The Secret to the Submarine Sandwich’s Success


From hoagies to po’boys, varieties of the submarine sandwich are popular around the country. These large, tasty creations, spread with a combination of meats, cheeses and veggies on long loaves of bread, have gained popularity in the food service industry, especially in quick serves like Subway and Quiznos. Leading the pack in sales and locations, Subway has 25,549 stores around the world.

So what is it that makes sub sandwiches—and sub sandwich restaurants—so profitable?

Much like a good sandwich, it’s a combination of things that makes for a really tasty—er, successful concept. This can include variety, customer choice, and nutrition, not to mention convenience.

Quick Fact: Historians claim that the first submarine sandwich was born at an American submarine base in Connecticut in 1926, while regional varieties may date back even farther. [Source]

The Variety is Endless

According to National Restaurant Association research, the enormous number of options inherent in a sub sandwich is part of what makes them so appealing. A sandwich including only five items (like bread, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato) has over 120 order combinations. And the options go even further. “A sandwich comprised of 10 items or toppings could provide 3,628,800 combinations.” [Source] A commercial prep table full of seemingly simple ingredients actually offers the customer an endless supply of options.

Chains may dominate the national landscape of sub sandwiches, [Source] but regional favorites provide an even greater variety. These sandwiches have unique regional names, like “spiedies” in New York, “hoagies” in Pennsylvania  and “po’boys” in Louisiana. Regional varieties keep the options of sub sandwiches interesting, popular and even promote local pride.

Customers Get a Choice

Many popular sub sandwich restaurants offer customers the maximum choice and control when ordering. Not all quick serves, and not all sandwiches, offer this type of customization. After peering through a glass sneeze guard, customers can choose their sandwich toppings and other options to make their order exactly what they want. And  in addition to adding variety this style of service provides  the customer the power to make exactly what they want while watching it made before their eyes.

Subs are for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Sub sandwich shops are no longer just for lunch. Major sandwich chains now serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, which not only appeals to customers’ desires for options, but also to a store’s future growth potential. Subway introduced breakfast to many of its locations in 2010. Along with the increased offerings of breakfast sandwiches and coffee, the entire menu became available to customers from 7:00 AM on, in most locations.

Even non-submarine sandwich shops are trying to get in on the action. Pizza Hut, the country’s largest pizza chain, rolled out its new signature item in 2012: the P’Zolo. This new item—different from the former P’Zone—suggests a push toward sandwich-eating crowds, and points to a direct competition with Subway, the country’s largest sandwich chain. [Source]

High Nutritional Qualities

Not all submarine sandwiches are created with nutrition in mind. Certainly a toasted meatball sub covered in Parmesan cheese is missing the vegetables required to be considered truly nutritious. However, many sandwich shop menu campaigns are aimed directly towards the nutrition-seeking customer. A menu full of healthy options is another reason why submarine sandwich shops remain popular and successful.

As part of the 2010 healthcare reform legislation, menu labeling is now required in restaurants with more than 20 locations. [Source] This requirement is intended to encourage customers to make more wholesome choices.

Portable and Convenient

Sub sandwiches are most often found in the fast-casual or quick service sectors. As such, ordering is quick, and items are priced to be affordable. Jimmy John’s has gained a reputation for super-fast and free online delivery, while Subway has gained a huge following for its “five dollar footlong” campaign. What’s more, a sub sandwich’s torpedo-like shape and wax-paper wrapping practically screams convenient portability.

Sub sandwiches are successful in the food service sector because they provide so many options, varieties and choices. Sub restaurants continue to rank highly in the quick service sector, and the fact that even non-sandwich rivals are getting in on the action says a lot about the longevity and victory of such a simple food.


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