How Much Is Your Love Of Hot Sauce Costing Taco Bell?

Growing up, the only really acceptable condiment in my house was mustard. There were lots of kinds of mustard, though! Grey Poupon for when you were feeling fancy; grainier, tangier deli mustard for sandwiches; honey-mustard sometimes for fun. If you wanted to add something beyond mustard to your food, you could add some pickles or maybe sprinkle on some cheese, but — unless you were my little brother, who put ketchup on everything and who was roundly mocked for his immaturity — those were your options.

Luckily mustard is delicious on everything from tuna to french fries. It’s inexpensive and it’s not bad for you: during my disordered eating days, I used it in lieu of salad dressing. My mustard monogamy has served me fine. Je ne regrette rien. But I do admit that the limited horizons of my childhood made me easily shocked when I ventured out into the world.

My mother didn’t put salt on the table, let alone on food. For years I was discomfited if I saw someone pick up a salt-shaker, assuming that doing so was understood to be an insult to the chef. I was and am grossed out by mayonnaise, which is the color and consistency of something in your body gone horribly wrong. And I still don’t get hot sauce. What’s the point of inflaming your mouth to the point where you can’t taste anything except burning?

Ruth Graham extols the virtues of hot sauce, though, especially on food at Taco Bell. Her problem is that, in recent years, fast food joints have made such condiments harder to get ahold of. You can’t grab them off the table anymore; you have to ask the staff for the taste-enhancers that should be your right as a consumer. She demands to know why.

When I asked around on social media, I heard stories about McDonald’s charging for sweet-and-sour sauce and eliminating mayonnaise packets, and about “those cheap Chick-fil-A bastards” who keep the sauce behind the counter and then “forget” to dole it out when asked. One friend said he was “scarred for life” when an Illinois Wendy’s franchise started charging him 25 cents each for the packets of barbecue sauce he liked on his Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers. “To this day,” he wrote, “I judge a fast-food joint’s quality of customer service largely on whether they charge for bbq sauce or not.” …

I first reached out to Taco Bell. Our history is long and deep. When my third-grade Sunday school teacher promised my class that he would buy those of us who memorized every weekly Bible verse for a year dinner wherever we wanted, I chose Taco Bell. As a kid, my go-to order was the bean burrito. Today my favorites includes the classic Soft Taco Supreme and the underappreciated beef Meximelt. But one element has remained the same over the decades: fistfuls of Taco Bell hot sauce packets piled onto the paper-covered tray and squeezed onto just about every bite. The more Taco Bell’s food tastes like Taco Bell hot sauce, the more I love it.

All of this is to say that to suddenly have to beg for my hot sauce was pretty galling.

Galling, perhaps. But it seems to be the future. On airlines as in fast food restaurants, freebies are going the way of the dodo. Nothing Gold’s can stay. (Note: This joke also works for Gold’s cocktail sauce.)

Anyway, as we’ve seen, McDonald’s has been having a hard time lately. It’s not surprising that the store would experiment with small cost-cutting measures. But if these measures come at the expense of customer loyalty, surely they’re not worth it?

[Condiment historian Nealon] shares my indignation at the trend of keeping sauce packets behind the counter. “You need to have all your condiments out front, that’s the American way,” Nealon said. “Condiments behind the counter? I’m surprised people don’t revolt.” Speculating that it’s a cost-cutting measure, Nealon proposed a solution: “Take some of that crappy stuff off the dollar menu, price stuff properly, and give us some condiments.”

Or maybe McDonald’s and the other fast food chains trying to reduce expenses by doling out condiments on an as-needed basis are saving sauce packets for a more important use: first aid.

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