Are Americans Good at Fractions?

Fractions and decimals are part of every elementary school student's education, but that doesn't necessarily mean those lessons will be remembered in adulthood.

Customers rejected A&W's Third Pounder because they mistakenly believed it was smaller than a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.
Customers rejected A&W's Third Pounder because they mistakenly believed it was smaller than a McDonald's Quarter Pounder.

A&W learned that the hard way in the 1980s, when it had to swallow the collective mathematical shame of a nation of fast food eaters who clearly didn't understand weights and measures very well.

Having watched rival chain McDonald's enjoy healthy sales of its Quarter Pounder for more than a decade, the place that promised "food as good as the root beer" tried to get in on the action by introducing an even meatier burger: the Third Pounder. The price was comparable and test tastes proved promising, but A&W apparently overlooked one thing: a surprising number of people don't understand fractions.

Sales of the Third Pounder were dismal, and A&W owner Alfred Taubman was so baffled that he hired a research firm to get to the bottom of things. It turns out that the Third Pounder tanked because most burger buyers thought that it was smaller than the McDonald's Quarter Pounder, ostensibly because "4" -- as in quarter -- is bigger than "3," as in third.

So, while A&W was actually offering customers more bang for their buck, diners didn't get it -- and they didn't order the Third Pounder. Taubman later wrote about the response people offered for shunning the Third Pounder: "Why, they asked, should we pay the same amount for a third-pound of meat as we do for a quarter-pound of meat at McDonald’s? You’re overcharging us." As the saying goes, there's no accounting for taste -- and no counting, either, apparently.

Not just root beer:

  • Roy W. Allen, the "A" in A&W, sold his first root beer in 1919 from a roadside stand he set up during a parade for returning World War I veterans in Lodi, California.

  • Allen was joined by Frank Wright (the "W" in A&W) in opening their first A&W drive-in restaurant in 1923.

  • A&W serves its root beer in glass mugs to prevent adding more paper cups to landfills; A&W restaurants sell approximately 1.1 million gallons of root beer annually.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register: