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Archive | Restaurant Trends and News

Keep up to date on restaurant and food service industry news and trends, from serious analysis to more lighthearted fare.

Social Media Marketing’s Dark Side

Plenty of national food service companies have been eager to wade into the social media world as a way to engage and recruit customers.  Dunkin’ Donuts has tens of thousands of friends on Facebook.  Other restaurants, large and small, have pumped up their online presence in recent years and the internet has become a very important medium for advertising.

But social media also has a dark side, because once you throw your brand out into cyberspace, anyone can praise it.  Anyone can also tear you down.

Take the Jack-In-The-Box example.

The national chain ran a Super Bowl ad this year in which their long-time mascot, Jack, was hit by a bus.  Jack-In-The-Box followed the ad up with a social media marketing campaign that allowed users to post get well cards for Jack.  The chain leveraged several social outlets, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.  Thousands of people responded, and a good portion were great for brand-building.

However, a significant percentage were vulgar, brand-bashing, and downright offensive.  In the “old days” (read: anything more than 3 years ago) relinquishing power over what could be said publicly about a brand was pure marketing sacrilege.

But progressive marketers these days have recognized a couple key sea changes, especially as the Millennium Generation gains buying power.

First, people 30 years old and younger in this country have been bombarded with advertising since birth.  They know when they are being pitched and they are likely to be skeptical.  Second, anything that lacks authenticity is Dead On Arrival, and a waste of marketing dollars.

Hence Jack-In-The Box’s willingness to let consumers drive their campaign, even if it meant allowing Jack to get beat up in the process.  In the end, the ultimate authenticity is a surrender of control over a brand.  The most authentic marketing is word-of-mouth, and in an era of unprecedented connectivity, word-of-mouth can travel at lightning speed.

Campaigns like the “Get Well Jack” one are ways to harness the powerful, if unpredictable, world of electronic communication.  Just be ready to experience the dark side of social media marketing, where brands are passed through the ringer by anonymous pranksters.  Luckily, most brands come out the other end bruised but truly “authentic.”

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Waitress Steals Credit Card Info For Small Fee

Credit CardA waitress at Bubba Gump’s restaurant in the French Quarter of New Orleans was arrested recently and charged with possession of fraudulent documents and credit card skimming.

Jaleesa Jimerson reportedly used a skimming device to record the credit card information of up to 50 Bubba Gump customers.  The device was given to her by a man and a woman who also paid Jimerson $220 for her services.

When police showed up at Bubba Gump’s with a warrant, Jimerson excused herself and tried to hide the skimming device in the bathroom.  Police soon found it and arrested the waitress.  She received 108 counts for each card she skimmed, making for a massive indictment.

The judge in the case, Gerard Hansen, set a $5,000 bond for each count, and since there were so many counts, it soon added up to $1,080,000.  Jamison remained jailed after the hearing since apparently the pay isn’t so good in credit card skimming.

There was no word if any money was stolen using the swiped card info.  Jimerson still awaits sentencing.

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The Golden Gate Restaurant Association Denied By Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme CourtThe Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) petitioned the Supreme Court recently to prevent the city of San Francisco from enacting legislation that would require employers to pay a fee to provide health coverage for their workers.

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused a temporary stay on the San Francisco legislation.  All businesses in the city with 20 or more employees would have to meet the new requirements.

The law in San Francisco was originally passed in 2006, but has since been held up by a successful court challenge by the GGRA.  A federal appeals court decided the law could be enacted temporarily last year, and now the GGRA is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court for an emergency injunction to prevent the law from going into effect this year.

Similar legislation in New Jersey and Maryland were struck down by other Federal appeals courts, setting up a conflict in the lower courts that usually means the Supreme Court will weigh in.

However, it is also noted that the Court does not like to get involved in current national policy issues, and the Obama administration’s lofty health care goals for this year could prevent the Supreme Court from weighing in on the San Francisco petition.

