in the tens of thousands of dollars. Olives must be expensive!

I guess I wasn't exaggerating as much as I thought! Olives are like, expensive though. I was gonna buy a bulk jar of kalamatas the other day and damn.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:06 PM on December 8, 2013

I've encountered stinginess at multiple Subways with olives and pickles. Both are higher in sodium than the other vegetables, and olives contain fat. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Subway corporate specified small amounts of these ingredients so they can make those claims about certain sandwiches ("with vegetables") being low in fat and sodium.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:07 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Olives are very high in sodium. Maybe Subway has a strict policy on the amount of olives so it can honestly claim a certain sandwich has only this much sodium (or calories — not that olives are high in calories, just that it would make sense for Subway to standardize everything).

Also, you're talking about olives as if their cost is the only factor that matters. There's also demand. If the olives are as cheap as the other toppings, but they're the least desired by consumers, it makes sense for the business to spend less on them. It's just like how they put more meat than other toppings, even though the meat might be more expensive; they do this because customers care more about meat than olives.
posted by John Cohen at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

When my college roommate worked at Subway, she was very clearly given the instructions that only three olives and three pickles went on a 6 inch. People were written up for getting caught giving more...and I imagine they would fire people who repeatedly violated the policy.

That was almost 15 years ago.

Must be a cost thing, because that was pre-Jared, so the calorie thing wasn't front and centre.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:11 PM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I order Subway I always get my 6" with "extra olives, extra pickles" and the result is loads of each. I suspect this is down to the franchise and the individual manager.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:15 PM on December 8, 2013

I worked at a franchise Subway for years a decade ago (and have only just now gotten the smell out of my pores, if not my soul).

When I worked there, it'd be a mix of "training was only so many olives" and "customers generally don't mean extra, they mean 'I want this to exist on my sandwich.'"
posted by RainyJay at 3:47 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't really go to Subway nowadays because "with lots of tomatoes," "can I get extra tomatoes please," "could you please put more tomatoes on," "is there a way to get that with more tomatoes" never resulted in an adequate sandwich (stuff like tomatoes are critical if you're vegetarian!), so my anecdata here is that it isn't the only ingredient they're not generous with.
posted by kmennie at 4:19 PM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I worked at Subway many years ago - in Canada. We had to put 2 olives on each 6" and 4 if people complained. They also got 3 pickles. One of the tomato slices had to be an end, unless the person complained. We also had to practice putting exactly __ oz of lettuce on sandwiches. Sometimes, someone from Head Office would do an audit and it was very important to our owner that we had all the measurements be exact. I completely understood the point, though.

Didn't stop the owner from being a jerk in other ways, of course.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

An order-of-magnitude check on the million dollars per year for an extra olive slice:
(quick, google version)

whole black olives, wholesale: $3000-3500 per metric ton.
subway franchises: 34000 (as of 2010?)

(no easy price for sliced olives, but this is just order-of-magnitude)

$1 million worth of olives= (1000000/3500)= 103 metric tons= 103000 kilograms.

kilograms/subway/year= 103000/34000= 3 kg

grams/subway/day= 3000/365= 8 grams, about a quarter ounce (us).

So the million dollar figure is ... kinda believable.
posted by hexatron at 4:54 PM on December 8, 2013 [15 favorites]

Interestingly, my experience is the opposite of kmennie's - I only ever order the veggie delight, and have always felt that I was treated more leniently on the toppings because of it. Big old piles of olives and jalapeños! But my experience working at various small businesses with more to less frantic boss makes me think this is probably a corporate training/individual franchisee stinginess (because I'm sure they pay for the actual ingredients?) combo, with some variation for individual sandwich maker.
posted by theweasel at 4:57 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just Nthing expense. I have not worked in a Subway, but for bakers, ingredients like olive dramatically jack up the price of a per-loaf bread. What this means is not that you lose money per more olives, but it eats into your profit, as people are generally loath to pay more for "basics" like olives in bread, compared to the price of regular bread (no shit, an olive-full loaf can cost twice as much as a regular loaf to make. That different is mostly profit disappearing).
posted by smoke at 4:57 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It might help to define terms here, because Subway, at least the ones around here, slice their olives. When we say "two olives," do we mean the equivilent of two olives' worth of slices, or two olive slices?
posted by JHarris at 4:59 PM on December 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

As for expense, well, that argument only applies to the extent that customers don't feel like they're coming out of it for the worse for those cost-cutting measures. Generally the loss of few customers will be a much greater loss than the extra cost of putting an extra few olives on relevant sandwiches.
posted by JHarris at 5:01 PM on December 8, 2013

JHarris, that was two slices of olives. I asked my boss what to do if someone said no to the peppers, onions, and lettuce but wanted lots of lettuce and was told that they still got 4 slices, unless they wanted to pay extra.

