Monday, March 16, 2009

Sliders: Mankind’s Most Worthless Food

Author: Nick
Category: Money

You know those tiny burgers you can get in some places that come on their own tiny little buns with tiny little hamburger patties and tiny little puddles of condiments? Yeah, I’m talking about sliders, and I purposely linked to the default Wikipedia article on “sliders” which is really about the 1990s sci-fi series and not the diminutive burger wannabe because sliders are stupid.

Why are sliders stupid? Well, because they are, virtually without exception, a big waste of money and almost always the epitome of deceptive advertising.

Consider, for example, the new Burger King Burger Shots (pretend I just linked to the appropriate page on the Burger King website which I could if the whole website weren’t just one big stupid Flash animation). The Burger Shots come in sets of two or six—but not four, as nobody would eat exactly four of them at once—and cost roughly 70-75 cents each, depending on how many you order. The Burger Shot consists of the following five components listed in approximate order of weight from heaviest to lightest:

  1. Tiny plain bun
  2. Pickle slice
  3. Squirt of ketchup
  4. Disappointment
  5. Hamburger coin

I call it a “hamburger coin” as it is roughly the size and shape of some larger U.S. coin denominations I have seen. Unlike U.S. money coins, though, the hamburger coins sometimes come in conjoined pairs that resemble hamburger figure-eights.

So what is so wrong with these little burgerlets that I’ve decided to write about them after several months of not writing a damn thing? (Hi everyone!) The first problem with the Burger Shots is that they are a very bad deal. For $1.39, you get two Burger Shots that, when combined, don’t even form the substance of a single Burger King Jr. Whopper which only costs one dollar. What does the extra 39 cents get you for the Burger Shots? I looked at the ingredients list on the wrapper and found it hidden near the end: “…processed beef, and 2% or less of cheese, mayonnaise, bacon, and adorableness.” Indeed, you are paying nearly 40% more for a smaller burger because it is cuter. And also because Burger King thinks you suck at comparing two different items, which you do.

And that brings me to my other point: Have you seen the commercial for the Burger Shots? So that I don’t cut into your self-imposed 3-hour daily limit on YouTube watching, to summarize: the Burger Shots are at least the size of a grown nerdy man’s fist, and eating them will make several gorgeous women want to have sex with you in public.

Now when I went to Burger King last week and tried out a set of Burger Shots (at which time I also compared them side-by-side with a Jr. Whopper and kicked myself for wasting my money), I noticed the following differences between the commercial and real life:

  • Each Burger Shot was only about the size of my thumb and index finger formed into an “O.”
  • In addition to size, the Shots looked much sadder than their commercial counterparts.
  • A total of zero women at the Burger King wanted to have sex with me, which I would say is a very good thing since there roughly negative three attractive women there.

After returning home, lamenting my wasted 39 cents, I went on the internet and researched other “slider” burger offerings. In nearly every case, I discovered that restaurants and fast food chains that offered mini-burgers either priced them higher to a comparable single burger or just made them a whole helluva lot smaller, or both as Burger King did with the Shots.

There are some people who would suggest that the BK Shots are not sliders at all, to which I would say “I can’t hear you, I’m eating six Big Macs so I don’t freaking starve to death which is what I would have done if I’d only eaten two Burger Shots.”

Monday, September 15, 2008

Stealing Restaurant Condiments: It’s Time To Settle An Age-Old Debate

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 58 - condiment thief

Everyone knows at least one person who does it. Maybe it’s your senile old grandmother who doesn’t think anything of it. Maybe it’s a co-worker who does it at lunch.

Maybe you do it yourself.

No no, I’m not talking about masturbating. (At least I hope I’m not.) I’m referring to the practice of concealed condiment collection—i.e. “stealing” ketchup and sugar packets and all those other little individually packaged seasonings you might find at a variety of restaurants.

