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Why Americans pay more for lunch than Britons do (economist.com)
106 points by blowski 39 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 198 comments

Having lived in London and San Francisco I can say that from my perspective there is a real problem with getting affordable, convenient and descent sandwiches in the US. They’re ubiquitous in England, every shop has pre packaged sandwiches and few are inedible. Most people who work in the city can grab something cheapish from pret that’s pre made and tastes good. I’m yet to find anything remotely equivalent here, prepackaged food is often just made really badly, from low grade ingredients so much so it’s not worth taking a punt on half the time. So you wind up paying more for something that just got made in front of you because the alternative will make you regret buying it. It’s a waste because most of the working week all you really want is something that will get you through till clocking off time that you can buy and eat quickly so you’re not wasting too much of your time out of the office.

This is actually one of my favourite things about road tripping around Europe; you can just pull in at a random service station and get affordable, convenient half-decent sandwiches (sometimes even decent ones!). In my experience, the only real significant ticket item on a European road trip is the fuel price. Even accommodations are generally a lot cheaper than their US counterparts.

Did a road trip with two buddies around Europe about 10 years ago and this was our experience. Italian gas stations felt like upscale grocery stores in the US.

Even fuel was less than we expected due to getting 50+ mpg

> Italian gas stations felt like upscale grocery stores in the US.

In some of European countries, shops are closed (by law) on Sunday. Gas stations are exempt from this, hence they morph into shops.

There aren't many countries in the EU, which emphatically restrict Sunday shopping. Even where the restrictions are in place, trading laws can vary and not strictly imposed or adhered to. This can also be coupled with diminishing political appetite to choke the local economy.

'Gas stations' morphing into shops, is related to the phenomenon of channel blurring, rather than just exploiting the exemptions in laws/rules.



It is a huge pain in the UK and is rigidly adhered to.

Most of the "large" shops (I think there is a square-footage cutoff point) and shopping centres/malls must only open for 6 hours on a Sunday. So the normally 24/7 huge supermarkets that are the size of several football pitches and are usually packed full of people are forced to shut. This means that everyone needs to get out in the 6 hour window, so traffic is insane and the shops themselves are insane because all the shopping that normally happens spread across 24 hours has to be jammed into 6 hours. It is really annoying.

Smaller shops are allowed to stay open, so in the UK we now have a lot of smaller versions of the large 24/7 supermarket chain stores on high-streets that are typically open something like 8am-10pm/11pm/midnight 7 days a week. These are obviously much more popular than local businesses (cheaper, more reliable, loyalty schemes) so all small independent businesses (greengrocers, bakeries, small grocery stores, hardware stores, stationers, newsagents etc) are being forced out of business.

I wish that one day this silliness would be abolished.

Being old and remembering before the massive liberalisation of Sunday trading, far from wishing away the token restrictions we have left, I wish we could go back to the old way. No opening on Sunday at all unless you're on the exemption list, as it used to be. So the takeaway, ice cream seller, corner shop etc were fine to open, typical high street shops were not. It's really annoying to have every day a normal day with no distinct break.

There was a distinct change of pace and feel, far, far less traffic on the roads, and a day free of annoying commerce everywhere. The whole world seemed quieter and lazier on Sunday, and thanks to the huge reduction of traffic, smelt nicer. It was the obvious day for the BBQ, day trip to the beach or theatre, the event in the local park, meet with friends etc.

I miss it.

Can’t you do all of those things anyway? Or stay home? I don’t see why someone’s desire for a quaint Sunday should prevent me from doing my grocery shopping. What if Sunday is my only free day?

Sure, except then it's without the actual benefits of a quiet day. The staff at those businesses, delivery drivers and what not are now working Sundays too. Lots of small businesses and self employed are pushed near to the point of no free day, just to compete and stay trading. Early closing day and closed Sunday is a forgotten concept.

There's plenty of families now where both partners getting common free days is a rarity, let alone organising group meets. You don't need a day for grocery shopping - just an hour or so. It's not like we found it difficult, or the public agitated for it before Sunday was added to supermarkets and Primark. It was just a concerted trade push for more commerce. :)

Just like you can refuse to work weekends, or for below minimum wage.

But when your refusal puts you at a disadvantage compared to your competition, it eventually stops being a viable choice.

This approach relies on having a wife who is free to go shopping during the week.

Even the isle of Harris, which still maintains Sunday closing and the slow island pace of life, is changing away from it.

Well when supermarkets all closed at 5:30, except one not very late night (7pm? 8pm?) a week certainly seemed to be. Current hours of 6 late nights probably to 9 or 10, and some 24/6 supermarkets, just restricting Sunday doesn't seem restrictive.

The Islands, and some parts of Wales, maybe other regions had a much more restrictive approach to Sundays than our old "fun permitted" rules, as a religious thing. They'd have more like a total shutdown, with dry Sundays and restriction of entertainments and travel. That may have changed, but they might still be far behind even our old Sunday trading rules!

Where I live Sunday is a dead day. People (husbands and wives seem equally qualified somehow) just resort to a super creative workaround: shopping on Saturdays and any other evening when coming back from work. I do most of the shopping on Saturday and any “instant demand” evenings on my way home.

And I was kind of annoyed when I realized how Sunday works here but came to realize other people want their Sundays free and quiet just as I do. Most people who really need to buy whatever on a Sunday would be screaming the loudest if asked to work Sundays.

> This approach relies on having a wife who is free to go shopping during the week.

Or you can stop at a store on your way back from work...

I spent a few years as a member of a church that took the sabbath (Friday night to Saturday night) seriously. Having a day where you just. did. not. work (and didn't make other people work for you), was honestly pretty great. Great day to go to the beach, hang out, bbq, hike, etc.

I left the church but really miss that aspect of it.

No, it was shit. Completely and totally shit.

I agree. When I need a particular screwdriver or cable for a weekend project, I don't want to have to wait till next Saturday when I'm free.

This only applies to England, not the whole of the UK. For example in Scotland, Sunday trading is not restricted in any way whatsoever.

