I came across an interesting dilemma today which I will put to a vote just because I'm interested to hear all of your opinions on it. Today I had a coupon for a free serving of Thai Cashew Chicken from Panda Express:

free Thai cashew chicken

I am of the opinion that it would be wrong to go into a restaurant with no intention of buying anything and taking their condiments for my own use, but what is your opinion on the following situation? I went to Panda Express because they enticed me there with their coupon for free food. In this situation, do I have the right to take condiments that are in proportion to the meal that I purchased (in this case, with a coupon) even if I do not intend to use them on that meal? Does it matter that I received the meal for free? I was eyeing a couple of packets of soy sauce that would make great flavoring for a future meal. In this situation, did I have the right to take them for free? Please vote and feel free to express your thoughts and reasoning in the comments.

[poll id=”10″]

The results of all previous polls.

Peanut Butter & Banana French Toast

So my sister still is having issues that I eat a peanut butter and banana sandwich on almost a daily basis (usually in the late afternoon when I am craving a snack or as an afternoon meal when I am on the run and don't have time to make anything but a quick meal). She said that she bet I couldn't go a week without eating one, and I said that I could do it without a problem at all — so we made the bet. So since I was banned from eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches, I decided on the first day to make myself peanut butter and banana french toast (she wasn't in the least bit amused and immediately called off the bet).

I used a recipe sent to me by Penny from The Saved Quarter:

Make a PB&B sandwich as usual with two slices of bread. In a shallow bowl that is big enough to hold the bread, whisk an egg with 1 t. water. A few drops of vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon are nice, but not necessary. Lay your sandwich in the egg mix and once the bottom piece of bread has absorbed some of the egg, flip it over.

You can bake it in the oven (I do four at a time and bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until the egg sets.) You can also fry it in a pan over medium heat with a little oil to keep it from sticking. Flip just once after a few minutes, when the bottom piece of bread is cooked through.

Alternately, make two slices of French toast and then PB&B it. I like the meltiness of the PB as it cooks with the bread, though. You can serve it as is or add syrup.

I had a little extra egg, cinnamon and vanilla mixture and the end piece of bread, so I cooked that up as well:

peanut butter banana frenchtoast

peanut butter and banana french toast

I should have gone with the baking method instead of the frying (I was in a hurry and didn't have the time to do the baking method). While it was delicious (seriously, how can you go wrong with peanut butter and bananas?) the frying allowed the peanut butter just to begin to melt, giving me just a hint of what it could taste like. I image that fully melted peanut butter in the over would take it to an entirely new level (I will certainly have to try it).

Chicken Spinach Pasta Salad

I took the leftovers of my attempt at Chicken Stroganoff and turned it into a chicken spinach pasta salad (which wasn't too difficult since it already tasted like a chicken pasta salad). I simply added the last of my fresh spinach leaves, half a tomato and a bit more salad dressing:

chicken spinach pasta salad

Having this as a cold pasta salad definitely made it much tastier than it had been as a warm meal.

Panda Express Thai Cashew Chicken with Rice

It doesn't happen often, but here is a certain expression of disgust that comes over some cashiers faces when they feel that you are cheating the system with your coupons even though you are playing exactly by the rules that the stores and manufacturers have put in place. I received that exact same look from the employees at Panda Express when I went to get my free meal. It was obvious that they felt that I should buy something more even though the coupon plainly stated that no purchase was necessary. Simply by giving me that nasty look, I have no intention of ever going back to Panda Express (I assumed that the promotion was to get new people in the door that would become repeat customers in the future which may well have happened if I hadn't received those nasty looks)

In the end, I received a small box of the Thai Cashew Chicken that was specifically for the promotion:

panda express box

panda express Thai cashew chicken

I then went home and cooked up some rice and then placed the Thai Cashew Chicken on top:

 panda express Thai cashew chicken on rice

It was a nice change of pace of not having to cook myself and it wasn't bad, but the whole look thing already has cemented that I won't be heading back there anytime soon…

This is the current list of food I still have
This is the current list of what I have purchased:

Goal: 100 days eating on $1 a day
Current Money Spent: $49.15
Money Left to Spend: $50.85 ($5.83 must be spent at CVS, $1.50 must be spent at Safeway)
Retail Value of Everything Purchased: $1370.97


The Beginning ::: Day 76: Cooking Rebellion


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  1. That’s no different than attempting to sneak out food from an all you can eat buffet. The understanding is that you will eat that food (or those condiments) there.

