This post is more of a rant, than an insightful look at some element of the designed world. However, it does touch on usability, human factors, and packaging just enough to warrant as a Monday Morning Designer post. I ask you to read between the passive-aggressive lines, and find the useful pieces within. Or, just enjoy my rant on takeout food packaging!
I eat out a lot; everyday a lot. (more on that here: “Why I Don’t Cook At Home”) I also, usually, would rather eat my food with a Netflix’d episode of MacGyver or clear out some DVR space with my meal, versus staring at the other sad souls sitting alone in a booth. People watching is only amusing for so long. And so I’ve come to know the carrying solutions of “To-Go” orders from a number of food joints. Most stick to the tried and true, some try to be cute and clever, and others… they seem to try to keep you in the restaurant, by offering horrible take-out carrying solutions that make you fear carrying any of their food out of the place. One such place, is a place I frequent a few times a week: Wildflower Bread Company.
The above picture is how Wildflower packages a to-go order. A white paper bag? No problem there… Just grab it by the top, and be on your way… NO! Can’t do that! Because your food is in a plastic tray, inside this bag, and if you pick it up in a way that you would pick up any other fast food bag, all of your food on this tray would fall to one side… We can’t let the “BLT Plus” fall apart and copulate with the fancy mango coleslaw! They’re from different social classes! Adding an exotic fruit to anything, even something as hick as coleslaw, instantly makes it too classy for a BLT; no matter how much avocado and herb-mayo you smear on it! And let’s say you are feeling rambunctious, and add a cup of soup to your order. Well, they place that cup o’ soup, ever so gentle, on top of your plastic tray o’ sandwich. It doesn’t fit into any grooves on top of that sandwich tray; in fact, it generally slides into a perfect 45 degree angle, hanging off the edge of the plastic sandwich tray. (even before you attempt to pick this bag up at the top!)
So no picking this bag up at the top (like all other fast food bags). No, we must carry this bag like a waiter, with our hand underneath it. Remember not to upset that soup… It is sitting at a 45 degree angle, and will gladly pull a full-spill 90 degrees on you if you aren’t careful! Now that you are perfecting your best gyroscopic waiter balancing act, I’d like to throw another wrench into the system: coffee! Oh man, what if I also want coffee (or any drink for that matter)…?! I now must hold the special gyroscopic tray in one hand, while I hold my scolding hot coffee in the other. Fine. Until I reach a door. The door exiting the store? Easy! Just a reverse ass bump, and the door opens to the Arizona heat. (Yes, I drink hot coffee during the Arizona summer!) The trick comes, when you need to open a door that doesn’t open away from you. You get to your car. You now must place the coffee on the roof of your car, while you unlock and open your car door. Don’t mind the circle the coffee just created, those AZ monsoons will mask it with a layer of desert dirt.
At this point, you have carefully crawled into your car, gyroscopic’ly balancing the food tray/bag onto the passenger seat, and gone back to retrieve the coffee from the roof of your car. Place it in a cup holder, and you’re now just mere moments away from food sustenance and MacGyver improvity! Pulling into your covered parking spot, you must now repeat the dance just performed. (but with half the space, because your neighbor parked too close) Remove coffee from cup holder, place coffee on roof of car, go back and gyroscopic-ly scoop up the food tray/bag, lock car, grab coffee from roof, and begin the walk towards the front door of the MacGyver Netflix Theatre. But then, halfway into this walk, you realize a problem: How will I open the door? Let alone, get the key out of my pocket? When arriving at the door, you have 2 options: Either set one of your items down on the nasty Arizona dirt-coated ground, or perform an Olympic -level balancing act of holding the food tray/bag AND coffee with a single arm, while the other manages to retrieve the key, and open the door. Don’t disturb the soup!
I’ve pulled off this performance enough times, that I tolerate the whole thing. Wildflower does make a killer potato cream cheese soap and BLT Plus sandwich, that go ever so well with MacGyverisms, that I put up with it. But should I have to? Paradise Bakery provides a similar food spread, and while they give up the “fancy” plastic tray, they do give you your sandwich, salad, soup, or whatever, in an easy to carry bag with a handle! Wow! A handle! What a concept! With a handle, I can carry my entire food load AND beverage in ONE HAND! How convenient! Boston Market is another place that also offers food in a large plastic tray, but manages to give you a lovely bag, WITH HANDLES, to carry it in. Mind-blowing!
The other day, I went over the Wildflower during the evening, and ordered one of their pasta dishes (only available in the evenings). Sure enough, the dish was given to me the EXACT SAME WAY: In a sideways white paper bag, in a plastic tray. I wasn’t so concerned with the “extra” item I got this time being stacked on top, as it was merely a small caesar salad. (without the fungus of course; aka mushrooms.) Nevertheless, I discovered a new problem… The pasta was HOT! And it was making this fact more than apparent on the bottom of the plastic tray, that I was forced to hold the tray/bag at, as a gyroscopic balancing server!
Wildflower take-out (2+) Aaron (0).