There are few places you can go where you won’t find a Subway. Operating over 40,000 stores in more than 100 countries, Subway is the largest sub sandwich brand in the world when it comes to sheer reach. But biggest doesn’t necessarily mean best. And while Subway may have more locations than any other fast food brand, it is certainly not considered the best or most valuable chain out there.
The reason for that may actually have something to do with Subway’s size. Subway pushed to expand for decades and made it super easy to open new locations. However, as the company got too big too fast, things got messy. Franchisees were forced to deal with the fallout of expanding too fast. and mistakes were made at all levels of the company … with consumers watching it all.
In fact, the company has been called out for misleading customers on several occasions over the years about the quality of Subway’s food and service. So if you find yourself craving a fresh-made $5 footlong, then you definitely want to keep reading for all the details on the times Subway lied to your face.
Eat Fresh at Subway? Not so much
Subway has for years touted its fresh, quality ingredients as the cornerstone of what sets it apart. One of Subway’s most effective marketing efforts is arguably its "Eat Fresh" campaign. The phrase is almost synonymous with Subway at this point … and also perhaps one of the company’s biggest lies to its customers. The alleged truth is that almost everything served at Subway is pre-packaged, including a lot of the meats and produce, according to former employees. A lot of foods even come to the store frozen, including the soups.
Business Insider spoke to several Subway franchise owners in 2018 who said they only receive one or two shipments of produce per week, often full of low-quality produce that won’t stay fresh for more than a few days. One former worker said "about half of the vegetables we used were far from fresh" with another describing them as "mushy" and "rotting."
The meats apparently also come to the store pre-cooked and pre-sliced, and according to employees, the whole situation is just gross. From the moment employees even open the packaging, they are assaulted with the horrible odor of the meats, which has been described as something like "bags of farts." Apparently, Subway hopes warming the meats up will make them look and smell fresh, and that will fool all of us in the meantime. Employees say they are required to microwave the prepared meats when customers don’t want their sandwiches toasted.
Even Subway’s bread isn’t quite fresh
You know how Subway is famous for that intoxicating fresh-baked bread smell? It supposedly comes from the chain’s bread loaves baking away at all hours of the day. Indeed, Subway’s menu does claim their sandwiches are made on fresh-baked bread. But unfortunately, the whole facade is partially a lie.
Subway’s bread dough may be baked on-site, but it’s apparently not freshly made at all. In fact, it shows up at the store as frozen dough. As a former employee puts it, "’fresh baked bread’ is actually frozen breadsticks that turn into dough when they thaw." Subway’s cookies, too, are supposedly delivered to the store as frozen balls of dough.
And it’s not only a lie to call Subway’s bread fresh … it might be a lie to even call it bread. Earlier this year, a court in Ireland ruled that Subway’s bread can’t actually be legally defined as bread (at least in that country) because it’s sugar content is so high. And yes, that includes the wheat bread too.
Seriously, some food served at Subway may even be expired
It’s bad enough that some of Subway’s food arrives at the store in less-than-ideal condition when it comes to freshness. But adding insult to injury is the fact that some Subway stores seem to totally toss quality control out the window. Former employees say food is kept well past its expiration date, with some ingredients simply being prepackaged to increase the shelf life and save on costs. This includes everything from fresh ingredients like lettuce and meats to packaged chips and drinks. Sometimes, employees say they are simply asked to just change the date labels on products to mask their true freshness — or lack thereof.
Serving expired food is clearly not a corporate Subway policy, so this issue likely varies from franchise to franchise. But it is worth noting that every single one of Subway’s locations is franchise-owned. And some employees say the orders to keep old food come from the top down, and they’ve had their jobs threatened if they don’t fall in line.
Subway’s ingredients haven’t always been all-natural
When we consider what makes for healthy and fresh food, natural ingredients rank pretty high up on the list of expectations. That is another reason some consumers may feel duped when it comes to Subway’s promise of healthy and nutritious ingredients.
For a lot of Subway’s history, the restaurant was serving foods and ingredients filled with non-natural ingredients. They were present in the processed meats, in the dressings and sauces, and even in the bread. In fact, Subway faced major heat after it was discovered that the company was using a chemical in its bread that is also used to make yoga mats. Subway removed the ingredient in 2014.
A year after that controversy, the company announced that it was changing the recipes on all of its products, removing all additives, artificial colors, and preservatives from its ingredients. Subway’s all-natural menu didn’t debut until 2017.
Subway might not be handling your food properly
Regardless of the quality or freshness of its ingredients, Subway might say that food safety is one of its highest priorities. However, evidence would suggest that Subway is not living up to this commitment either. Subway states on its website that its workers, known as Sandwich Artists, are "required to always follow strict hand washing procedures and proper glove usage for all food handling processes." But accounts from current and former Subway employees detail all kinds of potential safety issues when it comes to handling your food.
For example, one former employee says they will never eat at the chain again after working there, saying, "they don’t wash the tomatoes. They go right from that crate they come in from Mexico, with all the dirt all over them, into the slicer. Then they use that slicer to slice your deli meat without cleaning it first." Yikes.
Other complaints say that some workers don’t change their gloves as often as they are supposed to, that the sauce bottles are only refilled and never cleaned out, and that some of the chicken isn’t thawed properly. And in one particularly gross confession, a worker said their manager knowingly put food into bacteria-infested buckets.
$5 dollar footlongs at Subway? Think again
One of Subway’s most notable flubs has been its $5 footlong campaign. The chain first rolled out the promotion in 2007, promising 12-inch subs for just five bucks. This was a big hit with customers, especially as the recession had made many more cost-conscious. Not to mention that jingle that you just can’t get out of your head. So customers were taken aback when, in 2016, Subway upped the price of its footlongs to $6 (which some pointed out was just not as catchy). The only explanation Subway offered at the time was that "costs have gone up greatly."
In 2018, Subway decided to try and bring back the $5 footlongs … and just ended up disappointing everyone. The company announced a new footlong promotion in January of that year, pricing the subs at $4.99. Then months later, the company walked back those plans and said that it wasn’t going to force its restaurants to honor the promotion. Turns out, Subway was facing a bunch of pushback from franchise owners who said the deal would cut into their already-small profit margins. At the end of the day, the $5 footlong turned out to be nothing more than a broken promise and a song we can’t get out of our heads.
Forget the price, some say Subway’s footlongs themselves were a lie
When it comes to Subway’s footlongs, it’s not just the price that has been a subject of controversy. According to some customers, the sandwiches themselves are a lie, not quite living up to the "foot" in their name.
This all started in 2013 when a customer posted a Facebook photo showing that his Subway footlong only measured 11 inches, sparking outrage online. Soon after, a group of customers decided to sue Subway for damages over the deception and demanded the company change its practices. At the time, Subway told the Huffington Post that the 11-inch sandwich in the viral Facebook photo was an "isolated case in which the bread preparation procedures were unfortunately not followed." But it’s worth noting that when the lawsuit was filed, the lawyer for the plaintiffs said that he’d measured sandwiches from more than a dozen different Subway shops and none of them measured the full 12 inches.
By 2016, Subway was tired of the bad publicity and decided to settle the suit. It agreed to take steps to ensure that its footlongs are consistently 12 inches, including using a device to measure its bread, as well as pay more than half a million dollars in legal fees.
Subway sandwiches are a lot less healthy than you think
Subway has always marketed itself as a healthier fast food option above all the other choices. But that very notion may be one of the biggest lies Subway tells its customers. A peek at Subway’s nutritional information shows that many items and ingredients are loaded with calories, fat, and added sugars. For example, some of Subway’s bread options will run you nearly 500 calories before you add a single topping. Some of the wraps on the menu are close to 1,000 calories. Oh, and the tuna sandwich? It’s packed with 50 grams of fat. In fact, one study found that eating at Subway can be just as bad for you calorie-wise as eating at McDonald’s. The study showed that McDonald’s meals averaged around 1,038 calories, while Subway meals averaged around 955 calories.
Despite the nutrition facts, there is evidence that Subway is truly fooling its customers, getting them to buy into the idea that their food is healthier than it really is. A Harvard study found that while consumers overall tend to dramatically underestimate how many calories are in fast food, the disparity was the biggest among Subway consumers.
Subway promises exceptional service but sometimes falls short
Since its early days, Subway has said that providing exceptional service is one of its core values, which "continue to serve as the foundation for Subway restaurants around the world." However, it seems like Subway has fallen short on that promise on more than one occasion. That can happen when the chain is busy pumping out 5,300 sandwiches every minute around the world (per Entrepreneur).
Some Subway customers have taken to the internet to ask why employees at the chain are "rude" or "down all the time." One customer was so put off, he dedicated an entire episode of his crafting vlog to rant about the terrible customer service he’d experienced at Subway restaurants. And on the site Customer Service Scoreboard, Subway gets just 27.68 out of 200 possible points. Out of the nearly 800 user comments about the company, about 95 percent are negative.
There’s reason to be skeptical if a Subway employees tells you they’re out of something
While this one isn’t necessarily Subway’s fault, you may get lied to by one of the company’s employees, depending on what you order. To be fair, there are an estimated 38 million Subway sandwich combinations, and some of them have got to be tedious to put together. Some Subway employees have confessed online that they’ve lied to customers if it’s a hassle to prepare an item, or they don’t feel like making something, or they didn’t want to get the avocados from the back, for example.
And you might also want to beware of ordering the light mayo. One Subway employee reportedly confessed that "most of the time, whenever the Light Mayo bottle ran out, my manager would just tell me to fill it with regular mayonnaise," adding that "this is pretty common in a lot of stores."