Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vegetarian Restaurant Hack: McDonald’s

The Scenario: You’re driving north on Highway 400 on your way to the cottage, it’s pretty much lunch time, and you desperately need to pee. Your options are:

OPTION 1: Take the Exit 90 at the south end of Barrie, which is only 2 minutes away. You get to pee right away, but the only food option is McDonald’s;

OPTION 2: Cross your legs and press onward to Bayfield Street, 15 minutes further along. You can get a Nature Burger (or Nature Chili!) at Lick’s on Bayfield Street, but your bladder might explode before you get there. (Not to mention the fact that trying to turn left onto Bayfield from the Lick’s parking lot to get back to the highway is a bitch.  Srsly.  That is some poor urban planning right there.)

If you’re from Ontario you probably don’t need to imagine it, you’ve probably lived it. I sure have. And very often I’ve gone with Option 1 and ended up eating just fries. Which are damn fine fries, to be sure. But they aren’t lunch.

You might ask, “Why doesn’t McDonald’s have a veggie burger?”  In fact, in the early 2000s McDonald’s did offer a veggie burger (at least in Canada they did), but it was short-lived.  McDonald's claims they pulled the plug on it due to lack of demand, but I don't buy that: in my view, it was a mediocre product combined with a complete failure to understand the vegetarian consumer.  McDonald's made the common mistake of believing that people who would buy a veggie burger were looking for a healthy option, and so they offered the veggie burger on a whole wheat bun and marketed it that way.  I have a few messages for McDonald's:

News Flash #1:  People do not come to your restaurant when they want healthy food. 

News Flash #2:  Vegetarians are not necessarily health nuts.

What most vegetarians want when they go for fast food is the same thing that everyone wants when they go for fast food:  something tasty and junky and delicious, to be enjoyed knowing full well that it is bad for you. So it's not that there was no demand for a vegetarian burger, there just wasn't demand for a healthy vegetarian burger (and particularly not one that was so insipid, when terrific ones were on offer elsewhere, ie. Lick’s and Harvey’s). If they really wanted to capture some of the vegetarian market, what they should have been offering was a Big Mac made with vegetarian patties – now that little gem would sell like ca-razy.

Today, the McDonald’s veggie burger is a distant memory, and if you're stuck eating at McDonald’s the only vegetarian thing you're going to find actually listed on the menu is the über-bland Grilled Cheese Happy Meal.  Even their salads have meat in them, for sobbing out loud.

But there is an awesome vegetarian hack for McDonalds, one that is tasty enough that it might just tempt you to treat yourself to a McDonald’s meal even when there are other options. And the hack is this:


Yes, it sounds kind of weird. Yes, the person taking your order might look at you a bit funny (although this happens less often than you might expect!). But trust me, it is truly a “Champion Sandwich” (which was our friend Jen’s exclamation when she tried it for 5 the first time). The bun is toasted, including the middle bun, which gives the sandwich at least a little bit of warmth and prevents it from feeling like you’re eating salad-on-a-bun. The cheese gives it substance. The pickles and  lettuce give it a lovely crunch and juiciness – that’s why I like to add the extra pickles. But of course, the bottom line is that it’s really all about the sauce (or extra sauce, in my case). Ask for extra napkins too.2

Go ahead. Stop being self-conscious and quit worrying what the Drive-Thru crew might think – they’ll take your money, I promise. Order the Big Mac with no meat (plus extra pickles and extra sauce). You can thank me later.

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