Usually we start a month with a preview of the three trendlettes we’ll be monitoring in the weeks that follow, but recent developments convinced us a special mid-month installment was needed. Here are three ripples that could surge into full-fledged trends before the February page is torn off the calendar.
Salad bars 2.0
A key component of Ruby Tuesday’s strategy to invigorate sales and traffic is a reinvention of its Garden Bar, a strong draw for the chain before it undertook a disastrous push into pricier market territory. Today, the venerable casual brand lifted the curtain on the revamp: a buffet-like spread sporting 70 items, more than double the 34 selections that were previously offered.
Included in the array are fruits, hummus and dips, along with more raw and marinated vegetables. Each is freshly prepared, and the ingredients can be topped with one of 10 new dressings made in-house.
The expanded spread is currently available only in Ruby Tuesdays in Atlanta. It’s priced at $9.99 for unlimited visits, or $3.99 as an add-on to an entree. Kids can load their plates at the salad bar on Tuesday nights for free.
Ruby isn’t the only operation that’s giving the salad bar a refreshing. This week Chicago multi-concept operator Brendan Sodikoff opened a new restaurant called 3 Greens Market, where hot and cold salad bars are the stars.
Eater.com called the spread “epic,” and noted that it extends to such in-vogue items as meatballs. Users pay $9.95 a pound for what they mound on their plates.
Several restaurant chains are trying to be heard above a din of promises from consumer-product companies by tacking on a money-back guarantee. Customers of the Sonic Drive-In chain, for instance, are assured in a new commercial that they’ll get be served a burrito-and-drink combo meal in less than two minutes or the $3 charge for the meal is apparently waived.
The service guarantee follows Papa John’s pledge last week to provide customers with a second pizza at no charge if a first one didn’t meet their expectations. But there’s considerable fine print to the offer. The dissatisfaction has to be a result of certain production shortcomings, like the pie being burnt or under-cooked or the serving of toppings being skimpier than expected. No more than two slices of the pie can be eaten, and the complaint has to be lodged within 30 minutes of the unacceptable pizza’s delivery.
Topper’s Creamery, a soft-serve ice cream chain, is extending its guarantee to a different sort of customer: prospective franchisees. New operators of a scaled-down Topper’s Creamery Express will make a $5,000 profit during their units’ first year of operation or they’ll be cut a check for that amount by the franchisor. Either way, the franchisee won’t lose the $5,000 upfront fee they paid for rights to operate an Express.
Black Restaurant Weeks
Coordinated promotions of local restaurants have become so commonplace that now some cities are starting to diversify their weeklong celebrations. Chicago, for instance, followed up its regular restaurant week in January with Black Restaurant Week, whereby 15 establishments owned and operated by African-Americans offered discounts to entice first-time visitors.
A similar Black Restaurant Week will be held in Nashville, Texas next month and in Houston in April.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.