WHAT RESTAURANTS SHOW YOU IS NOT WHAT YOU GET A photographic comparison of pictures restaurants use to advertise their food and what the food really looks like

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If you've ever gone to a restaurant, ordered a dish that looks delicious on the menu and gotten something that looks vastly inferior to what was pictured, then you'll understand why I'm putting this page together. This happened to me at a Sizzler restaurant. The meal was a variation of chicken cordon bleu (chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese). The menu's picture made my mouth water, what I was served killed my appetite to the point where I couldn't finish it. The portion size was less than half that which was pictured, it looked as if it had been smashed, and instead of being plated as pictured the components had been randomly scattered around the dish. Terrible.

My response to all the gastronomic insults we restaurant goers are forced to endure is to present on this page pictures of what the advertised dish looks like next to pictures of the real thing. It is left to visitors to this page to determine for themselves if the menu presentations are close enough to the original to be honest representations of what was offered. In every case, I took as much care as possible to photograph the meal as it was presented and from the same angle as the menu picture was taken.

Note: Because all of the sandwiches pictured are from fast food restaurants they have been made as quickly as possible, sometimes in less than one minute. Part of the reason people go to fast food facilities is for immediate service. It is unreasonable to expect an almost instantaneous filling of an order and at the same time a picture-perfect product. Considering the rapidity with which a customer's food is delivered, we owe the food servicers some consideration and leeway in the appearance of the meal. Also, the pictures below only represent one example of each meal and is therefore too small a sampling to fairly represent a particular food chain's average quality of service.

I hope to add one example to this page every month so please check back often.

 

NEW!!! Jack In The Box's Sirloin Steak Melt

While I rate many of Jack In The Box's sandwiches as the best you can get, I have to admit I was disappointed with their Sirloin Steak Melt. The advertisements look great but the reality:

didn't live up to the hype. This sandwich does have a more steaky flavor than a regular hamburger, but the bread, which doesn't taste particularly sourdough-like to me, gave the sandwich's overall flavor a weirdness that I can't recommend.

 

Arby's Sourdough Roast Beef Melt

In April of 2007, Arby's began airing Television commercials for their sourdough roast beef melt sandwich. (The picture above was taken off a television screen, hence the poor image quality.) I found it difficult to believe that they really cut the bread that thick so I grabbed my camera and headed for the nearest Arby's.

What I got for less than $2 was a sandwich that looked even better in person that it did on the TV commercial:

Although the commercial carefully avoids placing anything close to the sandwich to hide the fact that it is quite small, the important thing for me is that the actual sandwich turned out to look very much to the one in the commercial. In fact I think it looked better. In this Arby's did much better than most of the other restaurants reviewed for this page.

However, as good as it looked I have to say that I'll never buy another one. The sandwich I got had a sharp chemical flavor and the roast beef was almost tasteless.

 

Quiznos-Subway Comparison Commercial
Accuracy Test

During the Fall of 2006, Quiznos went on the attack against Subway by releasing a television commercial that pictured a Subway Steak and Cheese sandwich next to a Quiznos Prime Rib Steak Cheesesteak sandwich.

When I saw this commercial my first reaction was that Quiznos had shot itself in the foot. The Subway sandwich was so obviously smashed down to make it look thinner that it made the commercial look contrived. Quiznos was cheating on such an obvious scale that it weakened rather than increased their credibility. I found the commercial artificial to the point of being insulting.

After watching it I purchased a Subway Steak and Cheese sandwich and a Quiznos Prime Rib Cheesesteak sandwich to see for myself how they compare without some heavyweight from the Quiznos props department sitting on the Subway sample. Here's what an unbiased sampling looks like:

Subway is on the left and Quiznos is on the right. The first, and obvious, thing that struck me is that Quiznos didn't have to resort to the artificial ploy of squashing the Subway sandwich used in their commercial. Quiznos is the clear winner as far as the amount of meat is concerned. In fact the Quiznos sandwich I got had a higher ratio of meat to bread in it than was pictured in their commercial.

Opening the sandwiches to compare the insides was even more telling:

The Quiznos sandwich, on the right, was piled high and solid with meat. The Subway sample only had a few meager pieces scattered around it.

The Quiznos commercial claimed that their sandwich had twice the meat of the Subway. They were wrong... it had over twice as much. A 12-inch Subway Steak and Cheese sandwich had 3-ounces of meat whereas the Quiznos Prime Rib Cheesesteak sandwich had over 7.5-ounces. And this was in spite of the fact that the Quiznos sandwich I purchased, a regular, was shorter than the Subway. The total weight of the smaller Quiznos sandwich was 14.13-ounces where the Subway weighed only 11.13-ounces. The regular-sized Quiznos sandwich cost $7.89 after tax ($0.56 per ounce) to the foot-long Subway sandwich's $6.48 ($0.58 per ounce.)

Flavor wise I much preferred the Quiznos Prime Rib Cheesesteak sandwich. It had a richer, beefier flavor. The subway sandwich came with a large quantity of onions, red peppers and green peppers that overpowered the flavor of the beef. The Subway meat is pre-packaged with these ingredients and cannot be ordered without them. Also, the Subway beef was a little stringy.

In summary: the Quiznos Prime Rib Cheesesteak sandwich is bigger, has more meat, tastes beefier and costs less per ounce. For me it's to be preferred over Subway's Steak and Cheese sandwich. My comparison validates the Quiznos commercial, though I still can't endorse their squashing the Subway sandwich to emphasize their point.