The $1.17 to $1.76 per hour per employee healthcare fee has been decried by business owners in the Bay Area as putting an undue burden on business.  Business owners also claim the law violates a federal act that prevents local government from enacting separate pension and benefit plans from national ones.

San Francisco lawmakers counter that healthcare for the city is a necessary, progressive service that benefits everyone.  They also say the hourly fee can be applied in multiple ways, including towards a company’s health premiums, the city’s Healthy San Francisco program, or employee health accounts.

The question of how universal health coverage will affect business in the United States is only now heating up as progressive policies are being considered at all levels of government in the U.S.

Will universal health care wreck business and entrepreneurship?  Or will it create a progressive, egalitarian society for the 21st century?  Somewhere in between?  Weigh in with your opinion below!

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No Lemonade? Call 911!

A matter of life and death: lemonade availability.

A matter of life and death: lemonade availability.

A Boynton Beach, Florida man experienced a terrible emergency recently: the local Burger King was out of lemonade.

66-year-old Jean Fortune was ordering food at a Burger King location in Boynton Beach when he was told that there was no more lemonade at the restaurant.  A distraught Fortune called 911 and complained about the lack of beverages.

Local police were not very sympathetic.  They cited Fortune for misusing emergency services, resulting in a mandatory court appearance.

No word on whether EMTs were able to revive the lemonade supply at Burger King.

Ambulance

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The Economics Of Free

Should everything be free in the new economy???

Should everything be free in the new economy???

Google has profoundly affected the way business is done the world over.  Besides becoming a frequently used verb (meaning “to search”) in multiple languages, the internet search and advertising giant became an international success on a business model that has never been attempted before.

Google offers its primary service, internet search, for free.  Ten years ago, when Google started, offering anything for free was unheard of, unless you were hocking towels on an infomercial.  Google’s success has shown that such a business model is not only viable, it’s the wave of the future.

While restaurateurs probably won’t start giving away their entire menu for free anytime soon, new economic realities have forced some innovative approaches to luring customers back to the food service industry, and free has played a huge role.

Denny’s kicked off the new approach to restaurant marketing with a Super Bowl ad announcing that Grand Slams would be free for one full day after the big game.  The success of that promotion has encouraged other chains to get in on the act, including Quizno’s, who recently wrapped up a million sub giveaway through a specially created site called millionsubs.com.

A café owner in Ohio even removed prices from his menu and allows customers to pay what they want for the coffee and breakfast items he serves.  Sales and customer visits have shot up as a result.  The practice of pay-what-you-want was invented in Europe, and has become even more popular since the economy started going south.

Of course, it may not work so well if a guest can rack up a few hundred dollars worth of entrees and bottles of wine.

And there are hundreds of more examples of restaurants finding the benefits of giving something away for free.  In a larger sense, however, the advent of giving away products and services for free has become rooted in consumer culture, and once consumers get something for free, they’ll want other things for free in the future.

But the economics of free also make sense, even if they seem a little counter-intuitive at first.

First of all, your customer appreciates the gift, and if they get one thing for free, they are more likely to buy other things from you, either in the future or at the same time they redeem their free item.

Secondly, nothing should ever be free.  If your customer doesn’t pay money for the thing they get for free from you, then they should either be counted on to buy something else either directly or indirectly from the free thing or you should get something from them, like an email address or a survey.

In an information age, collecting data about your customers has become vitally important to the success of any company.  Giving something away for free is one of the cheapest ways to get the information you’re looking for.

Finally, giving something away for free is a great way to create buzz around your brand.  The free publicity chains like Denny’s and Quizno’s have gotten out of their free food promos has more than made up for the cost of the giveaways.

The economics of free are the economics of the future, and the business you can generate from giving away something for free can far outweigh the cost.  And making more money than you spend isn’t anything new: it just makes good old-fashioned business sense.