Perhaps not incidentally there's no double bank holiday weekend over Easter. I had lectures on a Bank Holiday Monday which in England generally means everything is shut.

I don't know how much longer this Christian stranglehold will have on England.

Yeah,.the majority of the bank holidays in Scotland are different too and some of them aren't even actual holidays by law. As in some companies will continue trading as it's not restricted. For example, one of the companies I've worked for actually rearranged bank holidays throughout their various office to ensure that some people were working within the company during any holiday.

Italian Gas Stations are somewhat unique in their own right. Highway gas stations in Europe are more full service as far a food goes. In the US its more snacks or breakfast. The QTs near me have a menu you can order from but it looks it looks very unhealthy.

Train stations are on another level. Parma and buffalo mozzarella on a fresh baguette? No problem.

> Highway gas stations in Europe are more full service as far a food goes.

And free no-questions-asked bathrooms!

The gas prices are often marked up, at least in France.

I remember in Croatia a highway gas station having a full bar, with a sign saying that they won't serve alcohol between 3AM and 6AM.

>Even fuel was less than we expected due to getting 50+ mpg

The only way I can see three adults enjoying a road trip in a vehicle small enough to get 50mpg (assuming petrol) is if you're all car enthusiasts and enjoying the novelty of some 30yo compact car. The second row of a modern compact is a really crappy place if you have to be there for very long.

Or you're perhaps too precious and fussy about cars? I've had 10K miles road trips in smaller (European sized) cars, and they're just fine...

I can somewhat see how being American-sized in a European car could be uncomfortable...

Oh you just reminded me of “because of olive oil”


Aren't many Europeans just as tall or taller than Americans tho (e.g. Dutch, nordic people)?

Though, waist wise, that would be true...

Yeah I was referring to girth/width...

I drive a European seven seater diesel car - plenty of space for three adults - and I get better than 55 mpg on road trips.

YMMV, of course. ;)

It was a 2008 Seat Leon diesel. We managed fine, and even managed 200 kph on the autobahn (perhaps a bit under 50 MPG there..)

We drove around 5000 miles from Barcelona to nice to Florence to Geneva to Offenburg to Bremen to Luxembourg to Amsterdam to Brugges to Paris to Barcelona. It was fucking awesome - and to tell you the truth I really, really understand what "trip of a lifetime" means now that I've never really recreated that experience.

Three good friends on an adventure together (first time to Europe for all of us!) in a new and interesting place in our mid 20's when we were all single and had jobs we didn't care too much about was a pretty damn great recipe, and we still joke about the football Cheetos floating around the back of the car from the first day of the trip.

Usually you can go to a bakery and get a much better sandwich, from fresh ingredients and usually much cheaper than what you'd get prepackaged.

Pretty much every town or villiage in the UK has a Tesco/boots/coop, all of which offer pre packaged sandwiches for less than £2. I don't think I've ever come across a bakery that sells pre made sandwiches for that price. YMMV on the mainland though

My experience mainly outside the South East is virtually every half decent UK bakery will make barmcakes and sandwiches to order, for about the same or if they are more it's only by a little - say 10-40p. Yet you'll usually get vastly more fillings, so they work out much cheaper, along with scope for customisation.

The chain bakeries like Gregg's etc just offer the same sort of carefully rationed pre-pack choices as supermarkets.

> barmcakes

So, the north west then ;)

Funny how you can place people by what they call them.

In my case breadcake, southerners, roll or bap.

Maybe not in the UK, but in France it is quite normal to have ~3€ sandwich in a bakery. Not premade though, they would make it on demand.

Wait, really two pounds? In Dublin it used to be more like a fiver...

Tesco has them for €3 https://www.tesco.ie/groceries/Product/Details/?id=288175714, and I'm sure Spar/Mace have their own versions which manage to be cheaper. £1.90 in Tesco in the UK https://www.tesco.com/groceries/en-GB/products/274622236

If you go back to ~2015 or so, befire the pound tanked, the numbers were pretty much the same.

I remember Spar specifically in the €4-€5 range.

The Nordics would like a word with you, especially the Norwegians.

With the changes in exchange rate in the last 2-3 years, Denmark will also feel in the same league as Norway.

A fresh made (off site, I suspect) sandwich with a 50cL drink is €4.70 at 7-Eleven: https://all2day.dk/shell+7-eleven

Only the Norwegians

Mom and pop gas stations in the USA almost always have a sub sandwich counter.

Even the major chains have those factory made sandwiches that are cut into triangles, plus other hot sandwiches.

The factory made ones at chain gas stations aren’t great, from what I’ve had to have in the US. Iceland is an interesting example of wonderful food at gas stations because gas stations become a gathering place for rural communities there.

I noticed this passing through Kansas.

Even up here in Canada, you see a contrast when you enter Quebec. Little self contained food businesses with above decent food along the highway rest stations.

Is San Francisco representative of metropolitan US cities? In my experience everything is expensive here in SF. In Toronto, I could get relatively nice (warm) meals around my office for nearly half of what an average one costs around SF financial district.

The short answer is: absolutely not. San Francisco could hardly be any further away from being representive of the average major US city. Any use of San Francisco as a comparison point, as though it represents the US well, is going to end up comical far more often than not.

SF feels a lot like every other major city to me. Do you think New York, Chicago, and LA have low costs of living? They're expensive too.

What surprises me about the Bay Area, though, is how expensive the suburbs are. I remember seeing apartments in downtown Mountain View that were $3000/month for one bedroom. Now that's insane and I don't think that happens anywhere else in the world.

SF feels a lot like every other major city to me. Do you think New York, Chicago, and LA have low costs of living? They're expensive too.

The cost of living in San Francisco is dramatically higher than New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

What surprises me about the Bay Area, though, is how expensive the suburbs are. I remember seeing apartments in downtown Mountain View that were $3000/month for one bedroom. Now that's insane and I don't think that happens anywhere else in the world.

Right, and you can find one bedrooms in the "outer" boroughs for well under that. Perhaps not for much longer, but still.

