What Subway Could Learn About Marketing

I have visited in Subway (the bread place, not a metro) once in my life, and I have to admit these guys could use lessons from simplicity. When I tried to order “one sub, please” I got answer from a busy salesperson “What type?”. I was like… “Umm, type?”. The manager noticed this and told the young salesperson to point out where the different types are presented. He did, and then I tried to decide whether to take barley or oat sub (or whatever choices they have, I can’t remember). I picked one, but it wasn’t the end of choices. I ended up answering to the following questions: “half or full?”, “warm or cold?”, “what kind of salad?”, “how about mayonnaise?”, “Garlic?”, “Dressing?”, “What drink?”, “Diet drink or normal?”, “What size?”, “Eat here or take-away?” and “bank or credit?”.

I felt almost exhausted!

All I wanted was something to eat – like “chicken bread” or whatever, but they made me go through a darn long process. I remember saying “yeh, yeh, yeh – put all that there” after the 700th question (okay, it might have been less – but you get the point). I went there to eat, not to get interrogated. Besides, in the end I didn’t have a clue how all this would cost me, because the pricing was so confusing with all kinds of extras, discounts and so on. Don’t know what the situation is in other countries or cities, but here they sure managed to make things complex.

While it’s good to give people the possibility to choose and customize the product for them, it might also be a good idea to give some sort of standard or basic options where no additional customizing is needed. Same lessons can be applied in games or other products as well: give people easy way to use the product, but have option to customize (or to use shortcuts) for more experienced users.

The good side was though, that Subway sure knows how to serve bread. It tasted delicious.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. The place was filled with customers (it was lunch hour if I remember correctly), and Space Invaders sounds like an accurate description for what it felt like :)

  2. I’m a Subway fan and I remember my first visit. I went with a friend of mine and we both didn’t know what to take. So we just asked “well what would you recommend?” and he then replied “warm or cold”, we said “warm”, and he recommended two types which we immediately took. I don’t know if McDonald’s personnel would make useful recommendations ;)
    Then of course we also got asked which bread and which sauce, but he knew that we didn’t know anything about it so he just asked if he should take the “recommended” parts. So the only thing we really had to decide was the details of the salad, but come on, if you eat a Döner Kebab you’ll have to deal with the same “problem” ;)

    I think it was good, because we saw the whole variety. And you see that you decide what to take, not them. But if you don’t know what to take, just say you want the recommended ingredients. I think it’s the same with Dell computers – you can choose everything, but they also have their recommended components.

    Perhaps in your situation, it was a little stressy and it had the typical “fast food” feeling with many customers and the personnel moving left and right like Space Invaders, but when we went there, we were the only customers, and we weren’t in a hurry, so for us it wasn’t a problem to make some decisions.

  3. Frozax: Yeh, different people have different preferences. When hungry, mine is definitely leaning towards simplicity – I just wanted to eat ;)

    Foo Bar: Heh.

  4. Exactly what I feel when visiting Subway as well. Additionally I always feel like being ripped off when I get the final price.. I guess that’s because they first manage to show clearly some price like “3,90 eur” next to some image, but when you take a *typical* sub and add drink (or make it a meal) it costs easily something like 9 euros. And the price difference between a meal and just adding a drink is only 10 cents or something, which also feels like a huge rip off regarding price of taking only the drink. All this amounts to enough annoyance that I won’t normally go to eat at subway unless some friend really wants to go there.

  5. Well, maybe that’s the difference between a Hardcore eater and and Casual eater :)
    Personally, that’s what I liked about Subway. You have a lot of choices so you can eat something different every time.
    But you’re right, the first times, you have no clue of what to answer so you pick a random one each time!

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