Tag Archives: Fast Food

Got Wings?

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National Chicken Council

More than 110 million individuals in the U.S. are expected to tune in to next Sunday’s Super Bowl, a sports tradition that has, over the past half century, seen other-than-Bowl related activities creep to a crawl from coast to coast. One thing that is sure to speeding up, meanwhile, is viewers’ consumption of chicken wings.

The National Chicken Council (NCC) anticipates wing consumption will be up 6.5% from last year’s 1.3 billion wings to an astonishing 1.33 billion. That’s enough bone-bearing poultry pieces to stretch, if laid end to end, around the world nearly three times.

And collectively, they will weigh 166.25 million pounds – 32 times the weight of the NFL’s 32 football teams.

The National Chicken Council estimates that 75% of the wings consumed during the Super Bowl period – which actually kicks off with parties galore on the day before the event – will come from restaurants or foodservice outlets, bars and pizza places and 25% will be sourced from supermarkets and other food retailers. The latter’s wing sales spike during the week leading up to the game. With sales skewing toward households with three or more consumers.

Wherever you get them, says Tom Super, Senior Vice President of communication for the NCC, “that’s a lot of freaking wings!”

“Smart” KFC in Beijing Is Not Quite Smart Enough

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No one is paying any attention to the “smart” machine at the left of the photo. (Amy Hawkins, The Guardian)

Even in China, where lack of privacy is pretty much taken for granted, KFC is running into some resistance its efforts to employ a machine able to recognize facial characteristics to pre-select food choices for customers before they have a chance to choose for themselves.

The Guardian’s Amy Hawkins “test-drove” the machine at a KFC in Beijing’s financial district. Though the store was busy, she was the only customer interested in ordering through the machine, which was created by Baidu, the search engine company often called “China’s Google.”

Maybe the machine is too closely oriented to Oriental features to be able to make sense of Amy’s Western ones. Maybe that’s why it was a decade off on her age. Maybe that had something to do with why she was offered the same thing – a crispy chicken hamburger – as the 20-something male who demonstrated the machine to her.

If you don’t like the machine’s recommendation, you can click through an assortment of other food options until you find what you want, they pay for your order through your smart phone and pick up your food at the counter.

The device, in what’s being billed as “China’s first smart restaurant,” is going to need to get a good deal smarter if KFC follows through on its plan to install them in the company’s 5,000-plus stores across China.

A press release from Baidu said that “a male customer in his early 20s” would be offered “a set meal of crispy chicken hamburger, roasted chicken wings and [a] coke”, while “a female customer in her 50s” would get a recommendation of “porridge and soybean milk for breakfast.” Fortunately, most Chinese would be too polite to bash the machine’s brain if it offered the “porridge and soybean milk” option to a lady in her 20’s!

The Best Reason For Fast Feeders To Up Wages in Corporate Stores

cook station-mcdonalds

Even before election day in the U.S. was – thankfully! – fast approaching, a number of fast food chains were anticipating the success of minimum-wage-raising ballot initiatives in various states … and going ahead on their own to better compensate their workers.

An article today (Oct. 31) in South Florida Business Journal (and, no doubt, in other publications from the same company), before noting that both McDonald’s and Starbucks had recently announced raised wages for workers in company-owned stores, cited perhaps the best reason for other companies to make similar moves: The paper quoted Sonic Drive-In CEO Cliff Hudson as saying his company expects to improve sales by paying managers higher wages and hiring more full-time workers and, as or more important, he anticipates the company’s action will encourage the franchise owners of 95% of Sonic locations to follow his lead.

Business Insider noted that while such initiatives may seem counter-intuitive for a business that depends on low-cost labor in an industry where thin profit margins make it difficult for franchisees to either up wages or cover health care insurance, Sonic’s Cliff Hudson says that his company’s research has proved that investing more in labor is necessary if the chain wants to compete in a crowded industry.

“We’re just trying to show [franchisees] this can be a win-win deal, if it’s done right and it’s done well,”  Hudson  said, referring to the chain’s plan to increase its number of full-time employees.

With 95% of Sonic locations being franchises, Hudson can’t automatically raise wages at Sonic restaurants. However, he said, the company can try and convince franchisees that doing so would be financially beneficial. Hudson said raising wages was a major topic of discussion at the company’s annual franchisee meeting in September.

