Learning from White Castle
A Brooklyn vegetarian gives grease a chance
Image by Flickr user: Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer / Creative Commons
From August 13 to 16, 2010, I ate at White Castle #100034 in East Williamsburg 12 times. I live around the corner from the restaurant and use it to guide friends to my apartment all the time. I happen to be a vegetarian. Like most fast food establishments, White Castle doesn’t really cater to diners like me, but as part of a recent effort to explore neighborhood businesses I know nothing about, I decided to spend a few days recording and analyzing life in my local chain restaurant. Here are some observations.
1:31 p.m. 8/13/10. How White Castle Explains Capitalism.
As expected, there isn’t much for the non-carnivorous to eat here. French fries and a “small” soft drink (21 ounces!) cost me a reasonable $3.46. Drink refills are free.
The restaurant offers seven “Saver Sack” meal options, which get you two or three tiny White Castle burgers, plus fries and a soft drink, for $2.99. Solid mathematical deduction demonstrates that it is cheaper to buy three hamburgers, fries, and a drink than just fries and a drink.
7:12 p.m. 8/13/10. How White Castle Explains Aesthetics.
The interior of White Castle #100034 feels a little cramped. It is not a welcoming dining space. The kitchen and staff areas are encased in bulletproof glass. You sit on benches made of lacquered plywood and consume your onion rings ($1.72) on melamine tables the color of muggy summer skies. It is meat-locker cold. The bathrooms are also cordoned off by bulletproof glass and you have to gesture (through more glass) at someone in the kitchen to buzz you in. Out of the 11 occasions I ate at WC, only once was I asked “to stay or to go?” and given a meal tray; every other time my food came in a paper or plastic sack.
The word crave is everywhere—customers are called Cravers, the menu subdivisions are Sandwich Cravings, Drink Cravings, etc.—and cravings are immediate, short-lived. You satisfy them and then they’re gone.
9:34 p.m. 8/13/10. How White Castle Explains Pedagogy.
On the bottom of every White Castle box is a fun factoid or quip. Some are just dry bits of trivia: “White Castle patented its unique five-hole Slyder® in 1954.” Others resemble Buddhist koans: “White Castle is open after dark. But why is it called after dark when it’s really after light?”
9:40 p.m. 8/13/10. How White Castle Explains Charisma.
This evening, three men are conspiring in a booth. One of them, whom I’ll call Purple Hat, is hoping to get the phone number of one of the WC workers. His heavyset friend, White Shirt, is coaching him. The Third Man mostly just laughs and says nothing.
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