Chick-fil-A and Steak 'n Shake

Chick-fil-A and Steak 'n Shake in the Nebraska Union on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After months full of anticipation and setbacks, both Chick-fil-A and Steak ‘n Shake officially opened to the public in the Nebraska Union on March 11. While the arrival of these new restaurants may cause some dismay among Runza fans, they ultimately provide a wider scope of dining options for University of Nebraska-Lincoln students.

At first glance, it may seem blasphemous to banish Nebraska’s signature fast-food store from the Union just to be replaced by two nationally recognizable fast-food joints. However, I think we’ll come to see that an increase of variety will be well-received by the student body.

On opening day, I sampled both of the new restaurants to see if giving Runza the boot was truly justified.

Prior to the Union renovation, most would say the best chicken in walking distance of City Campus was easily Raising Cane’s. Chick-fil-A will definitely be challenging that status, now providing quality chicken even closer. Combining an ideal location with the best customer service in the fast-food game may just give Chick-fil-A the edge they need to get a slice of all those college student chicken sales.

A long wait in line is to be expected of any new restaurant, especially during the peak lunch rush, but Chick-fil-A had clearly been awaiting this day. Despite the line extending so far back that it was heavily disrupting traffic flow in the Union, the staff calmly and deliberately tackled the endless waves of students coming their way, all with a smile and a “My pleasure!” salutation.

Chick-fil-A doesn’t just earn points for their proper manners, either. They definitely know their chicken. For my first order at the new location, I settled for a Spicy Chicken Sandwich, ringing in at $4.64.

Now, my criteria for passable fast food is not very strict, but Chick-fil-A really is at another level. “Bland” is most certainly not a word Chick-fil-A is familiar with. Their breading provided enough of a heat-kick and was nicely complemented by the pickles beneath the hearty slab of white meat. Chick-fil-A is a solid choice for anyone craving fried chicken, but they also offer grilled alternatives for the health-conscious diner.

Unfortunately, I can’t praise Steak ‘n Shake to the same degree.

With only one register occupied, the Steak 'n Shake line was moving painfully slow, when it was even moving at all. There seemed to be no sense of urgency behind the counter, no cooks moving at breakneck speed to throw together anyone's double cheeseburger. The kitchen atmosphere was as laid back as if it were 15 minutes until closing, not the peak lunch rush on the first official day of business. It was quite the contrast when compared to the fine-tuned assembly line at Chick-fil-A, one that could bring a tear to Henry Ford’s eye.

However, I am willing to endure some slight inconvenience while the initial kinks are worked out if that means I can get a fully loaded Original Double ‘n Cheese Steakburger ‘n Fries for only $5.45 after tax. Steak 'n Shake will fill an empty stomach on a budget, as long as one isn’t in a rush.

I also understand that the more complex the item, the longer the wait time. “The Original” has no shortage of ingredients. With a generous amount of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle separating the burger and cheese portion from the bun, this bad boy is all flavor from top to bottom. It makes a regular McDonald’s burger look like a slider.

The next closest Steak 'n Shake is all way in Kansas City, so unless you’re okay with compromising by choosing Freddy’s to satiate your steakburger needs, the Union location is the place to get your fill of grease and carbs.

So was replacing Runza worth it? I’d say so. With five store locations just inside a three-mile radius of City Campus, Runza will still be well within reach. Chick-fil-A offers friendly, efficient service with a solid meal, perfect for an on-the-go student. Steak ‘n Shake is the way to go when you want to get the most beef for your buck, if you have the time to spare. Regardless of your preference, chicken or beef, these two new options add some needed variety to the Union’s food selection.