Tag Archives: Restaurants

Bay Area Restaurants Can ‘Buy’ A Retest on a Failed Inspection

 

 

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Restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area are being given an opportunity, if they fail a health inspection, to buy a second chance to pass. The $191 fee doesn’t assure they’ll pass; it simply gives them the ability to fix their deficiencies and get re-tested.

A report in Restaurant Business said local health inspectors believe the program, which allows a re-inspect within 30 days of a failed inspection, will encourage operators to fix problems quickly, and encourage a dialog that will help them alter standard operating procedures at least partly responsible for the failing grade.

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McDonald’s To Test Delivering Via UberEats

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McDonald’s is planning to test deliveries via UberEats in three Florida markets starting in late January, The Chicago Tribune reported a few days ago.

Though a person close to plan said the deal linking McDonald’s and UberEats hadn’t been signed asa of last week, The Trib said McDolnald’s has said that it is intended to include some 200 restaurants in the Orlando, Tampa, and Miami markets.  The paper said UberEats lets customers order online or through its app, anda an Uber “Courier” deliveries the food.

In the case of McDonald’s – which already delivers through such third-party companies as DoorDash and Postmates – the Uber fee is said to be set at $5, lower than the delivery and service fees of the other delivery service McDonald’s is using.

McDonald’s also is planning to roll out a mobile order and pay service next  year, and it is spending considerable sums upgrading its restaurants and introducing kiosk ordering systems and bluetooth-enabled table service.

The Trib article noted that the world’s largest burger chain presently does two-thirds of its business via drive-thrus, and several tweeks have been introduced to them to speed up service to drivers.mcdonalds_sign

Nationally, Restaurants Are Hurting; In Some Rural Areas, Not So Much

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Are you eating out less than you did a while back? Are you, when you do eat out, going to smaller eateries? If so, you are in sync with a growing number of Americans, according to millions of restaurant tabs analyzed by American Express and the latest retail sales report on restaurant sales. Both those reports were reported by BusinessInsider.com (and here).

The thinking at both Amex and BI is that this shift reflects the reality that it’s getting cheaper to eat and home and more expensive to eat out.

Aside from shifts in ingredient costs, something else that’s pushing up the cost of eating out in some locations is one (or more) increases in meal tax. Example: We yesterday bought two chicken dinners to go at Kroger. One was $3.99, the other was $5.99. The Campbell County tax amounted to $1.18 – more than 10.25% of the cost of the food!

I’ve noticed, recently, on a couple of observational visits to a local Italian restaurant that, oddly, the place was staffed with double the number of servers the evening’s traffic justified. That’s probably part of the reason why that restaurant has maintained its prices while at least one other dropped its, in line with lower ingredient cost and lower staff costs, as fewer were being kept on or assigned shifts on evenings when traffic tends to be slow.

The slowdown in business in restaurants is definitely hitting large establishments hardest, to the extent that a number of them in high-priced New York City have closed. Rental costs have been rising rapidly there, and that is affecting the housing as well as the restaurant market: You’re liable to pay $25,000-$30,000 a month for a 5,000 sq. ft. (464.5 sq. m.) That doesn’t actually sound too bad, if your average meal ticket is $15, because at that price, figuring your rent at 25% of your overhead, you have to sell “only” 267 meals daily to hit your $120,000 monthly “nut” for rent and the other 75% of your overhead.

Around here (in a small town in central Virginia), you can rent 6000 sq ft. (557.4 sq m) for as little as (or even less than) $72,000 a year. That would put the monthly rental cost for your small restaurant at $6,000. As little as $200 a day walking in the door will cover that. But keep in mind, your total “nut” for the rent/lease plus the other 75% of your overhead will run to $24,000 a year. Break that down to your monthly/weekly/daily need, and you’ll still see a pretty reasonable number.

What kind of cuisine will you offer? What do you plan to call the place?

Oh, one more thing: The sit-down restaurants around here aren’t hurting as much those in some places, in part because there’s nothing to do around here, when you want to go out, except go to one of the local restaurants!

 

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

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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.

 

A Top NYC Chef Trades Down (To Veggie Burgers!) And Is Happy As Could Be

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Brooks Headley said sayonara to fancy restaurants. Photo: Noah Fecks

Brooks Headley. a famed pastry chef before shifting – “because it was fun” – to some of the most attention-getting (and best) restaurants in New York City . . . then threw it all in to make and sell veggie burgers. Why?

In an interview with Lucky Peach’s Peter Meehan, Headley explained why he traded in white table cloths for disposable plates and isn’t looking back.

The tension between staff and diners bugged him: “I’m guilty of saying, ‘Only rich people eat at fancy restaurants,’ which isn’t true … But while it isn’t necessarily all hedge fund guys, fine dining is for very wealthy people and for normal people pretending to be rich for the night … Either way, a $400 meal for two is pretty grotesque. And the whole ‘we just want to pamper you and pretend to care about you while seething and hating you behind the scenes’ service style is the worst.”

He hates the awards circuit: “I think Michelin is the biggest crock of complete fucking bullshit — and please quote me exactly on this — especially in New York City. They lied about stuff they ate at Del Posto [a reinvention of Italian cuisine by co-owner Mario Bateli]. But when you’re in that world, it becomes something you strive for: lists and awards. It’s part of the deal. Awards and lists are only really good for the second they’re accepted, and then everything changes.”

He can serve the same great ingredients for much less money: “That’s one of the things that always bummed me out about working in fancy restaurants: the cost … We’ve figured out a way where I can go to the market and buy a bunch of ramps from Rick Bishop and a bunch of sunchokes from Franca Tantillo and asparagus from Stokes Farm, package that, and sell it for five bucks. I’m buying the same stuff as all the fancy restaurants in town. They’re selling it within the context of a tasting menu or a $35 entrée. We’re selling it in a little paper boat for $5.”

The best part of fancy restaurants was buying great stuff and watching people enjoy it, which Headley can still do: “I never planned to work in fine dining restaurants; I went with it because it was fun. I got psyched the more I did it. I could go to the market and buy four flats of the greatest peaches in Washington, D.C., make food with them, and serve it to people. That part has always been exciting, and I still get to do it.”

A cheaper restaurant is just way more accessible: “People can visit New York for fancy restaurants, but a twenty-year-old is not going to pop in to Le Bernardin. But they can come here and spend ten bucks on lunch and twenty on a record — it’s more important for me to be part of that New York City.”

 

 

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?