4

This is from a book [1]:

Here, the choices of efficiently standardized America are not available. The most popular restaurant has honey-stung chicken on the menu instead of value meal number four.

Would you please tell me if that bold part is a pun or something? Is it meant to evoke something? Is there an actual reason to use the number four or it's just a random thing?


[1] Miller, David. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail (p. 46).

  • It probably would have been clearer on the author's behalf to enclose "value meal number four" in quotes. – Azor Ahai May 22 at 17:15
7

The choice of “four” in particular has no special relevance. The idea is more that it’s some arbitrary, “random” selection off of a fast-food restaurant’s value menu (which are numbered, and typically ordered by number—this is faster, more efficient, and less likely to be misheard. It’s also less personal, less “human,” and more arbitrary and mechanistic).

There are a few potential considerations for the number used:

  • Those menus vary in size, but most of them have a fairly limited number of options, so only a small-ish number would fit.

  • #1, #2, or #3 might have connotations associated with sporting competitions (gold, silver, bronze) that are too positive for the statement the author is making.

  • Besides, choosing something too near the beginning weakens the sense that the choice is arbitrary: the whole point is how impersonal and arbitrary the fast-food system is. There’s no real reason #1 couldn’t have been just as “arbitrary” as #4, but humans are bad at “random” and tend to read too much into things. So ideally, the number used would be as “un-special” as possible to hammer home the point that we are dealing with something arbitrary.

So 4 may have just been chosen as the first number that didn’t have those problems.

More likely, though, the author did not think very hard about the number they chose, though. Most likely, they just picked the first number that came to mind—which may have come to mind because the author is human and has similar tendencies to read connotation and pattern into things that don’t necessarily have them, and so subconsciously avoided #1, #2, or #3.

Alternatively, it’s plausible that the author was referring to an actual value meal #4 that actually was the most popular meal in America, or some American town, or whatever. Say, for example, that McDonald’s value meal menu at the time had three types of hamburger as #1, #2, and #3, and then #4 was a Chicken McNugget meal—and for whatever reason, their McNuggets were more popular than their Big Macs—then maybe #4 actually was the most popular meal at the time. McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants change up these menus from time to time, and popularity changes too, and besides the author may well have had popularity in a particular town or anecdotal popularity based on those they personally knew, so short of asking the author, it’s unlikely we’d ever be able to confirm that.

But again, I doubt that’s it. I am pretty convinced it was just an attempt by the human brain to choose a “random” small-ish number.

8

Many fast-food restaurants offer numbered value meals on their menu boards (#1, #2, and so on.) Under each numbered item will be a description of what it is. It can be ordered either by its number or by its description, but it's more common to order it by number (simply because it means speaking less).

Without knowing anything about the context of the book, it seems to be implying that the most popular restaurant is classier because it doesn't refer to menu items by number. So, ordering food from this classy establishment requires more thought and diction than ordering food from a fast-food restaurant.

Also without knowing anything more about the context of the book, it seems to me that it's a backhanded tongue-in-cheek insult of the town being discussed. The inference I make is that high-class dining in town is the single place (or one of the few places) that isn't a fast-food restaurant. It's akin to saying that the most popular restaurant actually provides metal cutlery and plates that aren't made out of plastic.

  • Thank you for the answer, I posted this question last night when I was tired, I am adding more context which will make it more clear. – Cardinal May 22 at 12:49
  • 2
    An insult at the town? Without more context, I would've taken it as saying 'they have real restaurants here, not McDonalds'. (the context that I do have is that people who hike the Appalatian Trail are generally trying to get back to nature and away from the hectic life) – Joe May 22 at 14:22
  • While the first sentence says only that the most popular restaurant doesn't have value meals, the first sentence says that none of the restaurants have value meals. – Acccumulation May 22 at 18:10
  • I don't read this as saying that the other restaurant is classier so much that it is less industrialized. – chrylis May 22 at 20:13
1

I am not 100% sure, since the context is not very clear.

It can be sometimes difficult to order in a restaurant because of the fancy menu entry names. That is even more true if the customer is a foreigner, not knowing the language.

It can be faster and more efficient to order:

I want a 4 and a 7

instead of:

smoked chicken quesadilla with a garnish of cheese and fried potatoes

1

Here's a picture of the inside of a Taco Bell/KFC/Pizza Hut:

a picture of a counter at Taco Bell/KFC/Pizza Hut
Source: Flikr

It's not very clear to see, but all the items on the Taco Bell sign in the middle are labeled T1 through T8. One of the Pizza Hut signs has menu items labeled P1 through P4. Here's an example of a similar online menu for Taco Bell. I've been to a Taco Bell/KFC just like this where all the menu items have an alphanumeric code next to them. You can just go up to the counter and ask them to get you a "T4".

There is no significance to why the example used "four" specifically; it was just a number chosen at random. Not only do multiple places use numbering, the numbering isn't always consistent between places. Compare this list, this one, this other one, and this last one. all from McDonald's.

0

The way I understand the writer’s intention is to contrast a chef cooked meal and a production line meal.

Value meal four does not even say what it is. It’s cheap and cheerful. It’s filling no doubt, but that might be its greatest feature..

Honey spiked even sounds interesting, ever so slightly intriguing because of the evocative word ‘spiked’.

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