There’s also the argument that better-paid workers should be happier in their jobs and, thus, be more likely to provide better customer service. Similarly, better-paid managers would, you’d think, be motivated to work harder at find ways, within their limited playbooks, to encourage workers in that (better customer service) direction.

And if raising wages for workers and managers leads to marginal increases in prices to customers, let’s be realistic: Most people who regularly eat fast food aren’t going to be put off by a nudge up in the price of a burger, fries or a soft drink. Most of those customers are in the fast food place in the first place for one of two reasons: Either they don’t see themselves have a choice or where or how to spend their food dollar, and/or they simply like the food.

Veggies A Growing Trend in Fast and Medium-Speed Eateries

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The good news is, fast- and medium-speed feeders are flocking to veggies and giving less emphasis to their traditional greasy, not-very-healthy mainstays. The not-so-good news is, unless restaurant operators pay a lot of attention to what they’re doing, they risk losing a higher-than-they’re-used-to amount to spoilage and/or expose their customers to veggie-borne illnesses, often spread through improper washing at or very near the point-of-preparation.

“We’re going to see more vegetables,” Panera’s head chef Dan Kish told Business Insider a few days ago.

“We’re going to see culinary treatments of those vegetables in ways that bring out their flavors without adding a lot of other things to it — so keeping things as natural as possible. Upping the percentage of vegetables in your diet — [it] is part of our job to help you with that.”

Ironically enough, Kish brought up the rise of vegetables at an event promoting the launch of the chain’s new and improved bacon. However, in the modern chain-restaurant landscape, meat and vegetables are increasingly living in harmony on menus.

While Panera isn’t ditching meat, it is working to add more vegetables across the menu.

Kish says that Panera is aiming to balance meat-centric options, like a bacon-turkey sandwich, by packing more vegetables into the dish.

On the other hand, Taco Bell, a chain hardly known for sustainability and nutrition in the way that Panera is, has a slightly different approach that’s similarly packed with vegetables. The Mexican chain emphasizes customization, and customers’ ability to make almost any dish meat-free.  Last year, Taco Bell debuted a vegetarian menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association, which allows customers to substitute beans and rice for meat in most menu offerings.

“Vegetarian has been really big for us recently,” because of its relevance to millennials, Taco Bell’s dietitian and product developer, Missy Nelson, told Business Insider earlier this year.

Even less vegetarian-friendly chains are realizing that vegetables may be key to success. While once iceberg lettuce and tired tomatoes were accepted as a forgettable garnish at chain restaurants, meat-centric chains are doubling down on veggie quality.

Both Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s have ditched iceberg lettuce in recent years. Instead, the chains are testing vegetables such as kale and broccolini.

“They didn’t feel iceberg lettuce was a nutritious green, and they didn’t feel good about eating it in a salad,” McDonald’s corporate chef Jessica Foust told Business Insider in July.

Why are fast-food chains investing in vegetables, something that has long been seen as antithetical to their existence?

Part of the reason is customer demand: While only about 3% of Americans identify as vegetarian or vegan, an increasing number of people are cutting meat from their diets. According to a 2015 study, 26% to 41% of Americans report that they cut down on the amount of meat they ate in the past year.

Adding more vegetables to the menu is a great way to appeal to the average American, who may not be committed to a 100%-meat-free lifestyle, but wants to dabble in more veggie-friendly diet.

However, there is also a hidden financial bonus to focusing on beefing up vegetables offerings. Vegetables typically cost less than meat, meaning that adding more vegetables to a dish can provide a cheaper way to fill up customers.

Chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson have made headlines with the concept Loco’l, where they’re doing a lot of experimenting with veggie burgers. The concept provides healthy meals at fast-food prices by cutting costs by doing things such as adding more grains and vegetables to chain standards like burgers. Customers fill up faster, and the company is able to save money while also providing a healthier meal.

As old-school chains explore their vegetarian options, Loco’l isn’t the only new concept banking on vegetables.

By Chloe aims to offer unexpected vegetable options that nonvegans will enjoy. 

By Chloe, a new 100%-vegan chain, only opened its first location a year ago, in New York City.

Now the chain has a location in Los Angeles opened in partnership with Whole Foods 365, a recently opened sweets shop, and several more new locations in development. On Friday, the chain announced it was adding two new vegan contributing chefs to the organization, Jenné Claiborne and Lauren Kretzer.

By Chloe doesn’t offer any meat or meat-byproducts on the menu. However, the vegan chain has some surprising similarities to fast-food chain in its approach to vegetables.