I don't think you'll find places like this in San Francisco (or New York, for that matter)


~$250k for a 1BR 3 blocks away from Trader Joes and the subway station and many bars and restaurants and parks. The walk/train/bike scores are all >90, so a car isn't needed even though a parking space is included (you could rent it out!).

San Francisco is expensive.

To be fair, Chicago is inexpensive by coastal standards, not just SF. Prices comparable to Philly, not DC, Boston, NY, etc.

You're not going to find something for $250k within 2–3 hours of San Francisco.

You're not wrong about the suburbs in the valley being expensive; that said, downtown mountain view is a very walkable 'city', and is just a couple of miles from one of the region's largest employers (Google).

In general, it's expensive all up and down the peninsula specifically, because there's not all that much land, not much multi-unit housing, etc.

I'm from the east coast and I think it's representative. You can pay $8-$12 for a sandwich that's very unappealing and mostly bread.

As a counterpoint, New York deli/bodega/sandwich cart culture is still extremely strong, and unless you‘re eating a premium sandwich like a lox and cream cheese bagel, can definitely be had for $5 or under

>Is San Francisco representative of metropolitan US cities?

No. It's not even representative of the ones on the west coast. It is an outlier in most regards.

> In Toronto

Give it time. A lot of the hole-in-the-wall ethnic places probably won't continue to exist.

I wish the city wasn't so harsh on food trucks...

Actually, I've been using Ritual daily for the past few years in Toronto and it's been pretty interesting to see new small restaurants pop up around my home and office.

I have no idea what the cost of sandwiches are in SF. But in my city (much lower COL), the complaint is the same. Pre-made sandwiches are crap. If you order a sandwich at a proper store it's probably $8-10.

I agree. I work in a regular US 'downtown' and I just pack my own lunch because of that. At lunchtime, it's either a crappy prepackaged stale thing from a coffee shop or a 'culinary event' (read: expensive but rather basic food). Food trucks giving you the opportunity to taste other culture's foods (at a premium), restaurants charging $20 for a crappy meal during which you feel rushed, farm-to-table restaurants, etc.. The only good option would be a Whole Foods for which I walk about 20 minutes (not convenient) where I can grab a decent sandwich for under $10. I don't get why lunch needs to be so special. It's just lunch..

There's a Russian deli at about a 10 minute drive which gets it. At around 10 AM they start making and packing sandwiches and until 1 PM they're all gone. Very cheap, tasty, filling, etc..

Do people really have sandwiches for launch regularly? I can't imagine not having warm meal for launch. Sandwich always means rushed launch to me. I thought lauch was supposed to be main meal of the day.

My UK experience is that for many people it is dinner, not lunch, that is the main meal of the day. You might have a sandwich or something similar that you can eat in the break room at work, and then go home for a cooked meal with the rest of your family in the evening. This isn't universal, of course -- I have my main meal at lunch because I can get a cooked meal in the work cafeteria and then I don't need to cook for myself at home. But in the past when I've worked places that don't have cafeterias I've eaten sandwiches and had the main meal in the evening.

Oh you can get hot sandwiches too. That's pretty much New York's only reason for existing. Egg and cheese on a bagel or croissant. Chicken parm sub. Calzones are sandwiches too, right?

In SF a Banh Mi is assuredly going to come right out of a toaster piled high with veg and meat. There are a few other places around that'll toast your sammie and drown it in Italian dressing (Sub Center with your obnoxiously sexist staff and delicious meatball sandwiches I'm looking at you).

Or, you know, Quizznos.

One can only do so many three-margarita lunches before a performance review is due.

Yes, they do, why not? If you are in a rush you have to grab something for a quick lunch, that's what sandwiches are for. Or maybe because they are cheap and people might want to save money. I'm like you, lunch is 1 hour fiesta where I just eat a hot meal and chat with whoever I'm taking lunch with. My American colleagues seem to like rushing lunch or "grab something quick" all the time.

"Grab something quick" sounds like emergency not something you should do often.

I guess many people live in constant state of emergency.

Many people are prone to the feared "afternoon slump", or however you might call it. Cutting down on your lunch is a good way to ameliorate that. For myself, even on the days where I'm not doing IM, I won't eat more than a sandwich or a bun around noon. My main meal is always dinner.

Even in the USA the main meal of the day is the dinner. That’s the whole conversation on this post that sandwiches are crappy in the USA, so that’s your experience. But good sandwiches exist and are cheap and easy to make

Pret and similar shops also sell wraps, salads and soups. There are also "build your own salad bowl" shops.

Maybe "lunch as a main meal" is more of a mainland-Europe thing?

I guess it is. I am suprised. I mean i lived in amsterdam where sandwich launch was common but never realized it is so widespread.

Don’t move to London then, heh. Some background: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/24/how-the-sandwic...

Having grown up on the US east coast and lived on the west coast for more than a decade (first Seattle, now SF), I need to point out that San Francisco and the west coast in general is not the center of US sandwich culture.

I would go so far as to say the average quality of bread available in any random supermarket on the west coast is much lower than in the northeast. That was one of my first culture shocks here: suddenly good bread was a speciality item that needed careful selection.

Italian and other European immigrants have certainly left their mark on sandwiches on the east coast. It's the best of both worlds. Quality cured meats and US portion sizes.

The US portion size thing I am not so much a fan of lately. I tend to make my own and put no more than an ounce or two of meat. (28g-56g for non-americans)

Whenever I am in Europe I am super impressed with the availability of good cured meats, often from Italy or Spain regardless of what country I am in, and cheaper than the same quality item in the US.

I travel a lot to Europe for work, and that's one of my least favorite aspects of getting a sandwich. I am not a large person at all, but I am never satisfied by a typical European sandwich that is more bread than meat.

I think I used to experience something like this too. But I was also overweight. In the last few years I got myself used to a smaller portion and the weight just kind slid off, and I am now at a different baseline. That was my experience, not claiming any of that to be universal.

Well, I rarely eat breakfast during the work week. Based on the quality and size of breakfasts at Nordic hotels, maybe people just aren't as hungry during lunch? Not sure if that's a hotel thing or an every household thing.

