Why the Tartar Sauce on a Filet-O-Fish Is Always Off-Center

source: McDonald’s

Everyone who knows me knows that I love fast food—or junk food, whatever you want to call it. It is what it is. I’ve been trying to eat healthier, sure, but after long hours at work, I find that a little drive-thru indulgence does wonders for my mood. There’s something about that mix of fries, a shake, and a main dish that brings a little sparkle back to my eyes. And because I adore fish, McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish often becomes my saving grace. Most of the time, it’s my first choice—very delicious, especially paired with a McDonald’s Coke.

Now, if you’re a Filet-O-Fish fan, you might have noticed something I did: the tartar sauce is always, unfailingly off-center. It’s never neatly placed; it’s always sliding somewhere in its little cardboard box. And yes, it always comes in a box. Why is that? This peculiar presentation piqued my curiosity, and I decided to do a bit of digging. Thanks to some candid revelations from McDonald’s employees on Reddit, I got the scoop.

source: Flickr

First things first, the Filet-O-Fish is delicious by any fast food standard. That lightly breaded fish fillet, topped with a slice of melty cheese and that infamous off-center dollop of tartar sauce, all sandwiched between two halves of a soft, steamed bun. But the tartar sauce’s odd placement? It turns out, it’s all about the assembly line in McDonald’s kitchens.

The process is fascinating in its simplicity and efficiency. The sandwich starts its life when two halves of the bun are placed in a specially designed box—the same box that will eventually make its way to your tray or bag. The bottom half gets the slice of cheese. The top half, meanwhile, receives its blob of tartar sauce. But here’s where things get interesting: the sauce isn’t applied with a typical squeeze bottle or spreader. Instead, McDonald’s uses a tartar sauce gun, which, as it sounds, is a bit wonky.

source: Flickr

This sauce gun is designed for speed, not precision. When employees are rushing to serve a long line of hungry, impatient customers, they aim for speed and efficiency. They quickly squirt a dollop of tartar sauce onto the bun, but given the rush and the nature of the tool, it seldom lands in the center.

After the sauce makes its somewhat haphazard landing, the sandwich assembly continues. The breaded fish fillet is placed on top of the tartar sauce by another employee. Because the bun halves are already nestled in the box, sliding the fish fillet onto the sauce can shift things even more. Finally, the top half of the bun is flipped onto the fillet, and the box is snapped shut, ready to be bagged up.

source: Flickr

Why the box, you ask? The reason is two-fold. First, the bun is steamed, which makes it too soft and potentially messy to handle without some sort of support. A wrapper just wouldn’t do—the bun might stick or tear. The box not only helps to keep the sandwich’s structure intact but also accommodates the somewhat messy, sliding components of the sandwich as they journey from kitchen to customer.

And yes, the box itself is a bit too big for the sandwich, a design that probably helps with speedy packaging but also means that the contents have room to slide around. All these factors—the quick application of sauce, the layering of the components, and the oversized box—conspire to create that invariably off-center tartar sauce.

source: Flickr

Finding this out was really eye-opening. It helped me see the small flaws and complexities that make this sandwich more interesting than just another fast food item.

The next time you open your Filet-O-Fish and notice the slide, just remember: it’s less about carelessness and more about the ballet of speed and function in the fast food world. And, if nothing else, it gives us something to ponder and chuckle over as we enjoy our fish sandwich, perfectly paired with a sip of Coke and the satisfaction of a quick, tasty meal. As for me, it doesn’t really matter if the sauce is off-center or not. A good meal after a long hour of work is what I need and want, and the Filet-O-Fish is just that for me.