When Subway announced last year that it would be removing pre-sliced meat from its assembly line and adding automatic deli slicers to its more than 20,000 locations, the intention was to improve the chain’s overall sandwich quality. Just six months after this systemwide change, however, Restaurant Business reports Subway’s on-site deli slicers are not having the intended effect, and might even be hurting franchise locations.
Subway first announced the rollout of the deli slicers in February 2023, and by July 2023, the majority of its restaurants were using the new machines. The brand was confident this equipment upgrade would lead to better quality sandwiches that would entice more customers.
“We were one of the few, if only, sub shop that didn’t slice in restaurant,” Subway CEO John Chidsey told CNN at the time of the announcement. “Not only does it give the guest a better perception of seeing the nice, fluffy meat, but we save a lot of money since we were paying a lot of money to have it sliced upstream.”
Subway deli slicers haven’t improved sandwich quality
The upgraded sandwiches have not appeared to make the splash that Chidsey was hoping they would, at least not according to franchisees.
“We haven’t seen any data that says these slicers have driven sales, driven customer counts or profitability,” Bill Mathis, a Minnesota Subway franchisee, told Restaurant Business on a recent podcast episode.
To showcase the capabilities of the new equipment, Subway released a lineup of offerings called Deli Heroes that even featured extra meat to show off the prowess of the slicers. The Takeout conducted its own taste test of the sandwiches made with freshly sliced meat and found them to be nothing short of ordinary. In fact, we’d be hard pressed to say there was any detectable difference between the pre-sliced meats and the new in-restaurant cuts.
The Washington Post also reviewed the Deli Heroes and found new meats to be hit or miss, virtually indiscernible from the pre-sliced meats previously offered at Subway. The slicers don’t alter the customer experience in any notable way, but instead serve as a way for the brand to catch up to what others in the industry are already doing.
Subway’s deli slicers are costing restaurants money
Subway has stated some franchisees told the company the slicers are easy to use, and that the machines streamline the labor previously needed to prepare the meats; the company expects franchisees will see long-term savings because the more costly pre-sliced meat won’t need to be ordered anymore. The company also notes the equipment was added to restaurants at no cost to the franchisees.
However, Mathis, the Minnesota franchisee, argues the slicers cause more food waste, since you can’t slice all the way to the ends of the meat. He also notes that the slicing results in more work put upon employees, and in trying to slice enough for rush periods, some meats might sit out too long and have to be discarded.
“Sometimes we have to slice so much at a time, lower volume stores may have to throw away product before the shelf life is up, which we encourage everybody to do because we want to serve the best product available,” Mathis told Restaurant Business.
Subway workers on Reddit have echoed these sentiments. Some point out that cleaning the slicer equipment leads to even more work than before.
“IMO as a franchisee since 2008, it’s a stupid waste of time that isn’t saving me any money, but does take up my employees time like no other,” commented one Reddit user in a thread about the slicers. “Also I take my sweet time cleaning the shit out of that slicer everyday to avoid bacteria build up, but based on what I know about this brands quality standards, I’d bet a lot of slicers aren’t as clean as they should be.”
Subway has noted the slicers are still very new to its restaurants’ operations. But as some franchisees have seen, “fluffy meat” might not be the best strategy for the brand, no matter how much Subway might want it to be.