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Monday 26 January 2015

How much is too much for a fast-food meal combo?

The last time I visited McDonald's - which is not something I do particularly often - I was a little taken aback. The cost of a Big Mac combo meal, with a medium fries and a medium coke, is now nudging $10. 

And while the food at Macca's may be fast - that doesn't make it all that cheap. It's maybe just as well I only visit a handful of times a year, while seldom venturing into a Hungry Jacks's (that's what they call Burger King in Australia) or snacking on the delights of a fattened battery chicken at KFC; although I must confess an occasional craving for Nando's. 

The other night in Melbourne, however, I'd had a long day and was keen to get back to my hotel room to catch the tail-end of a tennis match at the Australian Open on TV. 

That meant I was in a hurry and did not want to stray outside the Crown complex where I was staying. 

And that, too, was OK because the food court had a new name to me: Schnitz. 

Schnitz was founded by restaurateur and cafĂ© owner Roman Dyduk in Melbourne eight years ago and he and his family and are now "spreading the Schnitz love to the rest of Australia and eventually the world". 

Good idea. 

The Schnitz brochure proclaims that all the company's schnitzels, served in rolls or wraps, are hand-made in store using 100% real meat, pan-fried in "fresh, cholesterol-free vegetable oil" and that there is no use of microwaves at all.

The menu runs from sandwiches to salads, schnitzel meals and snacks and salads. 

I opted for a Hawaii Five-O roll, which comprised schnitzel, tasty cheese, rindless bacon, pineapple and barbecue relish, which cost $11.90. But throw in a small combo of 300mls of soft drink and a small chips for $5.50 and $1 for a small tub of sweet chilly mayo and I was handed a bill for $18.40 - and given just small change from a lobster (local slang for a $20 note).

That seemed a lot for a fast food meal where you sit in a food court and are given plastic knives and forks, even if your meal is brought to you when cooked.

The sandwich wasn't bad, although it could have been delivered a little warmer. The chips, described as "diamond-cut and beer-battered Tasmanian russet potatoes", were flavoursome enough but a little soggy. 

All in all I felt it was a very reasonable meal, but I was more than a little taken aback by the price tag. Or maybe I'm just old-fashioned and $20 is the new $10 when it comes to fast food. 

The Schnitz people must be doing something right. There are currently 32 Australian outlets, almost all in Victoria, but with expansion into New South Wales on the way. Franchises are being sold, international outlets have been talked about.

Rolls and wraps start at $9.50 for the basic model, and then range through the likes of "the American Dream", "Swiss Schnitz" and the wonderfully cross cultural "Fiery Turban" to the top-of-the-range "Protein-Packed" at $15.90, which takes you way over the $20 mark for a meal combo. 

With many of the outlets fully licensed, it is clear the market is adults as much as children. 

I will be fascinated to see whether expansion continues apace as there is clearly a hungry market for chicken, beef, fish and even vegetarian schnitzels. Whether there will be price resistance remains to be seen - after all you can buy a small schnitzel for $1 at many butcher's shops. 

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