  2. What has your sister got against the PB&B sandwich? It’s healthy, full of fibre and vitamins, plus some protein. It seems like perfectly normal food to me. I don’t eat them myself because I hate bananas, but I really don’t see her point at all.

  3. Contact the Panda Express store manager and explain the situation. There is no reason for employees to be giving you dirty looks, that is one pet peeve that I have when I’m trying to use my coupons. If the store manager doesn’t recify the situation, go higher to their corporate office. You usually get asked if there is anything they can do for you (ex: free meal), but I always tell them I will not be taking my business there until their employees are retrained in proper customer service and that’s the only thing I want. They’re usually surprised by that since most people who complain want something in return. I used to work in customer service so I have no qualms in making a call or e-mail. And it would make you feel a heck of a lot better too.

  4. Oh, and to answer your question, yes, there is nothing wrong with taking a couple of extra packets for future use, as long as you’re not running off with the whole box of soy sauce that’s available.

  5. I voted YES for the poll because there are many people who take too many condiment packets and only use a couple, then throw the rest away when they dump their tray. I don’t have condiments in my fridge because I have a lot in my utensil drawer from being given too many in drive-thru an to-go orders.

  6. Perhaps you need to drop a line to the Panda Express corporate office and tell them of your experience. They would like to know!

    For the condiments, I don’t have a problem with taking a couple like you did it’s when people grab handfuls that I object too. Now in some places you have to ask for everything from napkins to soy sauce because people take too much!

    Kudos on the pb&b french toast!

  7. I hate peanut butter, but I know plenty of people – both school kids and adults at the office – that frequently have PB&banana sandwiches. You’re buying high-quality bread with lots of fiber, you’re getting a serving of meatless protein AND a fruit serving into one meal. I don’t understand how that’s not healthy or nutritious.

  8. I absolutely think you should be able to take condiments with you! Why, I have a desk drawer full of ketchup and assorted condiments that I’ve procured from various fast-food joints and to-go restaurants because they threw in a few too many.

    I have a friend who used to fill–and use–nine ketchup cups every time we went to a fast-food place. That would be at least six packets of ketchup. I barely use one when I eat, but if I grabbed six, who should tell me that’s too many? I think as long as you aren’t purposefully clearing them out of sauces and that you are actually ordering there (free or not), you’re entitled to take what you want, regardless of whether or not you’ll immediately use them. Like John mentioned, a lot of people throw them away. I’d rather you take a few extra and use them than for other people to get a few extra and toss them.

  9. The stuff you ate yesterday looks quite yummy. I found this site about about a month ago via a link from get rich slowly and I’ve found it very entertaining as well as useful.
    I was telling a couple of friends about your challenge yesterday and they were intrigued, but wondered if it could be done for a family of four or more (one friend has four kids, the other has five). If you had to, do you think you could manage to feed yourself, your sister, and your nieces for $120 a month? Obviously a get one free coupon still only buys one item, but would the bulk purchasing power make up for that?

  10. @Lara

    Could it be done? Sure. Would it be fun? Probably not. Tell them not to focus on the $ amount but the methods that I use and they can eat whatever they want, get more of it and save money over what they are spending now. That is the message people should take away from this challenge — not that they should be trying to eat on $1 a day. It isn’t an all or nothing scenario

  11. I voted yes – you bought a dinner and you paid for it with a coupon provided by the restaurant as a promotion, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t be able to grab the same few packets of any condiments that any other customer would grab, especially if you’re definitely planning on using them. I also think, as others have suggested, that you should let management of Panda Express know about the dirty looks you received – those nasty employees are specifically ruining the promotion that management is putting out trying to get new people in there!

  12. I said no because you might have some soy sauce available for free or moneymaker soon. There is here.

  13. I think it is okay with in reason. A small hand full up to about 4-5 would be fine, more than that and it is just being greedy,

  14. Here’s my thoughts on this and all your other polls. I think your effort should reflect the goods you receive just like a regular job (e.g. time spent talking to someone, coupon hunting, helping at a party, climbing a tree and fighting a squirrel, etc). So for this instance, if all you did was get the coupon from the mail and go to the store, that’s not much effort so you should only be allowed maybe 1 packet of sauce. But when it comes down to it, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

    Speaking of jobs, have you thought about clipping coupons and selling them on eBay? I’m buying 100 at a time for ~$1.50. Perhaps you can combine coupons along with a strategy as to how to get free groceries to supplement this challenge? I would definitely buy from you if you did.

    Lastly, I shop at Vons and I attempted to use the cellfire coupons linked to my card but they aren’t working. It’s supposed to be automatic correct? Anybody else having the same problems?

