There’s always been a backdrop of showbiz to the restaurant business, but the infusion of showmanship has to stay fresh or it quickly lapses into cheesiness. “Police Academy XXVII” might be a box office draw, but an operator relying on that franchise might as well erect a neon sign outside exclaiming, “Welcome, old people and the uncool!”
At the other end of the spectrum is flamboyant excess—a move intended to break new ground just for the sake of being outrageous. Need we remind you of water sommeliers, lie-in-bed concepts and eating blindfolded in the dark?
So how would you categorize these dashes of sizzle we recently stumbled upon in our web surfing?
1. Ice chefs
More than a few mixologists have lamented the short shrift ice gets at bars, even though it’s often a cocktail’s foundation. We’ve seen cubes made from alcohol, so the drink won’t be diluted as the ice melts, along with designer designs and artisan production methods. But the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas’ new sports facility, is pushing the boundaries, cost be damned. The concessionaire, Levy Restaurants, has hired “ice chefs” to break down blocks of rock-hard ice into two-inch-by-two-inch cubes while the public watches. It’s one thing to go that far at a speakeasy-type watering hole in New York City, but quite another at the Goose Island Bar, named after a Chicago-based brewer and brewpub.
We’ve been unable to determine how the need for ice-cutting chefs figures into labor costs or drink profits.
2. ‘Let’s showcase other chefs’ brainstorms’
Roots Handmade Pizza, a two-unit Chicago operation specializing in what it calls Quad Cities-style pies, figured the best way to salute successful competitors would be to showcase why they’re popular. It invited five chefs from the area to develop pizzas that Roots could feature as a dough-and-toppings reflection of the competitors’ cooking style, a true nod to local stars.
The resulting third-party specialties range from a 12 or 16-inch pizza topped with pulled pork and other signature ingredients from Charlie McKenna’s Lillie’s Q barbecue joint, to pies of the same dimensions that feature duck and pork sausage from chef Aaron Silverman’s Rose’s Luxury.
Roots isn’t bashful about benefiting from the loan of signatures. McKenna’s inspiration goes for $28 for a large pie, while Silverman’s Bangers & Lace is priced at $27.
You can read more here, and get a primer on Quad Cities-style pizza, or pies made with malt baked into the crust and then cut with a scissor into strips.
Quad Cities is the four-city area where Illinois abutts Iowa. The four cities are Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Ill.
3. Forget ‘flair’
Many employees of chain restaurants would rather take mom or dad to a dance club than sport the buttons, badges and ribbons their employers present as symbols of gratitude and achievement, the “flair” famously lampooned in the cult movie, “Office Space.” They regard the gimcrack as an embarrassment, not something they proudly wear to flaunt their adeptness at the job.
Donatos, the one-time McDonald’s holding that’s been promising high-quality pizza since fast casual was known as gourmet fast food, is sparing employees flair shock by letting them choose adornments for their uniforms. The extras have to be “pops of red,” as per the chain’s palette of a new prototype for the concept, but can run the gamut from shoes to necklaces. Employees can also choose their head gear, though within boundaries.