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The Napkin Sop Factor in Fast Food Restaurants

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

by Laura E. Campbell, Shields Library, University of Califonia, Davis, Califonia, and
Morgan T. Lockwood, Davis, Califonia

The napkins provided in fast food restaurants vary in their abilities to sop up stains. As a service to both the public and the restaurants, we measured the sop-up efficiency of the napkins provided at these establishments.

Assessing the Napkins
We tested napkins from five competing fast food establishments:
Carl's Junior
Taco Bell
Jack in the Box
Burger King
Kentucky Fried Chicken

The tests used maraschino cherries, the juices of which produce red rings on napkins. These rings are easy to measure and compare.

Figure I. Napkins from Carl's Junior. Taco Bell (T), Jack In The Box (J ), McDonalds (M). Burger King (B) and Kentucky Fried Chicken (K ). Each napkin Sopped lip the juices from four half-cherries. For each napkin, the four radius lengths were averaged. The average sop area was then calculated and compared with the total napkin area to obtain the napkin sop factor.

We used cherries that were 19-20 millimeters in diameter. Each cherry was hCllved at its equator. We used a Solingen 20 centimeter French-bladed kitchen knife. When this was completed, 2 cherries- that is, four cherry halves-were placed on each folded napkin (see Figure 1). After 5 minutes had elapsed, we measured the size of the circles of red moisture that had soaked through to the back of each napkin. (see Table 1).

To even out local irregularities, we averaged the circle radius lengths and calculated the average sopage area for each type of napkin. For each napkin, the average sopage area was divided by the total available surface area. The resulting value was the napkin's sop factor.

Table 1. Radius (in millimeters) soaked by each of the four cherry halves on each of the 6 types of
napkins, and average sop area (in square millimeters) of each napkin type.

The Sop Factor
In our study, Burger King's napkins performed best. Kentucky Fried Chicken's napkins proved to be the most inefficient of the group. This is especially striking, as fried chicken is generally a "greasier" type of food than hamburgers, tacos, or even fries.

Table 2. Napkin sop factors for the different napkin types.

We draw several obvious conclusions:

1. Kentucky Fried Chicken's former corporate slogan, "It's finger lickin' good," is -of necessity- still

2. The inefficiency of the Kentucky Fried Chicken napkins costs the company a deal of unnecessary expense. This assumes that the average consumer takes a sufficient number of napkins for a good post-prandial clean up.

3. (This is an alternative to conclusion 2.) The consumers of Kentucky Fried Chicken are greasier after their meals than are the consumers of Carl's Junior, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box, McDonald's, and especially, Burger King.


This article is republished with permission from the May-June 1998 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can purchase back issues of the magazine or subscribe to receive future issues, in printed or in ebook form. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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I don't think I would call the cherries sufficiently consistent to serve as a good control. And/or I would consider weighing the napkins before and after as a better way to quantify what they picked up.
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