Here's Why Many Subway Restaurants Are Closing

May 21, 2021Nkuli Ngqola

Subway is known to have some of the best sandwiches in the country. Since its inception in 1965, the food chain has grown in leaps and bounds. But things have not been looking good for the brand as of late. In late 2017, franchisees found out that the business had fallen 25% since 2012, and many stores had shut their doors. But what could be the reason for this downturn?

Image Credits: Getty Images/Bloomberg/Contributor

Going Under

In 2016, CNN reported that it had closed a whopping 359 locations. 2017 was no better for the struggling franchise. Business Insider wrote that Subway closed another 909 stores. That's about 3% of its domestic footprint. Closing that many stores were a huge loss for the company, and it wasn't a decision that executives would have taken lightly. 

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Less Than Loyal to Its Loyalty Plan

Subway launched a loyalty plan to reward customers $2 for every $50 spent at Subway. CEO Suzanne Greco was excited about this step, that it would improve the customer experience and keep sandwich lovers coming in for more. However, the plan has been marred with software difficulties and syncing each store's point of sale systems with the mobile apps. That's not all that has Subway almost on its last legs. 

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Too Many Franchisees

Business Insider spoke to Mark Shearer, an attorney who has represented several franchise owners in lawsuits against Subway. He said corporate is less concerned with giving their franchisees a chance to grow than collecting the franchise fees. Stores open right on top of each other, corporate collects the fees, and the stores are left to scramble for business. There are also concerns about the freshness of the goods. 

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DNA Testing Issue

More scandal rocked Subway in 2017. CBC Marketplace did DNA testing on six different fast-food chicken items, including two Subway sandwiches: the Roasted Chicken Sandwich and the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki. The DNA tests showed Subway customers were getting 53% chicken in the oven-roasted samples and 42% in the teriyaki samples. The rest was soy. Although Subway denied the claims and sued CBC, the damage to its brand was already done.

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Franchisees Aren't Happy   

In December 2017, The New York Post reported that 400 Subway franchise owners revolted against the corporate team. It started when Subway corporate decided to temporarily bring back the $4.99 footlong promotion to revitalize dwindling sales. Franchisees signed a petition that stated the special would cut too heavily into their already putrid or non-existent profits. Things slowly went from bad to worse.

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Not a Good Idea

The creator of the $5 footlong agreed with franchisees that bringing back the special was a bad idea. Stuart Frankel was the owner-operator of a college campus-based Subway when he came up with the idea in 2003, but says Subway latched onto it and kept it for way too long. It got to the point where customers were no longer willing to pay a full and reasonable price for a footlong. Subway's struggle didn't end there.

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Competition Is Fierce

When Subway first started, it didn't have much competition. Quiznos was their main competition, and it specialized in toasted sandwiches. Since then, other outlets like Jimmy John's, Firehouse Subs, Jersey Mike's, and Potbelly have sprung up. Those four made $540 million combined in 2016. Meanwhile, Subway's profits dwindled. The tough times kept coming for Subway.

Image Credits: Facebook/Jimmy John's

Slow to Keep Up with Changing Trends

Subway also appears to have a hard time keeping up with changing trends in what customers want to consume in their foods. The nation is becoming more aware of the harm that preservatives, additives, and artificial ingredients can cause to health. Other fast-food chains like Panera Bread and McDonald's announced long ago that they would phase out artificial ingredients. Subway only followed suit in 2015. It's slow on other things too.

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Still No Breakfast Menu

Another complaint related to Subway being slow to keep up with changing trends is that it hasn't changed its menu in a long time. It doesn't experiment much with new foods. Also, it still doesn't have a breakfast menu. Being unable to jump wholeheartedly into the 21st century could be Subway's downfall. Speaking of menus, there are certain things you shouldn't even dream of ordering from Subways.

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Extra Veggie Toppings

You definitely don't want to add extra vegetables to your sandwich. As mentioned earlier, Subway's ingredients are considered to be very unfresh because they're not delivered daily. They're not even delivered every second day. They're delivered only once a week! Franchisees told Business Insider that their own veggies taste like "shredded paper." You have been warned.

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Chicken and Bacon Ranch Melt

Subway's chicken and bacon ranch melt may sound delicious, but it's really not a good choice. For one, it's packed with sodium. It gives you more than your entire daily suggested salt intake. It also contains a whopping 850 calories per serving, with 42 grams of fat and 155 milligrams of cholesterol. Dietitian Elizabeth Shaw told Mashed that it's best to add your bacon and chicken to a salad rather than a sandwich to cut down on sodium. 

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Classic Tuna

The good thing about the classic tuna at Subway is that they only use skipjack tuna and source their fish from safe operations that are not over-fishing. However, the sandwich is drowning in mayonnaise. It not only changes the texture of the tuna, but it also adds to the fat content making Subway's tuna sandwich extremely unhealthy.

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Double Meat Sandwiches

Double meat sandwiches are another no-no based on their high sodium content. The meatball sub and B.M.T have a lot of calories. The best way to satisfy that meat craving and still keep it healthy is to add your meat to a salad. A chopped salad with a side of meatballs will go a long way towards cutting your calorie and sodium count instead of a meatball sandwich.

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The Tomatoes

Employees have described the tomatoes at Subway as being extra dodgy. An employee on the Reddit thread "Subway Q&A — Ask me Anything Subway Related" said they refused to eat the tomatoes. They said shipments would come in either unripe or so overripe they would squish when they were cutting them, and the manager still insisted they be served. Customers have also taken to various social media platforms, including Facebook, to complain. 