I actually remember reading about their lunch habits which are relatively unique in Europe


Yeah, but sometimes that’s just toooo much meat... also, while the cured meats are indeed good, I’ve yet to experience cured meats on par with Italy/Spain. It’s just like cheese. There is decent cheese here if you know where to look, but it’s still a step below what Europe has to offer.

I also grew up on the US east coast and now live in Silicon Valley.

I have not noticed a difference in bread that you seem to have experienced. I buy the same brands of bread at the Safeway down the street as I bought at Stop & Shop in New England and whatever the grocery store I frequented near Seattle, WA. I never noticed a difference, but I also wasn't looking for one.

What am I missing that I have not noticed this stark difference in sandwich culture between the coasts?


This is an unusually glib comment for me, but it's something I've missed so much since leaving the northeast that I bring back pizza and bagels with me to Seattle whenever I visit New York.

The bagels specifically, are often doughy, "sweet" (they actually add sugar in many places), and with all the wrong textures. It's odd that you mention brands, since I typically buy "supermarket/local baker brand" but I've definitely found that to vary.

Similar comment for donuts, the big brands here e.g. top pot are practically cake rolls.

(Philly also had wawa and corner cheesesteak shops providing way cheaper "decent low-end hoagies" than I can consistently find out here.)

I struggle to come up with a reply to the comment you are replying to, because eating is such a subjective experience and hard to describe.

But I think that quality of an out-of-region bagel is also something I find in regular bread out here.

Also I infer from what is stocked on shelves and what I see friends and acquaintances buying that people here have much higher tolerance for stale bread.

Like the commenter above I was not seeking out these experiences, but felt like they kind of smacked me in the face when I got here. It used to be I could shop for bread without thinking. Now I need to be careful and sometimes shopping in the "wrong" place means I have to deal with worse options.

Yes, couldn’t agree more here. I’ve a got a theory, that there are concentric rings of “bagel quality”, and that they get worse and worse the further away from NYC one gets. Also, spot on with grocery store bakery bread.

Inflation's taken it's toll but I think you can still find Banh Mis for $5-6, even downtown. You can find premade burritos for ~$5 at grocery stores like Rainbow or Trader Joe's (but they're closer to 10 oz not the supersized stuff you'd get at a taqueria). And, quite frankly, I find the 7-11 sandwiches to be perfectly serviceable and usually in the $5-$7 range.

London's a funny example to me because I've been consistently underwhelmed by the food in England (train stations are no exception).

Most of the train station vendors in the UK sell two types of food. Long life sandwiches from companies with a sale or return approach. And frozen products that are heated up. They don't have the staff or space to make products on site and are dependent on delivery. So it is really a logistics problem. The quality is usually better at stations with enough volume for more regular deliveries. My hunch is that less "developed" countries in Europe source local fresh products rather than rely on a logistics system. But in the UK the local producer probably won't be able to compete on price and does not want to bother with a relatively small volume of sales. And local companies find it hard to secure concessions in train stations so can't sell the product themselves.

English food kind of deserves its reputation, but the foreign food is just fine IME. Especially Indian.

If you think it’s bad now you should have seen it forty years ago.

But you already had Indian restaurants at the time, no? ;)

Not many, nothing like we have now.

Holy freaking cow. Having lived around different places in Europe, and visited many others, I have an impression that London has the best food of just any city in the EU. I can only compare places like Berkeley and SF, and some in Turkey and Cyprus for the quality of meat, veggies and fruits you can get.

I have an impression that London has the best food of just any city in the EU

IMO Barcelona, which consistently had some of the worst prepared food of anywhere I've been[1], still had better pre-made train station sandwiches than anything I've seen in London. I distinctly remember being shocked at how expensive (and heavy and otherwise lackluster) the food was at Paddington station, for example. IMO Germany (Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Berlin) has the best mix of affordable and quality convenience foods of any place I've been in Europe so far[2]. Pret was pretty decent (but I've only been at the airport one), and wasn't terribly expensive by airport standards but it was a far cry from a sandwich for a couple quid.

In general I've found that the further south you go in continental Europe, the better the produce is (and in general it's better than what I'd see domestically outside of California/NY). Sure, you can find excellent produce in the Bay Area, but you'll often pay dearly for it.

East Asia is on a whole other level though.

1: Tapas 24 in BCN deserves a shout out for being one of the worst restaurant experiences I've had (food and service-wise) so far this millennium. How Abellan got a Michelin star I'll never know.

2: Two words: Le Crobag.

Barcelona has some of the best cheap fine dining options, on the other hand. And the quality of meats and things you'd put in a sandwich available in the supermarket is much better for my tastes; I say this as a weekend tripper to Barcelona, I live in London.

I don't eat sandwiches from stores, last time I did that was 12 years ago. A sandwich is a last, desperate choice. I get my lunch from one of the stalls at a street food market, between £6 and £7.50 every day.

London is good for Asian food; some of my co-workers who have Asian wives don't think much of the food in Paris for this reason. I, on the other hand, don't care much for Asian food apart from occasional Korean fried chicken as a fast food snack.

When comparing things like sandwiches, I think it's important to normalise for sandwich eating as part of the culture.

Barcelona has some of the best cheap fine dining options, on the other hand. And the quality of meats and things you'd put in a sandwich available in the supermarket is much better for my tastes; I say this as a weekend tripper to Barcelona, I live in London.

That makes some sense as most of the population in Barcelona seemed to me to be British expats. By and large I had a tough time finding anything much better than okay (and certainly anything Catalan is well hidden). In contrast I found Madrid to be particularly easy to find good food (and generally less expensive than anything in BCN).

I don't eat sandwiches from stores, last time I did that was 12 years ago. A sandwich is a last, desperate choice. I get my lunch from one of the stalls at a street food market, between £6 and £7.50 every day.

At that price point you've got plenty of options, even in San Francisco or New York. The Yank Sing to-go location downtown is definitely one of the better value propositions.

London is good for Asian food; some of my co-workers who have Asian wives don't think much of the food in Paris for this reason.

