What I Learned About Sandwiches from Working at Greggs
Clue: being able to knock out a Tuna Soft Bite in under 60 seconds becomes a handy life skill.
Being a sandwich-maker isn't sexy. As a Greggs bakery alumnus I know that spreading honey mustard on a grainy bap comes with all manner of hidden pressures. It's a cutthroat industry, sandwich-making. So, you know, I get why Brits don't want to make sandwiches for a living and why the Daily Mail believes that Eastern Europeans will definitely hijack all of the UK's unwanted sandwich sector jobs.
Here are a few the things I learned while making sandwiches every morning for six months.
MOST SANDWICHES CONTAIN ENOUGH MAYO TO SINK A FERRY
Whether you're sinking your teeth into a bap or baguette, I'm willing to bet that your shop-bought sandwich features enough mayonnaise to keep the battery hen industry in business for an epoch. I used to use a giant ice-cream scoop to measure out the mayo from tubs the size of bedside cabinets when making up the sandwich mixes at Greggs, decanting the stuff onto packets of ready-cooked chicken – that, once opened, smelled like a million old man farts; you never forget your first hit.
By the time I left Greggs, I reckon 75 percent of my own composition was mayo, 24 percent Bavarian slice and 1 percent soul. I was a sloppy mess of a woman with a belly that resembled a bowl of crème patissiere that'd been sat on a windowsill for hours. If you sliced open my chest, grated cheese would have tumbled out.
NEVER MESS WITH THE TOMATO-TO-CUCUMBER RATIO
Aesthetics matter, people! Customers can be very tetchy about the veggie accents on their ham and cheese baguettes. My boss told me that every sandwich had to be made to the same standard to ensure product uniformity. Fine. Standard. But customers often couldn't keep their shit together if there was any divergence from Greggs' buttie blueprint, which was plastered over the wall in a handy diagram. One day, we ran out of tomatoes at the shop so every sandwich had two extra slices of cucumber instead. The customers stared at the glass fridge as if it were an unfathomable abyss, eyes glazed over with abject fear while they tried to work out what was wrong with their Mexican Chicken Oval Bites. Poor bastards.
WATCH THE CLOCK, FFS
Sandwich makers at Greggs are expected to produce one sandwich a minute, firing off tuna rolls and cheese salad baps like culinary Rambos with bread knife machetes. It's pretty cool. There was often fierce competition between the sandwich makers to see who could produce the fastest Chicken Club Baguette – the meanest sub on the Greggs menu. The issue of contention lay with the crunchy surface of the crusty French stick, which is a lot tougher to cut through than its pillowy alternative, the Soft Bite. So, you know, 60 seconds was a push at times.
SANDWICHES ARE A FEAT OF ENGINEERING
There was always bit of jiggery pokery going on at the sandwich stand to make the sarnies look fuller and bigger. First impressions mean everything, after all. I was often told to use two forks instead of a knife to gently spread the fillings over the lettuce and create a "lifted texture" that sounded, then and now, like a brassy barmaid's fringe. Cheese, bacon and tomatoes were to be placed gingerly on top of one another like a game of edible Jenga, while slices of chicken were positioned on the edge of the bread like the fibrous hand of an unwelcome admirer. It was magic, really.
YOU NEED A GOOD SET OF TONSILS
My manager told me to announce the arrival of freshly prepared sandwiches and hot pasties (which are, as the Greggs mission statement says, always fresh and always – always – tasty) on the shop floor to attract customers. My feeble shouts of "hot Cornish" did little to boost sales, though. She also told me to say, "How can I help you?" to every customer. But her desire to speed up service meant it often came out as a swifter, far more deeply-toned, "Can I hell poo?", making her sound like an angry woman who wanted the world to know that, hell yes, she could poo.
DON'T ANGER THE MANAGEMENT
My manager looked like she had an everlasting sour lemon lolly hidden in her pocket that she licked every five minutes. Uptight and varnished with cheese pasty-scented sweat, she called me into her office for a chat one day. I had left a dirty tray in the pot wash and, for that, I was to be admonished. By God, did I get my revenge. In secret.
I covertly used up key ingredients in my own – deeply – personal sandwiches, piling cheese "savoury" mix on top of tuna mayo and chargrilled chicken to create the ultimate three-tiered baguette of savoury revenge. Soon enough she went catatonic on herself for ordering the incorrect amount of ingredients for the week's sandwiches. However, the joke eventually came to bite me on the arse when I had to explain why we'd run out of Tuna Crunch to unhappy customers. What I should have said was, "It's in my belly, mate, along with the crème patissiere and a dank ocean of fajita-flavoured mayo."
All that said, you genuinely won't find a better sausage roll in Britain that the one you'll get at Greggs. Skip the sarnies and eat a molten pastry that will take your soft palate off in one quick, clean layer.