This isn’t a new concept by any means. Historical documents dating back to the 1500s talk about routine executions being carried out on the streets of London when a person would try to hide a thimble of jam under their wig while departing the local tea house. Nowadays many people don’t even consider it a crime to stuff a few extra packets of jelly in one’s purse at the local IHOP. At the very least, plenty of folks agree that’s it a victimless crime. After all, you’re stealing tiny amounts of secondary ingredients from business owners and large multinational corporate minions, most of whom have swimming pools filled with unwanted condiment packets.

Of course, for every person who thinks absconding with restaurant condiments is on the up-and-up, there’s another who considers it outright theft. The latter group typically argues that condiments that are distributed for free by restaurants are meant to be used at the restaurant, similarly to how most all-you-can-eat buffets don’t allow you to remove food from the restaurant.

On the other hand, the average condiment collector will use a variety of reasons for justifying his or her habit:

  • They’re practically worthless.
  • I’m only taking a few.
  • I’m not hurting anyone by doing it.
  • If restaurants didn’t want people taking condiments, they shouldn’t make them available.
  • It’s just freaking ketchup!

Personally, I’m somewhere in between the two arguments, but I can already tell you what the anti-collector’s response would be to some of these excuses for legitimizing covert condiment confiscation.

  • They’re practically worthless or I’m only taking a few. Restaurant condiments aren’t as cheap as you think. Bulk ketchup, for example, runs around 3 cents a packet. Even if a giant chain negotiates that down to a penny each, it’s still 1% of the price of those Dollar Menu fries.
  • I’m not hurting anyone by doing it. What if your boss told you that he or she was taking 1% of your pay and eating it? You’d be pretty upset! Each time one of these condiment packets is taken from a restaurant, that’s money out of the pockets of everyone. And since executives and managers set pay rates for lower employees, you can probably guess who’s going to be impacted the most.
  • If restaurants didn’t want people taking condiments, they shouldn’t make them available. If that’s your argument, you should insist on paying for your condiments the next time you dine out. Or even better—bring your own!
  • It’s just freaking ketchup! Sure, it starts with ketchup. Then it might escalate to bigger things like toilet paper rolls from the restaurant bathroom, or cars from the parking lot. I’m pretty sure I read a government document stating that most terrorists got their start stealing barbeque sauce from McDonald’s.

Another common argument you’ll hear from condiment collectors: it saves them money. Well, so does stealing groceries from the supermarket; but you’re not going to walk out of Wal-Mart with a 24-ounce bottle of mustard tucked under your coat, are you? If anything, you’d save a lot more money by not dining out in these restaurants in the first place.

But since both sides of the condiment coin have their points, I think the best way to settle this argument is with a compromise. Perhaps if condiment collectors agreed to reduce their activities to only certain items and in very limited quantities, the condiment crusaders wouldn’t mind it as much. As for what condiments are okay to collect and which ones aren’t, I would propose the following lists as guidance:

Condiments That Might Be Okay to “Collect”

  • Condiments you can’t recreate at home or buy in the store (e.g. Taco Bell’s sauce).
  • A reasonable number of necessary condiments when you’re doing take-out (e.g. not 42 packets of honey when you only bought a hamburger).
  • Duck and soy sauce. I’m pretty sure both flow abundantly through the rivers of Asia.
  • One bonus condiment of your choice each time the employees are jerks or idiots.

Condiments You Shouldn’t Be Stealing From Restaurants

  • Standard condiments like ketchup and mustard. Just go buy your own at the store.
  • Pricier but still standard condiments like barbeque sauce and salad dressing.
  • Napkins. That’s just being a tightwad.
  • Salt and pepper shakers. Generally you don’t want to take condiments that are in reusable containers.
  • Table centerpieces. Yes, I’m sure there’s someone out there who yanks flowers from restaurant tables.
  • Silverware. Not even plastic sporks unless you’re doing take-out.
  • The Heinz truck that just pulled up to the back of the restaurant. Yeah, that’s hijacking.