 

Quiznos's Prime Rib Sandwich

Quiznos did such a poor job of matching their product to the advertised sandwich in my review of their Steakhouse Beef Dip (next article down) that I decided to give them a second try with their Prime Rib Sub to see if they did any better. I'm happy to say that although the actual sandwich falls far short of the advertised images, it's much closer than with the Beef Dip sandwich.


as advertised


actual

Flavor-wise I think the Beef Dip sandwich below is much meatier and heartier. The beef flavor in the Prime Rib was weak and so peppery that after a few bites my mouth was burning.

 

Quiznos's Steakhouse Beef Dip

If you look on my Taste Test page, you'll see I rated the Quiznos meatball sub as the best you can get. The Steakhouse Beef Dip sandwich advertised in February, 2005 is also a delicious sub that I look forward to having many times. I say this so that no one thinks I'm out to put down Quiznos. But, I believe that they stepped way over the line credibility-wise when they posted the following picture of the sandwich:

...when it actually looks like this:

The advertised picture used in the TV commercial was even more of an exaggeration.

This case of gross exaggeration was so extreme that I tried sending Quiznos headquarters an email with these pictures but they outsmarted me, their site has no email address to the central office. There is a form you can email to a local franchise, but it doesn't allow you to attach photographs.

 

Carl Jr.'s 6 dollar Western Bacon burger!

In size and proportions the Carl Jr.'s Six Dollar Western Bacon Cheaseburger is very close to the advertised picture. The biggest difference is that the ad picture shows much more bacon. Quality wise the burger came up short. It's big, but a little dry. Most notably there isn't enough cheese. The Double Western Bacon Cheesburger has as much meat and a richer, juicier flavor.

 

Doubled vs single-topping pizzas

This a slight departure from the rest of the "as advertised vs what you get" content on the rest of this page, but it follows the similar theme of comparing what you get to what you order. In this case I was curious about whether ordering a double ham topping on a pizza really resulted in getting a pizza with twice the amount of ham as a single ham pizza.

single ham pizza ...... double ham pizza

In this test, the single ham pizza almost looks like it got more ham than the double ham pizza. It's hard to tell because the single ham has the meat more evenly distributed. What this tells me is that ordering a double topping does guarantee that I'm going to get twice as much.

 

Wendy's Classic Double Cheeseburger!

As Advertised ..................... What I Got

While first impression might lead people to think there is a big difference between the as advertised and as purchased burgers, look closely and you'll see that the actual meat patties are close to what's advertised and the overall height is closer than most of the other restaurants tested can boast.

Taste wise this burger was a disappointment. I could hardly taste the cheese and the meat was spongy and didn't have much flavor.

 

Carl's Jr. Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger!

As Advertised ..........................What I Got........

I turned the burger I got to shoot it from the side that looked as much like the as advertised as possible. Unfortunately the very large meat patties weren't showing here. The biggest difference is that the advertising picture implies the fried onion rings are very large. They are actually quite small and completely hidden inside the burger. However, don't let that put you off. Although they don't show, this burger boasts two of the largest meat patties you're likely to find in any fast food dealer. The burger is truly massive and one will fill even a large person with rich meaty and cheesy flavors that leave a warm glow in your soul. In my opinion only Jack in the Box's Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger tops it, but I have to admit it's a close call. The Double Western Burger is cheesier while the Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger has a stronger bacon flavor.

 

Burger King's Whopper!

As Advertised .....................as purchased

I swear that I didn't squash the Whopper I purchased prior ro taking its picture. I gently cradled it in my hand being careful to not press down on it, then took the picture from the most complimentary side. Although the actual looks much worse than the as advertised, note that the patty size and thickness of the tomato slice are about the same as in the as-advertised picture. The biggest difference is the actual has much less lettuce.

 

 MacDonalds Big Macs

The burger on the left is as-advertised, on the right is what I got. The biggest difference is that in the as-advertised version the meat patties are the same diameter as the bun. In the one I purchased the patties were much smaller.

 

Jack in the Box

My favorite hamburger (please go to my "Taste Test" page to see which burgers it beat out) is the Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger from Jack-in-the-Box. The one on the left is what was advertised, the one on the right is what I got. The biggest difference between the two is that the advertised burger has eight strips of bacon whereas all of the ones I get only have four. Still, it's a great burger. (Please note that the meat patties in the actual burger are very close to the same size as those in the as-advertised version. Compare this to the Big Mac above.

Jack also sells my favorite breakfast Sandwich: the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich (no mayo please.) Please go to my "Taste Test" page to see which breakfast sandwiches it beat out.

Again, advertised is on the left, as-purchased on the right. Besides the obvious cosmetic features, the as-advertised sandwich has a thick slab of ham between the eggs. The as-purchased sandwich only had a very, very thin sliver of ham. But again, like the hamburger, it was delicious. (Caution: the standard sandwich comes with mayonaise, a vile corruption of what would normally be an excellent sandwich. I recommend requesting that it be left off.)

While I was taking the pictures of the as-advertised products, the manager of the Jack-in-the-Box restaurant almost threw me out of the store. It seems that the company has a strong policy prohibiting patrons from taking such pictures, probably because it allows patrons to prove the company is guilty of misrepresentation.

 

Arby's Roast Beef Sandwich

I think it's pretty obvious that there is a big difference between the advertisement and the reality. I'd rate Arby's honesty-index as being low. Still, Arby's roast beef sandwiches are delicious and juicy. My only knock is that the spices Arby's uses, while tasty, completely overpower the beef taste. I couldn't tell if I was eating beef, chicken or fish.

 

 Subway!

While the advertised turkey sandwich on the left is cosmetically more attractive and appears to have more slices of deli-thin meat than the reality on the right, please note that the total amount of meat and other ingredients on the actual sandwich was greater than shown in the advertisement. This puts Subway at the top of the truth-in-advertising list!

 

 

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