The last time I tried Asian food in London was well over a decade ago, but nothing really stood out. Sure, it was better than the chicken and cheese shu mai I had in Spain (let's face it that sounded like a bad idea as soon as those words left my drunken mouth), but that's a low bar.

When comparing things like sandwiches, I think it's important to normalise for sandwich eating as part of the culture.

Sure. San Francisco trends more towards co-opting burritos than sandwiches, but there's still a definite sandwich culture. What we don't have out here at least is any sort of culture around ready-to-go low effort lunch food. In fact I'd say that whole "slow food" movement hit San Francisco particularly hard. At near/under $10 you can find plenty of things for lunch, but you'll probably have to wait for it to be assembled/cooked.

"Le Crobag" to me seems to be a standard backery + a lot of sugar coating (like actual sugar). Which is probably a well received offering considering they target near exclusively travelers, so people under stress, in need of a quick refresh of their sugar reserves.

If you are looking for really good backery stuff (in Germany), you won't find them at the airport/train station at all, as these are nearly universally only served by large chains, none of them especially known for being above the standard.

Oh I've not tried anything sweet at Le Crobag, just the ready to go sandwiches. The sandwiches were along the lines of a bocadillo/flauto with some veg, cheese, and a bit of meat like you might find in Spain. I much prefer the mini baguette to the pillowy white bread you might find at a train station sandwich in London.

If you are looking for really good backery stuff (in Germany), you won't find them at the airport/train station at all, as these are nearly universally only served by large chains, none of them especially known for being above the standard.

Sure, that's true nearly anywhere though. Relative to train stations in other countries I found Le Crobag sandwiches to be consistently fairly light compared to what I've found in London stations (e.g. really starchy pasties, hamburgers, and other sorts of things that just looked like gut bombs). Pret must have some presence at tube stations, but I haven't see any.

If you’ve eaten at one Pret you’ve eaten at them all, which honestly is big part of why I’ll typically go to one if I need food somewhere I don’t know quickly. As chain coffee shops go they’ve got the best food, even if it is a bit uninspiring.

Coming back to the UK I’ve found their sandwiches (and the similar pre-packaged ones you get in most shops) to be a bit too heavy, especially on the carbs, and I felt I was eating much healthier when I was out in europe (and enjoying much more flavour). Mind, at least with Pret you have some alternatives that are no more expensive, and there’ll almost always be an Itsu near by for a much lighter sushi lunch.

The supermarkets in UK are very poor for good food, and it seems with Brexit approaching, selection is declining by the week. To find good meat, you need to go to a butcher (Ginger Pig is my closest); good cheese, a cheesemonger (La Fromagerie). For good cold meat, a deli. Etc. It's quite labour intensive to get a decent spread of tasty stuff.

I can’t tell you how jealous I am that Ginger Pig are your closest butcher. In a previous life I worked for a company that delivered from them, which meant I got a 20% discount, and it resulted in almost all bacon I eat now coming with a tinge of disappointment. Likewise for Fromagerie, although even with a discount their prices were just a bit too high for everyday purchases.

Ahh London is so underrated, I miss it. I just moved to NYC from London and honestly London is much better

I've lived 3+ years in each of NYC (10 yrs), SF, Seattle, London, and Stockholm. They all have their own charms and quirks and are all nice in their own ways. But from order of most favorite to least (not bad though):


* Seattle

* Stockholm

* London

* SF

My experience is the exact opposite

I have spent years of my life eating $5 foot-long Subway sandwiches for lunch.

I have always thought Subway was ubiquitous. So there's a counterpoint to your affordable, convenient, and decent.

The quality of Subway compared to the quality of something you’ll find on display at almost any bakery in Europe, is night and day.

My wife and I just wrapped a few weeks traveling, and the sandwiches we occasionally grabbed on our way to the park were all outstanding and very cheap. Better than any sandwich I’ve purchased in downtown SF.

I can think of at least 4 different specific sandwiches from previous euro-trips that absolutely blew me away, and were just grabbed from a random corner shop. (Paris, Positano, Barcelona, Copenhagen)

Ohhhh Subway. They got in a lot of trouble when it was discovered that their "chicken" was half soy.


If they just marketed the chicken as "Moving Beyond Meat", and IPO'd with the concept, they could have been richer than their wildest dreams.

The quality of Subway sandwiches are known to be terrible even compared to other chain sandwich shops in the US. It used to be better but cost cutting and greed has caused the quality of the ingredients to go down significantly over the years. I think Americans in general seem to accept low quality food much more easily than Europeans.

Didn't Subway finally kill the $5 footlong last year?

I'm in Canada and when I worked at a casino doing some overnight moves. The guy I was working with a Czech who said he has worked worked in Graz, Nice, Paris, Monaco, Barcelona.

We had a break for lunch at 3am and of course almost nothing was open at that time. He was shocked there were no small cafes to pick up a fresh croissant or sandwich. He said especially in France cafes are on every corner and open early (although maybe not 3am).

>> not wasting too much of your time out of the office

Why not, though? It 's nice to have a bit of a break for lunch. What's the rush?

It's nice to sit in a park and eat lunch. It's less nice to stand in a queue watching other people's sandwiches and coffee being made before you get yours.

This is very easy to avoid: go to lunch at 11:30 or after 1PM.

I think you may have misparsed that sentence. To me, the meaning seemed to be "You'd like to have a nice break for lunch, so you don't want to waste too much of it just on acquiring food."

I’d rather get my shit done so I can go home earlier and spend time with my family.

there is a real problem with getting affordable, convenient and descent sandwiches in the US

Subway? I'm uninformed but is this not a common thing in the usa?

The keyword is “descent”, which I understand is relative to one’s experience, but for what seems like everyone on this board who travelled in Europe at some point, including myself, Subway’s is not even half descent.

If our bar for "decent" is the sandwiches at Pret (mentioned earlier as a contrast to the lack of sandwiches in the US), I feel like Subway is fairly comparable in terms of quality.

To me subway has always been trash. More especially when you get out of the cities and go to the ones on the road. Lots of bad experiences.

The meat is suspect. Others here have already mentioned a lawsuit.