If we all work together to keep restaurant condiment costs low, we can help ensure that future generations will have access to marvels such as Wendy’s 99 Cent Super Value Menu. But if rampant condiment theft continues unchecked, we’ll become reliant on foreign sources of ketchup which will cause prices to skyrocket, and soon you’ll be wishing you could dip your fries in crude oil instead.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Best and Worst Times to Go Grocery Shopping, Proven By Science

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 55 - 10 items or less

Over the course of the last several months, I’ve been conducting an informal study on when the best time is to go grocery shopping. The purpose of this study was to determine exactly when one should go grocery shopping in order to obtain the best combination of fresh produce, smaller crowds, fast service, and cheaper prices.

In order to make this a genuine, science-y study, we decided to make the comparisons between shopping trips as standardized as possible. So for each time period, our crack team of scientists (i.e. they were on crack at the time) went to a series of grocery stores and purchased the same five items at each location:

  1. A gallon of milk
  2. A loaf of bread
  3. A roll of toilet paper
  4. Five red delicious apples
  5. The trashiest news tabloid available

Today, the Punny Money Analytical Institute of Lasers and Mathematics is proud to announce the results of this study. Here is a sample of the results broken down by time of experiment.

Tuesday at 6pm

Tuesday at 6pm was determined to be the worst possible time to enter a grocery store due to a variety of factors. Tuesday evening appeared to be a popular time for homemakers to give cooking dinner from scratch the one-finger salute and instead opt for a trip to the nearby grocery store’s hot food bar.

Upon arrival at the grocery store, our scientists discovered that parking spaces were a rarity—scooped up by rabid soccer moms and agitated businessmen within 2/10ths of a second of becoming available. Three scientists and one Nissan Sentra received minor injuries on one trip during this testing period.

Inside the store was no better; check-out lines often extended back into the shopping aisles, making it difficult to locate and obtain the toilet paper and magazine. However, most fresh items were still relatively fresh, and dishes at the hot food bar were being continuously replenished.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 24 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $15.37
Average Product Quality: Fairly good, though most news tabloids were previously leafed through by customers waiting in long lines.
Pros: Hot foods were freshly made. Several dinnertime meal specials were available.
Cons: That bitch who had 14 items in the 10-item-or-less lane. Who does she think she is?

Thursday at 2pm

Most grocery stores were discovered to be eerily empty at 2pm on any given weekday other than Friday. Our scientists determined that this may be due to people who have real jobs (unlike grocery store scientists) typically are at work at 2pm on a weekday afternoon. The only exception to this rule proved to be people who work at grocery stores, as not only were the stores devoid of most customers, but it was pretty damn hard to find more than one employee in the whole place. This resulted in seven times the normal wait for assistance in locating hard-to-find items.

In some instances, as few as half a dozen customers in a store at 2pm proved to be overwhelming to the lonesome store clerk, sometimes resulting in multiple customers being queued in the only open checkout line for 15 minutes or longer. The typical customer shopping at this time was an 80-year-old woman doing her shopping for the next 5 years and paying by personal check.

At the same time, shopping aisles were easy to navigate, and most fresh items were still fresh from being stocked earlier in the morning. If anything, selecting the trashiest tabloid available was difficult because many new ones had just arrived at the stores only hours earlier.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 26 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $16.08
Average Product Quality: Decent, though that one old lady must have molested every apple on the stand before deciding to get oranges instead.
Pros: Empty store. Great time and place to have a laser tag fight if you could manage it.
Cons: Most of the store staff was likely in the back room watching soap operas.

Friday at 1am

Just 11 hours after the Thursday afternoon shopping excursion proved enough to produce an entirely different shopping experience. Of the grocery stores involved in this experiment, only two were open this late (24 hours a day, in both cases), so the results only take into account averages from those two stores.

Weekday late-nights proved to be just as futile a venture for those requiring customer assistance as shopping on a weekday afternoon but for entirely different reasons. That’s because late-night grocery stores are typically manned by stoned teenagers. In fact, in one instance, our grocery scientists determined that they could have walked out of the store without paying even after loudly announcing “I am stealing all of the items in my cart” within three feet of several checkout clerks, all of whom were busy gazing pensively into the lasers of their checkout scanners.