In defiance, my co-workers used to throw non-inventoried foods, such as sausages, into the ceiling tiles.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 5:11 PM on December 8, 2013 [14 favorites]

I worked at a Subway about 20 years ago and the owner would regularly admonish employees for not being miserly with the olives because of how expensive they were.
posted by jpe at 5:52 PM on December 8, 2013

Just as a data point, I get my sandwiches at Subway with just black olives and honey mustard for toppings, and I think I get a reasonable number of olives for my money. Perhaps I'm getting a few extra bits b/c it's all I'm requesting; I couldn't say for sure.
posted by epj at 6:18 PM on December 8, 2013

Response by poster: Just as a data point, I get my sandwiches at Subway with just black olives and honey mustard for toppings, and I think I get a reasonable number of olives for my money. Perhaps I'm getting a few extra bits b/c it's all I'm requesting; I couldn't say for sure.

As I'm obviously a fan of black olives, that sounds like a tasty sandwich!

Extremely enlightening responses, everyone.
posted by Mechitar at 6:40 PM on December 8, 2013

I work at a Dominos, and it's a standing policy handed down from corporate there, if multiple topics are requested, that the person making the pizza put less of each on than if it was a pizza with just that topping on it. I wonder if this might be a similar thing?
posted by JHarris at 7:16 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to work at subway 10 years ago- at that franchise olives weren't monitored closely- but were annoying to try to keep from messing up the counter-and rolling around. meat was monitored and cheese too- mostly we hated the new cut of the sandwich because it didn't allow us to put as many toppings in and be able to close the sub. There were a lot of vegetable loving customers who were annoyed by stinginess with toppings then too.
posted by outdoorslady at 8:49 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just for future Googlers, I'd like to point out that when my site-mates refer to "olives" above they mean "slices of an olive" (approximately 1/4th of a normal olive).

So when they're saying "3 olives per six inch sandwich"... technically, that's not even one olive.

Note: upon preview, it looks like JHarris also raised this point.

posted by blueberry at 10:00 PM on December 8, 2013

Fast food franchises seem notorious for being stingy. As a teen I worked at a Wienerschnitzel and I remember almost laughing out loud when the manager insisted that the mustard be watered down because customers don't like it full strength, and immediately realizing he was being serious.

So it wouldn't surprise me if Subway did have a limit on olives, or anything for that matter. However, I haven't noticed any consistent stinginess with olives at Subway, which I have patronized many times across the country. Or even in the same one. I think it may often come down to the individual making the sandwich, and how hard the manager may or may not be harping on the "3 olives per six inches" rule.

FWIW, I also usually get a veggie, and I get the sense that those particular sandwiches get more generous portions of everything as sort of compensation for the meat.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:11 PM on December 8, 2013

Oh this is hilarious! The olive stinginess is responsible for my giving up on going to Subways back sometime in the mid 90's or so, and I've never been back. So as a data point - it was an issue even back then. I was at a Subway opposite Santa Monica College, and I was having a sandwich built and I dropped several toppings and something major like cheese as well, so I felt entitled to extra olives rather than the miserable couple of slices. I asked for extra olives, and got like one extra slice, I asked again, and the same thing, after the third time, I simply spun on my heel and left - and the guy building it was a manager or owner or something. I figured the loss of one customer - even permanently - made absolutely zero difference, so I made sure to carry my vendetta further for years afterwards, when I was organizing film location trade shows in Santa Monica for a few companies from Europe. The folks from Europe were quite enthusiastic about American fast food, so it was fun to recommend stuff, but I'd always make sure to steer clear of Subway. I like to think I did cost them a pretty penny for that olive stinginess. Now of course Subway is all over Europe, and I don't do those shows anymore, so it's all water under the bridge, but I never forgot the evil Subway. Not in a million years did I think I'd see olive stinginess at Subway as a question on the green!
posted by VikingSword at 10:28 PM on December 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

