In an era when you can dine nude, buy a sub for $1 or have a restaurant meal without interacting with a single person, what distinctions are left for dining places that hope to stand out?
Fear not. Our day job as restaurant writers has turned us into the most jaded of restaurant customers. Yet we’ve been known to whoop and guffaw like a goober fresh off the farm because of some neat idea that a place has hatched.
Here are three recent examples.
1. Have a burger, get inked
Few markets this side of Pluto can match the breadth and diversity of New York City’s restaurant scene. How can a place stand out in a market that rich? You have to salute Burger & Lobster for its stab at cutting through the screaming neon.
Tonight, patrons who come for a burger or lobster—those are the only two things on the menu—can also walk out with a free tattoo. Patrons who avail themselves of the one-night-a-year-offer are entitled to the sweetened deal of eating free at the restaurant for the next 12 months.
The freebies are likely to deliver fewer patrons than the buzz kicked up by the outrageous offers. Last year, only two customers reportedly opted for the free inking. But the deal is snagging attention in the foodie media.
Customers are limited to a few tattoo selections, just as they’re limited in their food choices. The inking is done by an artist brought into the restaurant for a three-hour stint.
2. A help-yourself fridge
The community giveback of a restaurant in India may not translate well to the U.S. market because of health and sanitation-code issues, but a deconstruction of the idea and the assimilation of certain facets could be worth consideration.
A restaurant called Pappadavada has set up what’s been dubbed “the tree of goodness” by users. It’s a refrigerator outside the restaurant where anyone can leave edible food as a donation or help themselves to anything that’s inside. The establishment itself usually leaves enough food for more than 75 servings, according to manager Minu Pauline. The notion is to spare the needy from the rigors and indignities of having to dumpster dive for food.
The refrigerator is accessible around the clock, seven days a week.
A similar experiment has been undertaken in the Spanish town of Galdakao. A year ago, the town set up what it dubbed the Solidarity Fridge, a refrigerator on the street where restaurants and civilians can leave edible food they otherwise would have tossed. Anyone can take what they need. There’s a hope the self-serve aspect of the program will encourage people in dire hunger to help themselves, since they don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of asking for food.
The charitable aspect of a communal fridge is great. We've often wondered why restaurants don't try a help-yourself fridge in their dining rooms as a homey touch and a time-saving way of sparing servers from requests for milk, mustard, steak sauce or some extra pickles.
3. Menus for munchies sufferers
As more areas legalize the use of marijuana, be it for medical or recreational purposes, the once-demonized relaxant may be losing its stigma. But restaurants are still buying ganja’s reputation as an appetite stimulator. Consider the specials that were offered yesterday by sister restaurants in New York City for red-eyed patrons with a propensity to laugh for no reason.
Melvin’s Juice Box offered a Melvin’s Munchies lunch special yesterday, a day of reverence for weed users. Included in the $9 special were juice drinks made with hemp protein.
Miss Lily’s 7A Cafe, a reggae-themed casual joint, featured a sampler-for-two platter for $25. It was aimed at late-night snackers who’d just indulged.
They were not the only restaurants that offered something special for April 20, known to stoners as 4/20, a day of deep reverence and indulgence. The numbers refer to the quest that a group of pioneering pot smokers undertook in the 1970s. Every day the teens would meet at 4:20 to hunt for a rumored pot field in California.
Jack in the Box has pushed its late-night menu with a nod and a wink as an option for smokers, and some comedians contend that Denny’s restaurants would be empty late at night if it weren’t for that crowd.