If you think the bread is ok then you must have never had bread not made in a giant factory.

people will bitch and moan that subway isn't "real" food. my experience is that it's generally middle of the road. I think in 20 years I've had only a couple of 'bad' experiences there (over dozens - probably hundreds). Very much dependent on the franchisor.

That said, it's still not 'convenient' in many areas - you still need to drive there, get out of a car, etc. No more convenient than other places.

After living in London for a year and coming back to the US, I was perplexed at how much better (and cheaper) the UK supermarkets were when it came to prepackaged food. I rarely ate at restaurants and did a lot of cooking. Sainsbury's had a really great selection of pre-made chicken and tuna salads. They cost like $2 US (equiv) and all you needed to do was get some bread and it was enough to make two sandwiches. In the US, similar items cost around $6 (so over-priced). I would go to Pret quite a bit too, but there was also another chain that was cheaper (can't remember the name), but after like 4PM all the sandwiches they didn't sell got discounted and you could get some good ones for half-price.

The article is specific to pret a manger a fairly expensive/upmarket british sandwich chain. I'm not sure it says much outside of prets individual retail strategy. As the pound falls their USA prices look worse as it is hard for them to raise their UK prices. For what its worth sandwiches in UK business area strike me as extortionate but so is everything unless there happens to be a poundland nearby... I'm not sure living off sandwiches is anything for a nation to be proud of either. Lets hear it for fresh protein rich salads efficiently produced and deliverd by drone!

The article may only talk about Pret, but as an American who has lived in England for 6 months and visited there several times, Marks & Spencer's prepackaged food is also extremely good (there's no chain in the US where you're going to be able to get good sausage rolls or meat pies), and Tesco is only a step or two behind.

Furthermore, as some other people have mentioned, the UK has many, many more small local bakeries that sell high-quality made-to-order sandwiches—well above the quality of Subway, and while individual independent bakeries are of course going to vary, my recollection is that they tended to be above the likes of Panera and the sandwiches you can get at even high-end grocery stores like Whole Foods, as well. There are also various local variants that are well worth eating—the Cornish pasties we got when visiting that region were to die for (especially in Tintagel!).

Where did you live in the UK?

I have had really nice experience in Leeds with sandwich shops, but I don't think these exist anymore in London.

Ruskington, Sleaford, Lincolnshire.

Near the coast in the East Midlands.

conversely why do Americans pay so little for electronics? when researching to buy a new laptop about a year ago there was over a £500 difference on an identical model between the US and UK. Here are a few random examples of tech prices i just pulled up

Playstation 4 Pro: UK £349.99 US $364.99 (£291) ~£59 difference (amazon com/co.uk)

Thinkpad X1 Carbon G7 (base spec): UK £1429.99 US $1179.99 (£949) ~£480 difference (lenovo com/co.uk)

HiFiman HE-400i Headphones: UK £329 US $179.99 (£145) £184 difference (amazon com/co.uk)

Sandisk 400Gb Micro SD card: UK £67.95 US $48 (£38) £30 difference (amazon com/co.uk)

if that were your shopping list youd save a total of £753 by buying in the US, which is enough to fly LON-NY with not far off £500 left over! (LHR-JFK BA/Finnair Nov 4th-8th £270 Skyscanner.co.uk)

you guys have it pretty good over there even if you pay more for some food most other things are drastically cheaper than here in the UK. The phrase "Rip Off Britain" is very much true, we and i believe much of Europe get a pretty raw deal on the prices of things like houses, technology, cars etc

Being from Norway I considered buying electronics cheap in the in the US but discovered it was not worth it. Once you factor in the 25% VAT in, the difference shrinks. When you at considerably stronger consumer protections and warranty, the difference is all gone. Warranty in Norway on an Apple laptop is 5 year. It is just one year in the US and offers much weaker protection. If you buy a 3 year apple protection plan to get closer to Norwegian warranty, the laptop ends up getting more expensive in the US.

It just isn’t worth it.

I find the big price difference for me is on small things. Stuff like rubber bands, paper clips, tooth brushes etc will always be significantly cheaper in the US. But those things are impractical to import from abroad.

>Being from Norway I considered buying electronics cheap in the in the US but discovered it was not worth it. Once you factor in the 25% VAT in, the difference shrinks.

Nowhere in the US is there a 25% sales tax (the US VAT equivalent); 5-8% is the norm. Some states have no sales tax at all.

If you import electronics from U.S. to Norway you have to pay the Norwegian 25% VAT, not U.S. sales tax.

But the sales tax savings over VAT pay for your flight from Oslo to nyc. Then you just don’t declare the laptop as a purchase made in USA.

this exactly, i almost did it when buying my laptop, also there are tax free states like oregon (im not sure why its just what i read)

It doesn't explain the whole discrepancy, but I imagine one part of it is sales tax/VAT. Here in Europe all consumer prices are usually listed with VAT already included, while AFAIK US list prices are usually excluding sales tax.

> prices are usually excluding sales tax

Which, if charged, is usually a fraction of VAT.

How does sales tax work? As a VAT-registered business, if I were buying something for work (such as a laptop) I would pay 20% VAT but then I claim it back at the next quarter - as VAT is actually a tax on profit, not on spending. Does the same apply to sales tax or does everyone pay it regardless?

Everyone pays it on almost all goods, some labor, and usually not groceries (depends on jurisdiction)

You can have state, city, and local tax applied (or item specific like Chicago charge tax on soda for a short while)

Not everyone pays sales tax - though this might vary depending on the state. I know in Indiana, businesses do not pay it on most of the things they buy. So if an accounting firm buys printer paper, they pay no sales tax. But if I buy paper for my home, I pay it. Companies generally had a tax ID they used to get out of paying.

Non-profit organisations did not pay either in many cases.

In situations where this tax was paid, they could get a refund at tax time.

> I know in Indiana, businesses do not pay it on most of the things they buy. So if an accounting firm buys printer paper, they pay no sales tax.

Actually the accounting firm would typically pay sales tax on all of their equipment and supplies like printer paper.

