Friday, 13 May 2016

On Self-Serve Frozen Yogurt

I first became aware of self-serve frozen yogurt about six years ago, when I moved into a University of Pittsburgh undergrad dorm with a Razzy Fresh next door. For a brief moment I thought it would fill the niche left in popular culture and teenage life by the death of the soda fountain some four decades earlier. Not only did I not see that happen, I could swear there was a competitor right around the corner. Berry something? Not Pink Berry, that was nowhere near me, I learned it existed months later from a Vlogbrothers video. But I recognized it from the photo in the video: Pink Berry was a Razzy Fresh.

That’s the thing about these frozen yogurt places: they all have different names, but Pink Berry and Pitt’s two Razzy Freshes and the Yeti Yogurt on the SFU campus, and that one in my hometown whose name I can’t remember, are all the same place, with the same decor (except for the mascots) and the same procedure: you walk down the buffet line with a waxed cardboard bowl, taking whatever soft serve flavors suit your fancy, topping with toppings, and paying by weight. They make no attempt to differentiate themselves, and they might as well be owned by the same people.

(Side note: the Wikipedia page on Pink Berry mentions none of the other frozen yogurt companies. Razzy Fresh doesn't even have a Wikipedia page. Maybe they’re all clones of each other.)

A new one of these yogurt clones just opened in the SFU food court, and I went there today after running some errands to check it out. It’s called Menchie’s, and in spite of the Yiddishkeit appeal of its name it’s just Yeti Yogurt with fewer options. (They even have the same spoon supplier.) They insisted I take a loyalty card; it will probably become yet another Plastic Age artifact in the stratified clutter of my desk.

But here's what made me think, walking home with mascot-topped spoon in hand: the amount of frozen yogurt I can eat comfortably in one sitting barely covers the bottom of the bowl--that is, of the standard smallest size of bowl used by all of these frozen yogurt places. I usually take more, but my limit is around $6 of yogurt and toppings, around half the volume of the bowl, and it still always looks like I've taken hardly any and could do with just a little more.

That's the thing about these places. They're pink and green temples of consumerism, designed to gently coerce you into overindulging with their gigantic bowls, clearly defined path from yogurt to chocolates to sauce, and signs all over the walls assuring you that this is healthier than real ice cream and can be dairy, nut, and gluten free if you so desire. Really, the best way to get your money's worth out of self-serve frozen yogurt is to put on your game face and ignore, or actively reject, all the cues it gives you. Walk up and down the line of soft serve nozzles and pick one or two flavors before you even take a bowl. Scout the toppings the same way. Know how much you can eat, and when it looks small, remind yourself that it's because the bowls are too big. You might even spend less than five dollars this way, and you won't have to choose between eating too many calories and wasting food.

And don't take the loyalty card, no matter how earnest the cashier is about it. I'm not great at that one.