Toward a unified theory of efficient gluttony

A few months ago, I tweeted some power rankings for downtown Toronto’s McDonald’s locations. These were well received, and generated some interesting discussion. Having commented vaguely about what factors I considered, I’ve been asked a few times to elaborate. This post’s purpose is to explain the genesis and methodology behind those rankings.

If you’re like me, and I know I am, you’re constantly bemoaning the lack of online outlets covering the intersection of exorbitant fast food consumption and sports analytics. Surely, I can’t be the only one who bemoans PECOTA’s unreliable record forecasting players entering a new league in McDonald’s at 4 AM. There are others, I’m sure of it, cautiously optimistic that Michael Parkatti’s head-to-head Corsi charts could have as much utility indicating a coach’s savvy as the Value Picks menu does supplying delicious sandwiches at a bargain.

It occurred to me recently that we might free up more time and cognition for these matters if we spent less of both seeking and acquiring our snacks. I am not suggesting — and would never suggest — less gorging. I merely contend we can gorge more efficiently. To that end, I’ve developed a system of analytics for fast food restaurants, called Savrmetrics. As the tools of Pete Palmer, Bill James, and the many to follow them have made it easier for baseball front offices to make confident player evaluations, I hope the following measures will assist my fellow enthusiastic eaters in reliably getting their fix.

To effectively measure the value of fast food restaurants, we first must identify just what, exactly, makes them valuable. I contend that it is not food, per se, they sell us. We could, after all, go to a full service restaurant for heightened deliciousness, or a grocery store for savings. When we choose fast food, we choose convenience. The best quantifiable proxy for convenience is time, so the currency of Savrmetrics will be the minute. The more minutes an establishment saves, relative to its competitors, the more snacks one can eat there.

Having identified time as the underlying factor in fast food success, we need to determine how a given establishment saves or costs us time. Savrmetrics considers the following:

General Area Score

Last call came and went, you’ve long since finished your beers, and the bar staff are trying to close. You finally have to leave, but you’re hungry, and your fridge at home only has mustard in it. If you’re lucky, there’s an open fast food joint nearby. GAS rewards an establishment for being near a lot of places a potential customer might be before getting that craving, for having parking, and for being accessible by transit. It is expressed as a number of minutes of travel saved or cost (according to Google Maps estimates for travel times, and specific credits for relevant convenience factors), relative to the mean performance of all candidate restaurants (the mean restaurant, by definition, has a GAS of zero).

Service Prolonging Of Trip

Once you arrive, you still need to get to the counter before you can begin treating your body as badly as it’s going to make you feel in a few hours. For this, we consider convenience-related factors such as typical crowding, drive-through capacity, whether it’s a standalone store front or requires going through the bowels of a mall, hours etc. This is expressed as a number of minutes saved or cost in a typical visit after arriving at the restaurant, relative to the mean performance of all candidate restaurants (the mean restaurant, by definition, has a SPOT of zero).

Sanitation Typically Observed Of Lavatory

There is of course, a muddying factor in the form of the bathroom. If you have to use it, that’s time you would have spent in a bathroom regardless of whether it’s at the restaurant or not, so if the on-site john is in suitable condition for use, spending time in it can actually increase your convenience.

We’d all prefer to wait until we’re home to build a log cabin, but sometimes Tim Couch is determined, and he won’t let up until the Browns are in the Superbowl. If this happens to you, the sight of a toilet overflowing with someone else’s stale challupa number twos and the forest of one-ply keeping them from going down is more heartbreaking than an adulterous, incompetent cardiologist. For those situations when we absolutely must use the facilities on site, STOOL evaluates the number of minutes the average person can tolerate in them.

Beverage Index

The importance of STOOL is sometimes questioned. The cleanliness of the john, say STOOL detractors, is of no concern to the patron who won’t be using it. This is a fair concern. To keep a restaurant’s STOOL appropriate relative to its GAS and SPOT, we weight it according to the beverage index. BI considers the ease of getting a beverage (number of choices, free refills, easily accessed fountain vs. going to the counter, etc) and generates a multiplier. With BI, a restaurant can benefit (or not) from its STOOL according to the likelihood you’ll wind up in the bathroom before you leave.

Putting it all together: Snacks Had Above Replacement Trip

To get a comprehensive ranking, we modify GAS and SPOT so they’re relative to a single theoretical replacement restaurant instead of their respective means (how to define a replacement restaurant will be a post of its own in due time), and add them together. This gives us a total number of minutes saved or cost in the various stages of going to the restaurant in question instead of another option. We also award a credit in the amount of the BI-adjusted STOOL, since although this number represents more time spent on the premises, the relieving nature of that time is considered to add to the convenience of the trip. By the prevailing standard seating limit at fast food restaurants, twenty minutes is considered one snack.

SHART=\frac{GAS + SPOT + BI(STOOL)}{20}

The next few times we look at Savrmetrics will be devoted to breaking down the components in more detail, starting with GAS.

  • Jason

    Well I’m excited.

  • kidkawartha

    I think I just cut one in anticipation.