Each state has some different rules and exemptions, but the general principle is that items bought for resale are not taxed when the business buys them. This is both for items that are simply bought and sold (like a retailer) or materials that go into a finished product (like gold and gems that a jeweler will turn into jewelry). Instead, the business will collect sales tax (and forward it to the state) when the end user buys the product.

Indiana also has an exemption for equipment used in direct production.

So taking that jewelry example further:

1. Jeweler visits a trade show and buys materials and tools to be used in making jewelry. No tax.

2. Jeweler sells finished goods to a retail store for later resale. No tax.

3. Retail store sells the jewelry to a customer. Sales tax.

There are a few other exemptions, such as certain non-profit activities.

Here are the relevant parts of the Indiana sales tax exemption certificate:

[ ] Sales to a retailer, wholesaler, or manufacturer for resale only.

[ ] Sale of manufacturing machinery, tools, and equipment to be used directly in direct production.




Isn’t that exemption for resale?

Sales tax is similar. Basically, the end consumer pays it on top of the sticker price. Businesses and non-profits often don't have to pay it at all, and if they do, they can get a refund later.

Sure, but it isn't a small fraction.

Vat is usually ... 20-25% most places? (Norway is 25%).

Sales tax is often 6-10%. It is still a fraction, but not insignificant either, and not included in the list price.

In addition to 20% VAT that others have mentioned, I believe e.g. the better consumer protections increase prices. In EU the seller must refund/fix/exchange faulty products for a long time after the sale, unlike in US.

The UK price includes VAT, the US price doesn’t include sales tax.

When you add sales tax (which is paid most of the time) the difference narrows.

Although to be fair most American states have way less sales tax than the UK VAT, which is 20%.

California - 7.5%, Florida - 6%, New York State - 4%.

I was told there was also an EU electronics recycling levy, although I'm not sure how much that adds.

Your California value excludes local sales tax, in SF it's 8.5%, though restaurants usually add another "Healthy SF" charge to cover the various mandates around providing health insurance to workers, often bringing it over 10%.

Sticker prices are only loosely related to the out the door price in the US.

Not all states have sales tax, of course, just most.

Just checking but did you include any sales taxes? UK prices normally include VAT. I'm not sure whether US prices include sales tax.

Seems from https://www.tax.ny.gov/pubs_and_bulls/publications/sales/loc... that the total sales tax depends on where the customer receives it, for Manhattan it's ~8.6% total including the 4% that goes to the state.


That still looks like a substantial [raw monetary] saving by causing massive amounts of pollution and flying to USA to shop.

I don't know whether customs would impound your stuff when you get back and demand import duties be paid?

The tax-free import limit in EU for air travel is 430 EUR after which you have to pay VAT (and duties, if applicable).

I bet many don't do that, though...

Yep - especially in the times of weaker dollar, it was customary to ask any relative going to the US to buy a new laptop/camera/whatever for you while he's there. You could save up to 50% this way.

Well, for the sandwich case - UK does not charge VAT (or 0 rate).

Basically because food is generally VAT free in the UK. Exceptions are eat in at restaurant (VAT), vs take away (no VAT), and take away of certain hot foods (VAT).

Generally same in the US. In California, there is no sales tax on food except for 1) eat-in and 2) take-away of hot food. You see the latter apply in Subway, for example, when purchasing a sandwich with a hot filling (say, meatball marinara) versus cold (roast beef).

Prepare to get very jealous if you research building a gaming PC in Europe and seeing US prices.

Maybe the portion sizes are bigger in the US. I ordered a two egg portion of scrambled eggs in Denny’s once and I have to say, the eggs must have come from a dinosaur because a mountain of eggs the size of El Capitan were served to me - yes, I know they just buy the raw eggs and pour them out, but good grief. And this scenario repeated itself everywhere.

>Maybe the portion sizes are bigger in the US.

Yes. For me, if I go to any restaurant that's not fast food, chances are an entree is enough for 1.5 meals (used to be 2 meals but sadly my appetite has grown). When I was a student I avoided those places because then I'd need a way to pack the food and not have it go bad.

It's easy to see why there's an obesity problem. Most people I speak to think that's one serving for a meal.

Portion sizes in most of the world are smaller.

Scrambled eggs are pre-made in a large pan and made from egg powder, and scooped onto your plate with a serving spoon. There is absolutely no semblance of fresh eggs or a certain number of them when you order them scrambled.

Average salaries in big cities in US Ie.g., New York City) are higher than UK (e.g., London). It would make sense that lunch prices would be adjusted to reflect this difference.

Huh? The article mentions increased competition for sandwiches in the London market.

That would explain why the sammiches were cheaper. American companies despise competition.

The article also mentions greater demand as the reason for the increased competition.

It seems tempting to say that the quality of life in most of Europe is much higher than in the US. There's a decent chance this is a case of "the grass is greener" syndrome, but still.

Higher quality food, 4+ weeks of vacation, working weeks <40 hours, easier access to arts and culture, and significantly less income inequality and economic strife (not counting southern Europe here). Not to mention the lack of regularly occurring mass shootings.

On the other hand, if you're working in tech, the US is definitely the place to be. Salaries are significantly higher, while the costs of goods and services (excluding sandwiches and rent in the bay area) are much cheaper.

For people who've lived and worked on both continents, what are your thoughts?

European here. I haven't worked in the US but from chatting with my US friends, tech salaries are stupidly low here indeed unless you live in Eastern Europe where you'll get similar purchasing power as in the US.

Unless you work in a major(and expensive) tech hub and have skills that are scarce and in demand, income in tech everywhere else is not that much higher than any other boring office job unless you're a consultant on some niche thing.

So while you'll live a good life, you'll never hear stories like in the US of people in tech making enough money to buy a huge property or retire early unless they founded a successful startup that saw a good exit which is pretty rare.

I wish they had used a different Restaurant for comparison. Pret is just not very popular here unlike in Europe and I don't know many people who'd eat there (except maybe to grab something on the go). Outside of Pret, portion sizes are usually much larger in the US so it make sense that lunch in general would be pricier. Plus European imports like Pret are typically located in pricey downtown locations of cities like NY and SF where real estate is very pricey.