Subway is a super cheap operation. They're the most consistently sued by their own franchisees and are generally known to be cheap in the business world. Their corporate has a 20 year debt in four figures to a relative.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:00 AM on December 9, 2013

Much like VikingSword, I would regularly skip cheese and other toppings but the olives were always an issue, I could never get very many (more than four or five little slices) no matter how polite I was. That was mid-90s, and I never went back until I received some small denomination gift cards from a work event and I used some of those in I guess 2008 and it was the same fight about the olives (even on a Veggie Delight). At one point I tried explaining that I was foregoing all kinds of toppings, including cheese, and if they didn't feel like the costs offset each other then I would pay more but just please give me more olives. I left that sandwich there and gave away the remaining gift cards.
My brother explained that olives were crazy expensive. We then started calculating the cost of various toppings and deciding if my extra olives would bankrupt my local Subway. I determined that it would not.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:59 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Back when I was still able to eat Subway (damn gluten!) I used to order my sandwiches with "a lot of olives". I usually wanted more olives than lettuce. I usually got my pile of olives, but one store understood "a lot" as "three", so then I started saying "2 handfulls of olives", which usually got me the desired results. For a while anyway. Someone clearly cracked down on the olive usage because suddenly ALL the subways in town would only give me three little olive pieces and then had the gall to CHARGE ME EXTRA for any additional olives. Assholes. At least the 'sandwich artist' had the courtesy to appear somewhat apologetic. Regardless, I got so pissed off that I stopped going to Subway. I get that they need to make a profit, but come the eff on. They are olives, not caviar.

Subway needs to quit being so miserly if you ask me. I bet they waste more money on excess mayonaise than they do on a couple extra olives. I don't know how many times I have seen the sandwich maker squirt a tiny strip of mayo and then when the orderer asks for a bit more they squirt half a cup of mayo on. Passive aggressive and wasteful. Cut back on that, not olives.

So yeah, clearly there is a franchise/corporate limit on olive usage.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:15 AM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to work at a Subway that catered primarily to college kids where the shift managers were also usually (slightly more mature) college kids. We would have given you however many damn olives you wanted. I'm sure there are guidelines from corporate but this is totally down to the individual franchise managers.

As an aside I came away from my time at Subway mildly impressed with how fresh and clean everything generally was given the apathy of the management and workers involved. Except the seafood. Never order the seafood. Nobody likes it and it just sat there on the line until we legally had to throw it away.

posted by Wretch729 at 9:30 AM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I used to go to a Subway that catered primarily to college kids and damn, they were stingy with the olives. I remember that being a thing like 10 years ago.

As an aside, the Subway near where I now work is the most disgusting, least fresh and clean franchise I've ever had the misfortune to visit once. I'll never go back. I'm still sad that the independent family sandwich shop in the same shopping plaza—which sold chicken tikka masala sandwiches—went out of business.
posted by limeonaire at 5:51 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Here's a follow-up on this, for anyone who happens across this question now that it's a little old...

Today, armed with what I learned in this thread, I ordered a sandwich at my usual Subway. By the way, I'm a regular at this place, usually getting food there 2X/week, and more like 4X/week for the last several weeks. It's not that I love Subway so much, but more that it's the only inexpensive + relatively healthy lunch option near where I work.

I ordered a sandwich with no cheese and minimal other toppings, and when it came to the olives I said, "Okay, so I really like olives. I want Eight. Times. the usual amount of olives." The guy was a little reluctant, saying "I'm not supposed to...", but he complied, with a generous handful. The right amount! He said that he's supposed to put on three slices for a 6-inch sandwich, and another 3 slices if the customer asks for more - which is consistent with what various answerers here have said. That's when I reminded him that, hey, I didn't get any cheese, after all.

Still, in the end, I felt like a jerk, and the sandwich doesn't even taste much better with all those olives! In the future I'll ask for "three times" the usual amount. Maybe that will strike the right balance.
posted by Mechitar at 12:25 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

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