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Jewish World Review June 17, 2002 / 7 Tamuz, 5762

Bob Greene

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Consumer Reports

What kind of dressing
on your Dairy Queen? | There were no raised voices. Despite our disagreement on the issue at hand, we remained civil.

If I had to characterize our conversation, I would use a phrase utilized to describe meetings of high-level diplomats:

We had "a frank and candid exchange of ideas."

The two participants were myself, and Dean Peters, an official with Dairy Queen.

Not the Dairy Queen down the block from you -- Dairy Queen world headquarters, in Minneapolis.

I had gotten in touch with Dairy Queen because I had seen something that made me believe I must be hallucinating.

It was a television commercial.

The Dairy Queen commercial -- and this is the reason I believed, even hoped, I was hallucinating -- was for salads.

I called Dairy Queen headquarters, waiting to be told I was mistaken.

But Dean Peters told me that I was correct -- the national television commercials are for Dairy Queen salads.

Dairy Queen salads is like saying McDonald's rowboats.

The words don't go together.

"We introduced a salad last year," Peters told me. "Our crispy chicken salad. It got very good response. This year we are adding the grilled chicken salad."

Oh, we are, are we.

"If the salads continue to hold their own, we are likely going to extend the salad line," Peters said.

The first Dairy Queen was opened in 1940. Today there are more than 5,900.

Why are there Dairy Queens? Why is the name pure magic?

Ice cream. Ice cream. Ice cream.

A salad. . . .

A salad is good for you, or at least is supposed to be. Nothing wrong with a salad, in its place. (Although the great Dan Jenkins, when at just about every dinner he was drinking and smoking and eating ribs, once told me, after refusing an offer of a salad from our waitress: "I don't have anything against a salad. It just takes up too much space on the table.")

There is the spinach and broccoli part of life -- the part of life in which salads belong -- and then there is the Dairy Queen part of life. Fooling with that is disrupting the natural order of things.

Not that Dairy Queens shouldn't be allowed to serve food other than ice cream. The single best meal I had last year was a Brazier cheeseburger at the Dairy Queen in Hastings, Neb. (Brazier is a word you encounter only at Dairy Queens. They made it up. It doesn't mean anything.)

Brazier burgers are perfectly acceptable at a Dairy Queen, but this salad trend threatens to alter the texture of American life. Can Dairy Queen sushi be far behind?

Think of the Dairy Queen in the town where you grew up.

(You think of it, because I can't. My town didn't have one. We had a local one-store knockoff, called the Eskimo Queen. In today's sensitive environment, it is doubtful anyone would be foolish enough to open an establishment called the Eskimo Queen. Around our town, the Eskimo Queen was referred to by its nickname -- the 'Mo Queen. That probably wouldn't make it today, either.)

But in your town, if you had gone up to the window of the Dairy Queen and said, "Two salads, please. . . ."

The reason for the salads, Peters told me, is that Dairy Queen is trying to compete more successfully with McDonald's and Burger King and Wendy's during traditional mealtimes. Traditional mealtimes aren't Dairy Queen's strong suit.

What is?

"P.M. snacktime," Peters said without missing a beat.

And what exactly is p.m. snacktime?

"From 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.," Peters said. "After Little League games, and after dinner at home."

P.M. snacktime, Peters said, is the one time of day that people flock to Dairy Queen and forsake the others. "That's kind of where we rule the roost," he said.

But now the drive is on to make Dairy Queen a power at regular mealtimes. Executives at DQ World HQ have decided they can't do it with Braziers alone.

Hence, Dairy Queen salads.

This is where our conversation turned chilly.

"When you think of McDonald's," I asked him, "what do you think of?"

I answered for him: Arches.

"When you think of Wendy's, what do you think of?"

I answered for him: The late Dave Thomas.

"But when you think of Dairy Queen, what do you think of?" I asked.

"Ice cream?" he said.

"Summer," I said.

But a business with 5,900 stores can't just think about summer. There are three other seasons.

Thus: salads.

If I thought it would help change things, I'd threaten to take my p.m. snacktime business elsewhere:

To the Eskimo Queen.

But the last time I was home, the Eskimo Queen had been replaced by a Boston Market.

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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