Giving things away for free can mean more sales and customer loyalty, and making more money than you spend just makes good business sense.

Giving things away for free can mean more sales and customer loyalty.

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Menu Trends: Potatoes Make A Comeback

The Good Ol' Potato

The Good Ol’ Potato

Everyone remembers the bad rap potatoes got when the Atkins Diet was at its peak – too many carbs meant the potato should be avoided at all costs.  But times, and attitudes, have changed as more and more people realize diets are less about all protein and more about making healthy food choices.

Potatoes have zero sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and at only 110 calories per serving are a very healthy option, as long as you have the discipline to stay away from too many toppings like sour cream and cheese.

8 out of 10 people eat potatoes of some kind almost four times every two weeks, and that number has definitely risen since the ebb of the Atkins craze.  More and more quick service and casual dining establishments are adding or revamping their potato offerings – and the result has been solid sales.

While traditional toppings are still the crowd favorite, especially in winter Yummy Baked Potatomonths when comfort foods are the most popular, more and more restaurants are getting creative with their potato offerings with positive results.

Some examples include treating the potato as two halves of a sandwich – and filling the middle with tried and true crowd favorites like club sandwich ingredients.  Others allow you to build your own topping combination from the existing salad bar for some very tasty, personalized results.

Even some upscale places are getting in on the potato revival, with interesting and very delectable concoctions with shitake mushrooms, feta cheese, shallots, and skirt steak.

Going back to an old standby in tough times is comforting for your customer, and could also be comforting for your bottom line as restaurateurs all over look for creative ways to survive.  The traditional appeal of the potato doesn’t require any additional work on your part.

The best part is you don’t need special restaurant equipment to prepare great potato dishes.  Reminding the customer how healthy and tasty potatoes really are, and coming up with some great creative toppings to compliment old favorites is a great way to add value to your menu.

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Crocs Shoes For Food Service Professionals

Crocs Shoes have become an internationally recognized name in footwear in a very short amount of time.  That’s due to the non-slip, comfortable, and convenient universal usability of the original Croc.  The Boulder, CO company has built upon this success by developing several new styles made specifically for the food service industry.

The Crocs Bistro

The Crocs Bistro

Crocs universal styles include the Bistro and the Velocity, two shoes built with the food service industry in mind.  These shoes are built for roomy comfort and feature non-slip soles, arch support, and anti-microbial material.  The sole molds to the shape of your foot for a personalized fit and makes it easy to be on your feet all day.

The Crocs Velocity

The Crocs Velocity

Some people have complained these Crocs are not very breathable and can get too hot, especially in the kitchen.  In general, however, the response from food service professionals in both the front and back of the house has been very good.

Crocs has followed up the release of the Bistro and the Velocity with two styles designed specifically for women in the food service industry: the Ginger and the Saffron.

The Crocs Ginger

The Crocs Ginger

The Ginger has a two inch wedge heel for style and comfort, plus all the great features of normal Crocs including non-slip soles, customized comfort, and tough durability.

The Saffron is a tasteful take on the classic Crocs shoe Mary Jane, and also retains core features including non-slip soles, roomy comfort, and tough durability.

The Crocs Saffron

The Crocs Saffron

The Saffron and the Ginger are fairly new to the market and do not have many reviews written about them (at least not that I could find), so if you have worn any of these Crocs shoes in a food service job, leave a comment below and let us know how you like (or dislike) them!

Check out more restaurant supplies here.

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Yelp Has Restaurant Owners Suspicious

The online restaurant review site Yelp has become increasingly suspicious to the small business owners who the site supposedly supports.  The website is based in San Francisco, where it is also the most popular, although Yelp does post reviews about restaurants in 24 cities across the United States.

Restaurant and small business owners in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York have complained that Yelp employees use bad reviews as a way to cajole them into becoming a sponsor of the site, which costs anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month.

