Restaurant leaders often exhort their teams to charge a little harder and give the normal limits of their routine a good push outward. This week, the challenge was thrown customers’ way—always a risky move, particularly when one of the noggin-turning developments was a reminder of just how dunderheaded the public can be.
Read on for the bets some operators and industry advocates are making on the public’s open-mindedness, and why they’re to be saluted for their daring.
1. Will customers wait an extra minute?
McDonald’s revealed months ago that it will switch next year to fresh beef for its Quarter Pounder, but a key implication of the changeover apparently wasn’t grasped by some restaurant managers and other stakeholders until this week. In addition to using unfrozen meat for the sandwich, McDonald’s said it won’t start cooking the burger until a customer orders one.
It dawned on observers that the shift away from batch prep could add a full minute to a customer’s wait time. Will patrons be willing to invest that time for a fresher, better burger?
McDonald’s has yet to comment publicly on the recent flurry of concern, but it’s forging ahead with plans to offer the fresh burgers throughout the United States by the middle of next year.
2. A boon to local, or a food safety nightmare?
Almost unnoticed despite the profound implications was the passage of a law that could ultimately make life easier for restaurants looking to satisfy customers’ demand for local ingredients. The downside is the enhancement it could also make to the well-being of bacteria.
The legislation is expected to serve as a model for other states, but right now only Maine has a food sovereignty law on the books. Passed last week, it exempts local growers and processors from state safety regulations when they sell to their communities. They’ll still have to meet safety standards, but responsibility for drafting and enforcing the rules shifts to the town where buyer and seller are located.
The hoped-for result is an elimination of red tape, enabling more providers to find a market and more consumers to buy locally.
Opponents contend the exemption for local producers is inviting trouble, since towns often lack the knowledge to set adequate safeguards and verify the standards are being met. They assert the law’s true intent is sparing local suppliers from regulations that were written to protect consumers.
Right now, growers and processors can only sell to households and church groups; wholesaling to restaurants is not covered. But that could change.
3. Will customers be okay with cashless?
Add another convert to the list of restaurant operations that have informed patrons they can no longer pay in cash. Epic Burger, an eight-unit Chicago chain, took the plunge a little over a week ago.
Like earlier adopters, the chain expects the change to speed service, since money and change no longer have to be counted out. Founder David Friedman cited the additional advantages of lessening the risk of crime—not only robberies, but also passing counterfeit bills. He told Crain’s Chicago that less security will be required for the stores.
SweetGreen, Argo Tea and Danny Meyer’s new Daily Provisions market also have no-cash policies.
4. Who will they believe?
Restaurateurs would have been excused for muttering an expletive or two when they first heard about the minimum wage study that was issued this week by the University of California at Berkeley. It fundamentally flattened the industry’s contentions that sharp increases in the mandated wage would trigger labor cutbacks and curbs on growth. The report showed that employment was not affected at all, and that the hike in Seattle’s minimum pay to $10.50 (and as high as $13 for larger employers) delivered a major financial benefit to workers.
Just a second, yelled a conservative advocacy group called America Rising Squared. It noted that the study had been commissioned by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, an advocate of a $15 wage, and contradicted an earlier story that showed definite fallout from Seattle’s increases.
Forbes suggested Mayor Murray may have gotten an early copy of the study, since his office issued an infographic almost simultaneously with UC-Berkeley’s release of the report.
While bashing liberals and the media, America Rising also cited accounts from three restaurant operations of how they’d been walloped by the wage hikes.
And how about pasta trees?
Among the recent palm-plant-to-forehead moments was the release of new research about the public’s perception of food sourcing, a study that underscores restaurants’ contention that many customers think ingredients magically appear.
A group representing the U.S. dairy industry found that 7% of Americans—some 17.3 million individuals—believe chocolate milk can only come from brown cows.
The backers of the report is called the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which said nothing about strawberry milk.
This week's head-spinning restaurant moments included a suggestion in court that the "b" in IHOb stood for "bad news for Applebee's." That's just one of the long-shot gambles that came to light as oddsmakers considered the likelihood of restaurants charging into sports betting and who'll win the chain vs. independent bout.