Goodbye, Turkey Sandwich

Photo: kthread

Last week, I was out in Chicago for a couple of days working with Levitt. We had lunch at the Booth School cafeteria (with its great soda design) — or at least we tried to have lunch. There was a nice-looking case of sandwiches, and I asked the guy behind the counter for one of the turkey-cranberry sandwiches.

“No,” he said. “I can’t sell it to you.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“We’re closing. I can’t sell it to you.”

It was about 2:32 p.m. on a weekday afternoon. The sandwich I was eyeing was one of maybe 15 or 20 in the case. And then the guy behind the counter drags over a big trash can and throws my sandwich into it, and then all the other sandwiches too. It might have been my imagination — or maybe just hunger — but he seemed to take delight in throwing away the food for which I was ready to pay full price.

I’m guessing he had some health-code guidelines he was following, or maybe he just didn’t feel like dealing with another customer at the end of a long day. But my trashed sandwich did make me think of a recent visit to London when I discovered a sandwich chain (does anybody know the name? I can’t recall) that gives away all of its sandwiches at the end of day (maybe 7 p.m.?).

I admired this policy, in that: a) it didn’t waste food; b) it delighted customers; and c) I wouldn’t imagine it cannibalized much business, in that the kind of customer who would time her visit to the giveaway period probably wouldn’t come in at another time to pay full price.

If only the University of Chicago’s business school cafeteria could think about business a little more creatively …

ADDENDUM: To those of you who responded about the British chain — I am pretty sure it was Eat that I was thinking of, but it sure sounds like Pret-a-Manger (which I like a lot, and am happy to see it taking root in the U.S.) also does something useful with its sandwiches. Thanks!


Many german bakeries offer bred that has to be sold on the day for about 50% after 5 p.m. There is also a big charity organisation (Die Arche) which collect foods from stores after their closing time and offer it free people in need.


Pret a Manger

John B

Milton Friedman would have been very unhappy


Pret a manger?

Owned by MaccyDs of course.


Pret a manger is the chain that gives their sandwiches away at C.O.B.

Dave Evans

The sandwich chain you mention is Pret A Manger. They have more information of their waste policy here:


I wonder if their POS system was taken down as part of "closing." It's possible he couldn't sell it to you because he couldn't execute the transaction. Having said that...

It is a real shame that what seems like perfectly good food is thrown in the trash like that. I know there was a group of people at Penn State when I went there that knew the throw out schedule of the Panera bread and they would dumpster dive for what was salvageable. That is, until Panera put a lock on their dumpsters.


Pret-a-porter, I believe.


Ugh, I meant "Manger". Too much Netflix on my brain.


Hear, hear.


Pret a Manger is the UK chain that you are thinking of -- I think.

It would seem that US food regulations prevent quite a bit of useful food giving that could help the homeless. I recall hearing about mobile soup kitchens getting shut down for one reason or the other, forcing the homeless that erlied on them to go hungry.

Mike B

Congratulations, you found a dictionary definition of a Jobsworth. ( )

You should really investigate what sort of working conditions foster that kind of attitude. Not only is this person being unhelpful, they seem to be willfully unable to work out some sort of accommodation that might ultimately benefit them. For example has the worker just been ground down by bureaucratic management that they simply follow all procedures without thinking? Is their incentive structure disconnected with their actual performance level so that they get rewarded more for such acts than to those actions that will benefit their employer? Are they attempting to passive aggressively sabotage their employer for ome perceived wrong or are they just a sociopath.

Another question might be how far this unhelpfulness goes up the management chain if indeed the worker was carrying out the wishes of their supervisor. Has the restaurant been stung by health department fines or insurance issues?


Joshua Northey

It is possible he was just doing his job. There ARE strict rules about this sort of thing.

At my local grocery store they have whole roast chickens that you can buy. The sit out in a heater for 4 hours. At the end of 4 hours (7:00) the remaining ones get tossed. That is just the rule. I have asked before around 7:05 if there are any chickens left and they explained the situation.


More like Dog in the Manger, I think.

I expect the real reason in this case is just a petty authoritarian mind getting a bit of perverse pleasure from adhering exactly to the rules, and thus frustrating members of the public. Much like what I believe the British labor unions used to call "work to rule".


Sounds like a principal-agent problem. Clearly the owner of the business would want to maximize profit by selling the sandwich. However, a salaried worker has no interest in making the additional sale (it's just extra work!). If he has a plausible excuse or reason (in this case closing time), he probably won't make the sale.

Will M

Pret a Manger gives it's sandwiches away to the homeless. Others, such as (I think) Eat, sell them at a heavy discount.


I recently spoke to an employee of a major coffee chain, who told me that they brew new pots, dumping the current pot, every 8 minutes. Which I verified, sort of, here:


Some Au Bon Pain stores in downtown Washington, DC will sell all day old baked goods for 50%-75% off after 5:30 p.m. I walk past one on the way home and I do see people waiting out front for the proper time, but I really don't think those folks would buy things at regular price anyway.

Steve S.

I tried negotiating with a concession worker at (old) Shea Stadium in the 9th inning for a cheaper pretzel. Sadly, it didn't work.

Vince Skolny

Should we broach the encroachments on liberty in which health code regulations trump Dubner's decisions about what to feed his own body?

More related: I worked the overnight shift at Hardees while in college. All food had a time-limit that it could be sold (generally 30-60 minutes, so it was a freshness thing, not a health thing) before it became waste. Waste had to be put in the waste bucket then taken to the dumpster. It could not be given to employees, the homeless, or people in need.