Many owners have reported receiving repeated phone calls from Yelp representatives, particularly after a couple bad reviews appeared on the site’s entry for the owner’s business.

Since it is known that Yelp employees and third party contractors hired by the company have written reviews for the site, suspicion runs high among restaurateurs that Yelp is posting bad reviews as a way to get them to sign on for the monthly sponsorship fee.

For its part, Yelp denies manipulating bad reviews as a sales technique.  But the main problem is that the review ranking system on the site isn’t transparent.  Nobody really knows how Yelp decides which reviews go to the top of an entry on the site.  Sponsors paying the monthly fee are able to decide which reviews appear in the top 5, and this is the primary motivation for them to sign up.

But restaurants that refuse to shell out the money and have many positive reviews seem to be dogged by unfair reviews that consistently appear at the top of their Yelp entry.

Others pay the money, but only because they feel they have no other option to preventing bad publicity.  This is especially true in San Francisco, where Yelp is used by a majority of customers searching for restaurants and other service based businesses in the city.

One popular San Francisco restaurant, Delfino’s Pizza, has fought back by taking some of the more ridiculous negative reviews posted to their Yelp entry and printing them on T-shirts that staff wear while at work.

This subversive tactic has stimulated some good response from customers, and it raised another question about the site: how much do anonymous, unqualified reviews help or hurt a small business?

Either way, Yelp clearly has a customer relations problem, which they have begun addressing in earnest on their blog.  It remains to be seen if Yelp will be seen as a valuable asset or an annoying liability to the small businesses it covers.

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Time To Move the Beef!

Prime beef cut prices are at 7 year lows!

Prime beef cut prices are at 7 year lows!

Some restaurateurs are taking advantage of a 7 year low in choice and prime beef to offer their customers some great values on more expensive beef cuts like sirloin, T-bones, and ribeyes.

As consumer spending has ground to a halt, expensive cuts of beef have languished while affordable options like hamburger have continued to sell at a brisk pace.  Hamburger prices remain the same, but the oversupply of prime cuts has driven their price down.

Adding to the oversupply is the increased quality of cattle coming to market.  This is because prices on the hoof have stagnated, so ranchers tend to keep cattle longer hoping for a better price, and the older the cow, the more likely it is to qualify as choice or prime.

With top cuts selling at 2002 prices, restaurants have a unique window of opportunity to draw customers in with a great value on prime beef.  Beef prices typically tend to rise in the spring as supply falls, and then again as the residential grilling season heats up.

Still, prices on prime cuts of beef should stay relatively low for about another six months as consumers continue to avoid more expensive meats.

This means restaurants can continue to take advantage of good prices and move some quality beef.

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Insects: Cuisine of the Future?

Entomophagy is the human consumption of insects of any kind.  Before you recoil in horror, consider a few interesting facts about eating insects:

1,700 different insect species are eaten in 113 countries across the globe.  Scientists note that insects are a great source of protein and unsaturated fats as well as other key vitamins and minerals.

In fact, there is significant evidence that early humans relied on insects as a major part of their diet, since hunting larger mammals was very difficult and could not be relied on as a consistent food source.  It appears early humans ate ants, bee and silkworm larvae, and even lice.

Some have even suggested that entomophagy be reintroduced to Western culture.  Insects are much more efficient to produce in large numbers than traditional protein sources like cattle, pigs, and poultry, and in many cases the nutritional value of insects is far better.

From a sustainability standpoint, it can be argued that as climate change starts affecting human agricultural capabilities, particularly in world breadbaskets like the midwestern United States and continental Europe, raising insects for food might become an unavoidable reality.

The biggest challenge is figuring out ways to prepare insects that don’t force the people eating them to deal with buggy eyes, spindly legs, and hairy antennae.

Some pretty tasty recipes (well, depending on your perspective) can be found on the Clemson entomology department’s website, including mealworm spaghetti, bee grubs in coconut cream, and grasshopper fritters.

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