Industry News | November 22, 2010 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Anatomy of a Footlong: Subway Exec on “Undercover Boss”

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On Sunday night’s episode of “Undercover Boss,” viewers watched with amusement as Don Fertman, chief development officer at Subway, learned how to address customers walking into the sandwich shop.

His on-site boss in Florida, a no-nonsense woman named Jessi, asked him what he believed an appropriate greeting would be. Don hesitated. What was the answer?

“Welcome… to… Subway,” Jessi said through gritted teeth, clearly straining her patience.

And so the show went, featuring an entertaining yet insightful look as an executive from the largest quick-serve chain in the world had to learn to assemble his company’s signature sandwich.

“Taking advantage of a situation like the one presented on ‘Undercover Boss’ not only gives us a glimpse of what is happening on the front lines in the stores, but it provides consumers a look at how we operate,” Don says.

Don began by transforming himself into John Wilson, trading in his clean-shaven style and combed coif for a scruffy beard and black Subway apron.

He worked in Subway stores in New York, Alabama, and Florida. He bused tables, swept crumbs, rehearsed the menu, toasted bread, and rang up orders. His learning curve was steep, and like with any other employee, his screw-ups earned him a front row to the dishwashing party in the backroom.

Beyond moonlighting as a temporary sandwich artist, Don was eager to see his company’s corporate programs put in motion at the consumer level.

“We launched a major breakfast program in 2010 and I wanted to see first-hand how that was working in the restaurants,” he says. “We also have a lot of stores that run successful catering programs and I wanted to find best practices on that or see what the specific needs are to make it better in the field.”

Don went back to corporate Subway with more insight than just, say, how many tomatoes adorn a footlong.

“When Fred (DeLuca, Subway president) sent me undercover, I told him I wanted to catch people doing really good things,” Don says. “I was not disappointed. I worked alongside great store employees and came back with some terrific best practices which we will be sharing within the organization.”

By Sonya Chudgar