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50 Great Ideas 2008: 1-10

1. The “key”  to the restroom

QSRs can have a hard time keeping bathroom facilities off-limits to non-paying guests. Signs are ignored and keys are lost. At ’wichcraft, Tom Colicchio’s sandwich eatery in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas, a secret password solves the problem. Every customer receipt is printed with an access code; when it’s entered on the keypad outside the bathroom, the door unlocks. “We’ve gotten overwhelmingly positive feedback on the keypads,” claims Sisha Ortuzar, ’wichcraft chef and partner. “Plus it’s easier to maintain cleanliness—and vandalism in our restrooms has completely stopped.”

2. Maybe they’ll come for pie
The coastal city of Rockland, Maine, is bustling with tourists all summer long, but come January, winter hibernation sets in. To encourage visitors, the Historic Inns of Rockland teamed up to launch Pies on Parade. Participants sample a wide selection of sweet and savory homemade pies, attend pie making and decorating demos and receive a collection of pie recipes. Proceeds are donated to the local food pantry. 

3. Group orders made easy
Online ordering by office workers has boosted lunch business industry-wide. Even so, most restaurants aren’t up to speed when it comes to group orders for meetings and other functions. It’s usually up to one employee to use low-tech pencil and paper to collect all the information and make a list. The Conshohocken, Pennsylvania-based Saladworks chain has developed a paperless—and more personal—solution: “Invitation Order.” The lunch e-vite eliminates the hassle of running from desk to desk; it can be e-mailed out in the morning by one staff member and each participant either declines or accepts and makes a selection. The originator of the invite then submits the order through the “click. pick. quick.” button on the Saladworks Web site.

4. A fish on the line
Wonder whether the seafood your purveyor claims is sustainable really is? If your cell phone’s handy, you can have an answer in seconds. FishPhone, a text messaging service sponsored by the Blue Ocean Institute, provides info on over 90 species of fish and shellfish. Send a text to 30644 with the message FISH and the name of the seafood in question, and you’ll get a text back with a ranking that calls out environmental and health concerns. Standard text messaging rates apply.

5. Recycling for refunds
With company-owned hybrid delivery cars and organic ingredients, Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Pizza Fusion is going straight for environmentally concerned customers. So Eric Haley, the company’s vice president of marketing, says it was a no-brainer to implement a pizza box recycling program. About 10 percent of customers return the boxes, for which they receive 25 cents off their next order. “In terms of the recycling market, that’s actually a pretty good return,” says Haley. 

6. You rang?
To get a server’s attention, restaurants are taking a cue from flight attendants. Introduced in July, MyBell is a button that sits on the table; press the button and a chime is heard in the back of the house and the table number is noted on an LED screen. Requests for more bread, drinks or the check get immediate attention. The device can also be placed under the table or on a wall for servers to access when a table needs bussing. Since installing MyBell, “tips have increased... and we are able to turn tables much faster,” says Paul Lee, head of marketing for Todai, Inc., an upscale seafood and sushi buffet concept.

7. Keep your pepper mills close
“Some fresh pepper on your salad?” is a refrain heard round the restaurant world every night. To keep wait staff from running out mid-grind or searching high and low for the community pepper mill, Broadway Panhandler, a retail and foodservice outlet, offers the PepperStick. It’s a slim device that can be mounted on the wait station or clipped to the loop of a server’s apron. “At $24.95, it’s been a popular purchase by both restaurant managers and individual waiters,” says marketing director Heather Lamster. No apron loop? No problem. An optional holster ($13.95) allows wait staff to carry the PepperStick cowboy style.

8. Introducing the ketchup bar
Evos, a QSR in Tampa, Florida, serves healthier, eco-friendly fast food: burgers are oven-roasted, fries are air-baked, shakes are made with organic milk. “We were brainstorming ways to play up the uniqueness of our Air Fries,” says co-founder Dino Lambridis. “So we created Ketchup Karma.” It’s a condiment station with four ketchups—Original American, Cayenne Firewalker, Mesquite Magic and Garlic Gravity. All are from one base that’s infused with different natural flavors. Even take-out customers can pump ketchup into small plastic containers, then affix stickers to identity them.

9. Ice cream dreams
If a freezer stocked with 20 flavors of Haagen-Dazs sounds like heaven, welcome to the Sweet Suite in Kimpton’s Hotel Triton in San Francisco. “Celebrity rooms kind of come and go in popularity, so we were interested in using brands that have staying power,” says Diane McIntyre, part of the team that designed the ice cream-centric suite. The motif plays out in a waffle-textured comforter, dulce de leche-scented candles and a custom-designed Haagen-Dazs bathrobe.

10. Won’t you bring in your neighbor?
Used to be a daily ritual to sit down over a cup of coffee at a neighbor’s kitchen table. To rekindle that tradition, Corner Bakery Cafés gave away 10,000 travel coffee mugs—“one for you and one for a neighbor”—for a week in September. The mugs came with a coupon and card to be filled out inviting a neighbor, coworker or acquaintance to join the recipient for a cup of coffee at Corner Bakery. The “Get to Know Your Neighbor” campaign highlighted the concept’s premium coffee program. “Corner Bakery has long been that neighborhood place where people gather for food and conversation,” says president Jim Vinz. “With the introduction of our four new hand-roasted coffees as well as free WiFi access, we are giving guests an easy way to stay connected on all levels.”  

50 Great Ideas 2008: 1-10   |  11-20   |  21-30   |  31-40   |  41-50

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