According to the company, more than 80% of customers are not even vegetarian. In fact, a number of customers don’t even realize that the concept is vegan when they order their food.

This notion, that vegetable-based food is appealing to nonvegetarians, is the very same idea responsible for the rise of vegetables in fast food. In 2016, veggies aren’t just for vegetarians — they’re also for all types fast-food lovers.

But veggies do require different, and sometimes greater, care and attention than tried-and-true (but losing favor with consumers) traditional meat-based menu items. Where the latter can be taken in and held frozen until just before they’re needed, veggies don’t often deal well with extreme cold, and some don’t hold up for long enough periods of time in kitchen levels of heat.

Sure, new veggie based menu items offer opportunities to please customers in different ways. But they present challenges, too.

 

The Automat Restaurant Returns! Bon Chance, Eatsa!

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A story last month (February) in Business Insider described Eatsa, a new restaurant chain. as “unlike any fast-food chain we’ve seen before.”

The reporter, Hayley Peterson, who appears to be, in her photo, in her youngish thirties, clearly was using the ‘royal we’ – speaking as one as if she were, like the queen, somehow greater than the sum of her parts.

But then, no one of her generation ever had an opportunity to see Eatsa’s spiritual and practical predecessor, because Horn & Hardart, shut down its last New York City Automat in 1991 – a fact that Haley later alludes to in her well-done, highly-illustrated article.

Horn & Hardart, which opened its first restaurant in 1902 in Philadelphia, quickly caught the public’s attention for a couple of reasons. Its several walls of shiny glass-door compartments held individual portions of sandwiches, salads, desserts and more. Combinations of nickels (five-cent pieces) would be deposited in a slot by each door featuring a desired item. The door would unlock, and the item became yours!

On one side of the usually-large rooms – some seemed to be nearly the size of Rockefeller Center’s ice rink – there were steam tables where hot dishes were available. Whether you stopped by the hot tables or skipped them, you sat wherever you wanted – beside whomever happened to be there – and tipping was discouraged.

There was, after all, no service: You could enjoy a pretty good ‘fast food’ experience – this was, in fact, the nation’s first true fast-food restaurant chain – without once interacting with a person, with the possible exception of a ‘nickel thrower’: A woman who exchanged your larger coins and/or bills for their value in nickels.

The food was prepared either behind the scenes on the same location or at a central commissary elsewhere in either New York or Philadelphia, the two principal cities where Automats operated. The food was, by standards of the day, healthy and nutritious, and ordinarily pretty tasty, too.

So what happened to the Automats – which, by the way, were based on an earlier automat concept in Germany? A couple of things: The arrival of McDonald’s, Burger King and local variations on the same theme(s) provided a more ‘exciting’ atmosphere and, significantly, drive-thrus. At the same time, in the late- ‘60’s – early ‘70’s, as food costs rose, there weren’t a lot of things that could be offered for a combination of nickels.

Then there was the rent factor: For obvious reasons, Automats tended to located in high-traffic locations. Horn & Hardart at one time operated 40 of their restaurants in New York City, and as the rents rose – as they seem to do with tide-like regularity in ‘The Big Apple,’ their share of overhead, coupled with the higher food costs, made Automats economically unviable.

A company calling itself Bamn! attempted to revive the concept in New York City’s East Village in 2006.  It survived a mere 2.5 years – probably, in part, because the street it was on, St. Mark’s Place, has been ever-more ridiculously pricey real estate since the 1960’s, when it was a popular draw as home to Gerdy’s Folk City, when ‘folk music’ was all the range, then to clubs of more advanced genres, and, for a while, to one of NYC’s hottest jazz clubs – frequently inhabited by Thelonious Monk – and the kid of gift/memento stores tourists flock to.

(I often ‘hung’ there when Monk was in residence – selling nonsense poems written on bar napkins to tourists!)

Eatsa is a truly modern-day version of the automat-type restaurant. It’s brightly lit, it’s décor is plain but in tune will Millennials’ tastes.

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It’s computer-based ordering system – for the sole specialty, a bowl of quinoa priced at $6.96 and topped with whatever the customer orders, from a wide range of choices – is recorded and stored so when a customer returns, his/her previous preferences are  displayed and alternates are suggested as part of the approach to encouraging repeat visits.

So far, there are Eatsa locations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Nation’s Restaurant News has reported that the chain plans to open at least ten more locations this year.

From that, point who knows?