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Friday, January 25, 2013

The 11-Inch Footlong at Subway

It is perhaps all too common for companies that franchise out stores to insist to complaining customers that the franchisee bears full responsibility for any dissatisfaction. That franchisees are bound to certain standards in a legal agreement with the company is apparently of no consequence. The refusal to take responsibility is perhaps all too common in the retail sector. It is more convenient to point to the other guy’s responsibility than to one’s own. In fact, this mentality may be said to characterize business culture today. The sordid condition can be seen in the knee-jerk avoidance company statements made on the heels of a customer-led controversy.
For example, Subway advertises its “foot-long subs” around the world. Even where the metric system is used, a foot is still twelve inches. In spite of this rather stubborn factoid, executives at Subway’s headquarters issued a statement that “footlong” is “not intended to be a measurement of length” after a customer posted a picture online of a Subway “footlong” measuring only eleven inches.

                                                               The picture that showed Subway's "footlong" as less than advertised.
I suspect that the corporation’s lawyers had something to do with the disavowal, for two customers were suing Subway on the matter at the time. Even so, to claim that “footlong” is not a measurement of length is prime facie false. Simply in making the claim, the executives reduced their company’s credibility substantially. To lie in order to evade one’s responsibility indicates a pathological company culture. To the extent that the culture of business itself values avoiding responsibility, the pathology receives some degree of camouflage.
In the case of Subway, a clue to the corporate mentality may be found in the manner in which the subs are produced. In particular, the meticulous way in which only so many slices or pieces of this or that are put on a sandwich may evince not only attention to cost-containment, but also a certain pettiness as regards what is given in exchange for what is paid. In other words, the same niggardly attitude that seeks to minimize responsibility may be behind the excessive attention to quantity. The controversy regarding the 11-inch sub may thus be at least in part a pent-up reaction to the pettiness in the preparation of the sandwiches. Put another way, the company’s culture, and therefore many of the senior managers, may be noxious to the general public, which has been rightly offended by the excessive selfishness in holding back as much as possible. The company’s ludicrous statement that “footlong” does not refer to length may simply reinforce explicitly for people who have patronized Subway what had hitherto only been sensed in a subtle way as a natural aversion to trying to minimize one’s part at the expense of the other.


Huffington Post, “Subway Pledges To Ensure Every ‘Footlong’ Is 12 Inches,” Reuters, January 25, 2013.