  15. @Jimmy

    Yes, those coupons should be automatically coming off. If you made purchases where they should have and didn’t, I would email cellfire and ask what is going on.

    There is absolutely no way I would ever clip and sell coupons on ebay as I can’t imagine a job that would be worse for me to do — leave that for people that actually enjoy couponing 😉 I don’t clip coupon now unless I have to and I perfectly fine with that.

  16. Taking a couple of extra packets here and there is ok but if someone is taking boxes at a time then that is stealing.

  17. I think it would be fine to take a couple of sauce packets that would normally be used with your meal and use them for another meal. It’s not like you’re taking a huge handful, heck I usually end up with way more ketchup packets than I need when I ask for ketchup and if I give them back, the employees will throw them away, so I take them home for later use. Besides, if you truly only has a dollar a day to live on, you would look for ways to procure condiments and that is one way people would do so. It may not be in the ‘spirit’ of the challenge, but it is reality. Also, it doesn’t matter if the meal is free, PE’s only idea for the free meal is to generate business. Because some people will taste the new entree and go ‘ Gosh I LOVE the cashew chicken, I have to get more NOW!. And I would call the store manager, because even if you didn’t buy anything else then, you would have probably gone back another time to sample some of their other entrees.

  18. Ha-ha, good switcheroo on your sister.

    I believe that the price of a fast-food or take-out meal covers a proportional allotment of condiments, plastic utensils, and napkins. If the price happens to be “free” due to a promotion or coupon, they are still included.

    We were at Panda Express twice last week with coupons: on Saturday for the free Orange Chicken with any purchase, and again on Wednesday for the free Thai Cashew Chicken. On Saturday, the workers weren’t familiar with the coupon but were friendly about honoring it. On Wednesday, they already had collected maybe 100 coupons, and had to cook up a new batch just to serve us. They were laughing about it all, kind of a party atmosphere going on, which was fun – lucky for us, very different from your experience. So far, Von’s has been the bain of our couponing existence here in SoCal.

  19. I don’t understand why the employee would get mad at you. It’s not like it cost them money to give you the free food. It’s money that the company has allocated for that purpose in order to (hopefully) attract future business. It’s ironic that the company invested in trying to attract more business when with one look, the employee was able to do the exact opposite.

  20. I think your sister needs to give it up on the PBB sandwiches. I personally prefer banana or honey on my PB sandwiches instead of jelly. I am a 31 year-old-woman and have felt this way my entire life. I wouldn’t say I eat them *every* day, but more than once a week.

  21. I think it’s fine to take a few extra sauce packets. In fact, you can have mine. I never take them so next time you’re at a place that has them, just think that you’re zero-ing out the packets that someone else (me) would have used. My beef with them is that it’s a lot of extra packaging. I’m trying to be conscious of how much packaging I consume and I’m trying to cut back.

  22. I don’t believe you should take condiments
    unless your intent is to put them on the food you just bought. If they always hand them out, there is no issue with taking them home. However, if you get some just for later use, then I think you are taking them inappropriately.

    I have had my share of learning about “those people” that fill containers with excess of packets, napkins, straws, plasticware, etc. I have always thought it very tacky. Taking outside of the intended use falls into this category.

  23. I think it’s fine to take a reasonable amount of condiments. THey don’t need to know if you used them at the time or not. I have a collection of condiments that I use regularly because it’s either something that we use infrequently (duck sauce) or the rest of my family doesn’t like it (horsey sauce from Arbys) And I love PB and banana sandwiches.

  24. I voted no, because you had no intention of using them on that meal. However, a lot of our restaurants here put condiments in your to-go bag without asking, so I would say yes to those. Or the other thing I run into a lot is if I ask for a condiment, and they give me 4 of them, which I couldn’t possibly use all of, I take them home and use them. I worked in a restaurant a while ago and the general rule is, if a customer has touched it, it has to go in the trash. If they give it to me, I keep it to save it from the dumpster.

  25. I work at Panda Express, in the mall and we have our sauces inside the border; it’s because people take more than they need and we do spend money on those. We have a certain amount we’re supposed to spend per ordering and we have to order a lot more than required if someone, per say, took “too much”. My boss always tells me, “two sauces per person” but I always give an extra one, just so I don’t have to hear, “Can i have a little bit more?” Some people are actually nice enough to return the ones they didn’t use. But I personally wouldn’t mind giving a handful to those who purchased a certain amount of products. I mean, we are overpriced. Not saying an employee should be upset if you took a lot, it should only be a “whatever” situation to the employee.

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