There was no such item as “fresh” food at 1am on a weekday night. After all, most stores restock later on in the morning, so pretty much everything had been sitting out for at least 20 hours at that point. Most produce shelves were bare, save for a handful of midget unripened bananas and bruised apples. The only available milk gallons typically expired within the next 3-6 days instead of the usual 10-12 days. And for some inexplicable reason, the toilet paper just wasn’t as soft as it is during the day. For this reason, several more marked-down items were usually available.

Fortunately the shopping aisles were all but deserted, and the stoned teenagers had some sort of pre-programmed, almost robotic ability to scan items twice as fast as normal.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 10 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $14.97 (or zero, if they’d gone through with it)
Average Product Quality: Miserable. The oranges were, in fact, browns.
Pros: A lightning-fast shopping experience.
Cons: Produce you wouldn’t feed a hobo. Plus, it’s one in the freaking morning and everyone else with any sense is in bed.

Saturday at Noon

This is not the time you want to go grocery shopping for five measly items, our scientists determined. In addition to the normal crowds of weekday evenings, most parents also bring their school-aged children along, and most of these children would have rather been in school than being dragged around looking at candies and toys their parents won’t buy for them.

Checkout lines were always horribly long because the typical customer on a Saturday afternoon is there to buy most of the next week’s groceries. Navigating shopping aisles was like tip-toeing through a mine field of screaming children and other once-a-week shoppers.

Item freshness varied, as some produce appeared to have been restocked that morning while many others would likely sit there unreplenished until Monday morning. Specialty departments, such as Meats or the Bakery, were unmanned. Most of the tabloid magazines were starting to look raggedy.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 27 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $16.52
Average Product Quality: Varied from good to awful.
Pros: Uh… none really.
Cons: There are a million better things you could be doing with your Saturday afternoon. Everyone’s children misbehave more than your own, especially in grocery stores.

Wednesday at 8am

Bingo. The grocery shopping jackpot.

Specifically Wednesday morning, more than any other weekday morning, proved to be the optimal grocery shopping time. Parking, shopping, and checking out all proved to be quick and simple. Grocery store staff were rested, friendly, and helpful. Most fresh items had been restocked in the previous few hours and were still at their freshest.

Perhaps another point worth noting is that most of the grocery stores examined started their new promotion week on Wednesday, so hitting the store on a Wednesday morning provided the best opportunity to stock up on sale items before they started disappearing from store shelves.

On occasion, the express checkout lanes would fill with people purchasing just one or two items—typically store-brewed coffee and a lunch item for later that day. In these instances, a person with five or more items was sometimes served quicker stepping into a standard checkout lane.

Average Shopping and Checkout Time: 11 minutes
Average Checkout Price: $14.12
Average Product Quality: Freshest and best.
Pros: Super-fast shopping time, and items as fresh as can be.
Cons: Most people leave for work at 8am, so this might not be the best time to go shopping for you.

Our scientists also made another shocking discovery during the course of their investigation. According to several of the grocery store tabloids they purchased, Bigfoot seems to have secretly married Keira Knightley in a wedding ceremony atop the Empire State Building. Stay tuned for more developments in this breaking story, just as soon as our scientists get back from the store.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Be Your Own Vending Machine At Work For Fun and Profit

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 53 - vending genie

Long-time readers will know that I have a penchant for eating. In fact, I just finished eating the entire country of Denmark. Okay, perhaps not Denmark, but a much smaller country nobody really cares about. Suffice it to say I like the yummies.

Usually around mid-afternoon at work, I’ll get the craving for a snack. Over the years, I’ve dealt with this craving in a variety of ways, including:

  • Ignoring it. This is what I do about 98% of the time. Part of this is due to my desire not to gain 300 pounds, and part of it is due to my desire not to lose 300 pounds… sterling. Get it? It’s a currency joke. That would have killed at the World Bank. Anyway…
  • Being prepared for it. A couple of years ago, I usually made sure to have a supply of snacks on hand at work for when this craving called. My favorite emergency food supply consisted of a six-gallon tub of assorted snackery including pretzels, cheese puffs, and other stuff with no nutritional value whatsoever. I had to give up this plan, however, as I would sometimes polish off the entire tub in one day if things weren’t going well at work.
  • Giving in to the vending machine. This is probably the worst way to deal with mid-afternoon snack cravings. I’ve only done it a few times in nearly five years and always because my brain and stomach just wouldn’t shut up otherwise. I try to keep my wallet low on cash just so I’m not tempted to go the vending machine route at work.

