Unhappy Meal

Every summer, my family and i rent a cottage (camp/cabin/lakehouse), and for the past few years we’ve stopped off at the Lick’s in Barrie on our trip home.

Lick’s is a Canadian gourmet burger chain in decline. At its heyday, its flagship store in the Beaches, a wealthy Toronto neighbourhood, served up big, juicy and expensive “homeburgers” to large crowds of customers. The counter was packed with fairly cheery teens who sang from a list of scripted chants and cheers about fast food, many of which were patterned on 60’s doo-wop tunes.

The beginning of the end, i think, was when i visited a Pickering location in the mid-90’s. i brought my friend there because i said it was a neat experience, and i really sold him on the fact that the staff sang your order. When we got there, the place was deserted. The fairly cheery teens behind the counter had been replaced with desperately displeased wage slaves, and when i asked why they weren’t singing, the surly kid who took my order said “we only sing when the franchise owner is around. Siddown and eat your burger.”

Note: not a Lick’s employee, but the sentiment is the same.

Tabling the Motion

i regularly suffer from short term memory loss when it comes to bad restaurant experiences, so once or twice a year or so, i would return to Lick’s, including this most recent excursion coming home from the cottage. i politely asked the distinctly uncheery teen behind the counter if she could wipe down the filth-encrusted table by the window where my kids were sitting. She was right in the middle of the apparently more important task of binder-clipping paper liners to trays. At first, she passed the buck and asked one of her managers to clean the table (but he was up to his elbows flipping burgers, and peevishly deflected the duty right back at her). She then took 7 more cutsomers’ orders. i asked her two or three more times to clean the table. Fifteen minutes after i had made my initial request, she finally came out into the dining room to start cleaning tables … and began with not my table.

You had one job.

The grill crew wasn’t singing, the table was dirty, and the food was expensive and lousy. But it was the restaurant’s answer to the McDonald’s Happy Meal box to store my kids’ food that won the day. i saved it so that i could write this blog post three months later.

Designers Work Free on Tuesdays

The money that Lick’s saves in hiring its winning employees apparently extends even to its graphic design and marketing personnel. Whichever bright bulb had created the misspelled signs posted around the restaurant was likely behind this abomination, the Lick’s kids meal box:

Lick’s – We’d like you to come up with some sort of fun mascot for the kids meal box – some laughy, daffy character that will really delight children and make them plead with their parents to bring them back to Lick’s so they can enjoy time together again. This character will imprint itself on our young customers’ minds, so that when they’re older, they’ll remember the joy they associated with going to Lick’s as a child, and they’ll want to return.

Graphic Designer – You’re only paying me minimum wage.

Lick’s – Fuck it. Just put a clown on the box.

Ooh – and make it pose like a Playboy centrefold.

Lick’s – Make it a fun-time, good-natured party clown who plays light-hearted pranks and rallies children to an enjoyable time at the restaurant?

Graphic Designer – Minimum wage.

Lick’s – Okay. Just use a clown from an early-90’s-era Microsoft Word clip art package.

Graphic Designer – Should he be standing upright with his arms spread in jubilation?

Lick’s – No. Make him hunched over like he’s masturbating in the shower.

You want some Lick’s special Gukā„¢ sauce on that?

Lick’s – And we need games and puzzles on the box. Some fun activities that the kids can complete with crayons, to keep them busy while mom and dad enjoy their meal. Maybe even something educational? Can you come up with, maybe, some sort of word puzzle or spot-the-difference picture for the kids to enjoy?

Graphic Designer – For $10.25 an hour? i still have a few assignments to complete for class tomorrow.

Lick’s – Fine. Do your best.

That oughta keep the little bastards busy for fifteen seconds.

Lick’s – What else? Maybe you could put, like, a connect-the-dots puzzle on the box?

Graphic Designer – I don’t know. I don’t really want to finish this project. I’m not into it.

Lick’s – Come on. You’re almost done. Just do the connect-the-dots puzzle.

Graphic Designer – I don’t know if I CAN. Can I level with you? I’ve been feeling really depressed lately.

Lick’s – Just push past it. We need to finish this box.

Graphic Designer – I mean REALLY depressed. Clinical, even. I feel like I can’t go on.

Lick’s – Don’t do this. We need you to finish this box.

Graphic Designer – I … I’ve even had thoughts of ending it all. I think I want to kill myself.


Graphic Designer – OKAY, FINE!!!


The flagship Beaches Lick’s store has shut down in the wake of a condo development. They vowed to build a new location in October, but there’s no sign of it.

After leaving the Barrie Lick’s disgusted with my experience, i wrote an angry complaint letter to head office. It’s been three months, and i haven’t heard back.

4 thoughts on “Unhappy Meal

  1. alex

    Well written! That made me laugh hard! I know you’re developing games (and our whole family loves Ponycorn Adventure). But your writing still seems your best asset. You’re a great storyteller.

    We go through Barrie on our way to a cottage. I am totally going to hunt this down for the laughs if it’s still there.


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