I was thinking the same thing. I worked near a Pret and it never seemed very popular and at least two of the Boston locations have closed in the last two years. There are just too many better sandwich options even if do cost a little more.

I travel to Europe a lot for work and its frustrating when you try and get a sandwich and its been sitting premade for a while, soggy bread, and its got a single slice of meat in it. Sure it may be a little cheaper, but compare that with sandwich you can get at Casa Razdora[1] or Bob's[2] and its not even close to as satisfying.

[1] https://s3-media4.fl.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/jDayx34LzPfip626pT1g... [2] https://hiddenboston.com/images/BobsDeluxItalian.jpg

I read only up to the point in which I had to pay to continue. Was the article only focusing on sandwiches?

If so, is that the biggest food in common for lunches between the US and Great Britain?

I tend to bring my lunch M-Th and get takeout on Friday. My takeout is almost always Thai. When I dine-in it's usually ramen. For them, I expect to pay $10-12. What are prices like for Thai or ramen in London?

I can't read this, but I have to comment anyways. My guess is simply that america has two times the gdp per capita of the UK. Even if the cost of labour in boston is equivalent to that of london, that isn't going to be true elsewhere. the pre-made sandwhiches are most likely not made in Boston or London (rather cheaper towns in the same area). Because the average american is so much more expensive, the only surprise is that the difference is only 2 USD.

GDP is entirely irrelevant. What matters is salaries. The US may have a high GDP per capita, but it is the most unequal western country. Minimum wage is very low in the US compared to Western Europe.

US GDP is higher than Sweden, but workers tend to make more money in Sweden. In the US GDP is mainly distributed to the upper classes.

I think in Norway a McDonalds worker makes something like 2x-3x as much per hour as an American McDonalds worker.

Average wage is very different than minimum wage. Because of the US’ high gdp both the mean and median salary is much higher.

In 2018, the U.K. median household income was $35,000 (converted from pounds) [0] and in 2019 $63,800 in the US [1].

That’s an enormous difference. There’s also many more ultra rich in the US than the U.K., but just your normal American has a lot more income to spend.

[0] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personal... [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United...

> workers tend to make more money in Sweden. In the US GDP is mainly distributed to the upper classes.

That just isn’t true. And, in minimum wage, the number of people that make minimum wage is extremely small — not even 2% of the total workforce.


I don't know if regular Walmart employees make minimum wage, but I'd rather be a cashier at Aldi in Germany than one at Aldi in Kentucky (sorry Kentucky, I'm just using you as an example from the linked article).

Where do you get 2x from? Wikipedia has US more around 50% more.

I live in London and noticed this price difference in Pret in Chicago.

But, I also noticed that people take a full hour for lunch and get a sit-down meal.

Almost nobody local would have thought to go to Pret.

I would like to see the same analysis on the difference between how much they spend on dinner.

Isn’t this the case for most food, we have a very competitive food retail sector in the UK.

The article doesn't really answer the question other than stating that there's more competition for sandwiches in London. Would've been nice to at least see some data to support that.

Did you read the whole thing? I'm trapped in front of the paywall. Was there a conclusion?

You can read it via Pocket at least, that's pretty convenient on Android.

Does this include drinks? They are often the big sources of profit for restaurants, and that's not counting beer.

I'm in the Southwest and $6 from any Mom & Pop Mexican cafe will net you a carnita burrito the size of your head and take two days to eat.

Maybe the Lobster rolls are bigger?

That's great, but it's beside the point.

Maybe give the article a read?

It isn't really though. The article suffers from very small sample size (one restaurant chain that's relatively unknown in the US). At the least, the grand title of the article is not justified

In England my lunch was a sandwich from Sainsburys. In the US I skip lunch so US is cheaper.

Ultimately, the lobster sandwich is a luxury good. People wanting to save can make their own sandwiches and bring them in a lunch box.

So a lot of it comes down to local positioning and some to marketing. Some to labor costs.

I'm in Norway, and tradition until relatively recently has been to bring a few slices of bread with ham, cheese, pate or whatever wrapped in paper. Sometimes left overs from dinner the day before. Almost always consumed in a canteen with your co-workers. More recently many work places have a canteen with both hot and cold food for a discounted price. If you don't have access to a canteen the shops sell relatively cheap sandwiches or micro wave lunches.


It isn’t very flattering about your sandwiches.

Yeah, it’s pretty boring.

Interesting tangent: Lobsters were once so ubiquitous (both in Europe and the US) that they were considered a food of the poor. There are even records of servants petitioning their masters to not be fed lobster more than 3 times per week.

Supply and demand, I suppose.

These days lobster is a bit of a luxury item even in Maine.

Not really, in the end it comes down to the person who decides what price to put on the sammich.

Yes, because it is a luxury good, an expensive sandwich can even be in more demand than a cheaper one, even if all other things stay the same such as its composition.

"Hip" sandwiches and salads are a thing.

Americans love elitism and self promotion. That’s why hype products make so much money in the US but not in Europe. This is changing quickly as the EU has a strong push to Americanise Europe. The whole world might end up being the same set of fast foods, big chain restaurants and same faff food.

> Americans love elitism

Last I heard, Americans were being criticized for populism. Which is it?

These are not exclusive, you can play to the elites while praising proletariat.

The ideologies themselves are exclusive, to the point that they are opposites. What you're implying is that "Americans" are composed of groups and individuals that adhere to varying beliefs. Some can "love elitism", while others go the way of populism. It's not good to generalize a whole country so easily, which is my point.

It is both. Americans are anti-intellectualism but worship the moneyed elite. If you are a well spoken university professor they will hate you.

But it is usually fine to be a vulgar billionaire. Then you get praise. Moral character in the US is measured by the size of your bank account.

A non-rich person would never have escaped the vulgur behavior of Donald Trump.

Only in America does such behavior get accepted. He embodies American populism and reverence for the ultra rich elite.

> Only in America does such behavior get accepted

How about Berlusconi in Italy?

Or the terrible things that happened in England

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