There’s one more snack-attack counterattack tactic that I’ve been employing for the last couple of years: giving in to the communal snack box. Working in a computer lab environment, the head of the lab often goes out and buys snacks for everyone else who works there, usually asking for a small donation put into a change bucket to cover the cost of the snack. For instance, our current “Lab Daddy” purchases boxes and boxes of packages of pretzel bites and requests a donation of 28 cents each time you take a bag to help cover his costs.

It occurred to me earlier today, while eating my sixth bag of lab pretzels in as many days, that this little enterprise is quite ingenious and perhaps a bit profitable. Where does the profit come in? Consider how the normal computer lab pretzel exchange works:

  1. Choose your snack. Several varieties are available!
  2. Put 28 cents in the Pretzel Fund.
  3. Oh wait, all you have are dollar bills.
  4. The Lab Daddy just saw you take some pretzels. You better put in something or you’ll look like a cheap jerk.
  5. You repeat this each time you go for a bag. The 28-cent requested donation becomes 72 cents of profit for Lab Daddy.

Now I know Lab Daddy isn’t really out to make a profit on this; he’s just being really nice and saving us from having to spend a dollar on the same bag of pretzels in the company vending machine. And despite the “honor system” in place, I’m sure not everyone is putting in their 28 cents per bag. A more sinister person, however, such as yourself, might see this as the perfect opportunity to squeeze a few extra pennies out of your day job. Assuming you have trustworthy co-workers, it just might work too!

Oh, and in case you ever find yourself on the other side of this delicious scheme, here are a few strategies to help make sure you’re not putting extra pennies in your Lab Daddy’s pockets:

  • Use exact change, or take more than one. For pretzels that run 28 cents a bag, either put in a quarter and three pennies, or take three bags and hide the other two for later.
  • Announce your intentions. If Lab Daddy is watching your pretzel pickup, and you only have large bills, toss one into the donation bucket in plain sight and say something like “That should cover me for the next X bags.”
  • Bring your own snacks. This way, you know you’re paying 28 cents a bag for your pretzels. Just don’t forget them at home, and don’t go through them faster than you would the communal stash.
  • Open a competing snack shack. Beat Lab Daddy at his own game by starting your own vending service. If necessary, price below your cost to start and you’ll drive Lab Daddy out of business. Of course, if you ever need Lab Daddy’s help with your work, expect him to change your account passwords and delete your files at random.

A word of caution before starting a communal snackateria at your workplace: Be sure to keep it on the down-low. Otherwise you might risk people from other departments sneaking through for a freebie. Or you might earn the ire of your workplace’s vending contractors who could see you as stealing their business; don’t blame me if you leave work late one evening only to be blocked in by 12 Coca-Cola machines.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The REAL Olympic Games: Olive Garden’s Never-Ending Pasta Bowl Returns!

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 51 - olive garden

As has been widely reported in all of the respectable financial media outlets, Olive Garden’s Never-Ending Pasta Bowl is back for a limited time. You may recall my last attempt to get my money’s worth out of Olive Garden’s Bowl of LIES.

This time will be different.

Much like an Olympic athlete in the months leading up to the Games, I’ve been preparing for this event tirelessly… sometimes eating up to seventeen meals daily just to ready my stomach for the most challenging task of its entire life.

You better believe I’m planning on walking away from this competition a gold-medal winner. Of course, my gold medal will be in the slightly less common composition of a giant wad of pasta sitting in my tummy. Hopefully gold-medal American gymnast Shawn Johnson doesn’t wander into the Olive Garden while I’m there; she’s so tiny that I might mistake her for an Italian sausage and eat her. I bet she’s pretty tasty too.

Tune in tomorrow as Punny Money Olympics Week continues, live from the stomach-pumping room at the hospital down the street.