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Chicken Teriyaki & Chipotle Chicken

Most people believe that chicken is healthier than other meat and, while that may be true in most instances, it all depends on how the chicken is prepared. This isn't just about calories and weight but also about shelf life. According to a former employee of Subway, the chicken there is kept on the shelf for four or five days at a time. While this practice saves Subway money, it could cost customers their health and a runny tummy or two. 

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The Cold Cut Combo

Subway's Cold Cut Combo contains over 1000 milligrams of sodium per six inches of sandwich. To put this in perspective, an In-N-Out Hamburger, with the secret sauce, has only 650 milligrams of sodium. Dietician Elizabeth Shaw recommends having only one meat on your sandwich and substituting the others with greens and avocado. 

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Steak, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich

The steak breakfast sandwich is a small sandwich that also contains egg and cheese. Its small size means the calories are relatively low, at 450 calories, to be exact. However, the low-calorie count is offset because it is loaded with sodium and contains an enormous 18 grams of fat. To keep it healthier, it's best to drop the steak from the sandwich. 

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The Feast   

Subway has a secret menu, and one of the items on it is called The Feast. The Feast contains an assortment of deli meats, including turkey, ham, roast beef, salami, pepperoni, and whatever else is at your local Subway. It also comes with cheese and an assortment of condiments. All of that combined only means one thing—mountains of sodium. Best to steer clear of that one!

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Veggie Options    

We've told you that Subway ingredients have been accused of being less than fresh, including browning lettuce. So, it should come as no surprise that vegetarian options are also on the no-go list. Additionally, Subway is quite uncreative with its vegetarian option. The Veggie Delight, for example, is really just a meat sandwich without the meat. No effort went into making it stand out on its own. Subway hasn't always been subpar, however.

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Record-Breaking Numbers 

When Subway first opened, its customers were seriously impressed with their ingredients' freshness and the deliciousness of their subs.  They loved the idea that a sandwich artist would make a masterpiece sandwich right in front of them. By 2016, Subway had 44,702 restaurants worldwide. Even when locations started closing in 2017, CNBC reported that they were still the world's biggest fast-food chain. Then things went wrong.

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The Less Than 12-Inch Footlong    

Subway was first accused of misleading customers about the length of its footlong sandwiches. According to Reuters, in 2013, an Australian teenager went viral after he measured his footlong, and it turned out to be 11 inches long, not 12 inches as advertised. Subway was subsequently sued by ten of its customers over the issue. The food chain initially agreed to settle out of court, but luckily for them, the case was eventually thrown out. 

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Kosher Restaurants Failed

Subway tried out a new idea in 2006 that seemed promising but turned out to be a failure. It opened a chain of kosher restaurants. They opened up at least a dozen locations, but by 2011 only four were still around. By 2017, there were only two locations left—one in Ohio and one in Florida. We've so far seen the worst of Subway, but there is some pretty awesome stuff about the food chain too. 

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Rebuilding the World Trade Center

While Subway has closed many locations in recent years, one opened location despite knowing that it would be closed shortly. A Subway owned by Richard Schragger was temporarily set up to feed workers who were rebuilding the World Trade Center. Having a Subway on-location meant workers could enjoy longer lunch breaks without traveling far to get food.

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The Delicious Subway Smell

Another great thing about Subway is the delicious smell that emanates from every Subway around the world. The smell is unique to Subway and could draw anyone in. According to Mark Christiano, the Global Baking Technologist at Subway, that smell is a combination of yeast, water, sugar, and flour, and that there's nothing added to the bread or the process to get it to smell that way. 

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Amazing International Offerings

Subway menus in the U.S. are pretty standard. However, if you go overseas, it's a whole different game. In India, you can have an Aloo Patty, a Chicken Tandoori, or a Paneer Tikka. That's marinated and roasted slices of cottage cheese. Australia has a Buffalo Chicken sub, a pizza sub, or a Smashed Falafel sub; Japan has one with smoked ham and mascarpone and another with shrimp and avocado. 

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What It's Like Working at Subway

We've spoken a lot about corporate, franchisees, and the various Subway locations. Now, let's touch on perhaps the most important aspect of any Subway franchise—its employees. With nearly 43,000 stores worldwide, Subway has thousands of former and current employees. Many of them anonymously spoke on what it's like to work for Subway on Reddit. Their experiences are quite interesting, to say the least.

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It Involves Very Little Cooking

According to one alleged employee, all the meats are pre-cooked and pre-sliced. The bread is already kneaded and portioned, and the lettuce comes pre-shredded. On GameFAQs, one former employee said, "Frozen meatballs. Prepackaged sauce. Frozen chicken planks. 100% prepackaged meats. Which would all be fine except you are telling your customers they can 'eat fresh' at your restaurants." Whoa! 

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They're Trained on an App

To properly learn all of these trade secrets to making that perfect sandwich, employees must enroll at the University of Subway. One former employee explained, "The University of Subway really does exist, but no, it's not an actual educational institute. It's basically a free online app that's supposed to help stores train their employees through quizzes and tests. What's my honest opinion on it? It's mindless [expletive]." 

Image Credits: Facebook/Bob Grewal

This once-beloved food chain has a lot of work cut out for it if it wants to stay in business. Their recent reputation will be the end of them if they don't act fast! What do you think about this fast-food company? Have you tried a Subway before? Or perhaps you worked at one before? Let us know! 

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