Some of the biggest names in the business came clean this week on the problems and opportunities they’re attacking, from improving their coffee (that’d be Starbucks) to how standards can be undermined at the unit level (right, McDonald’s and Chipotle?)
Here’s a sampling of the noggin-turning developments that came to light this week.
1. What Chipotle did wrong
A norovirus outbreak tipped Chipotle into another potential crisis two weeks ago, though alarmists had no basis for their expectations of another nosedive in sales. Still, the possibility was hammered again and again in news reports.
Almost unnoticed was the chain’s acknowledgment of what had gone wrong at the site of the infection, a single restaurant in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Management of the unit failed to observe Chipotle’s new policy of sending home (with pay) any employee who could be a source of infection because he or she isn’t feeling well. “We believe someone was working while sick,” CEO Steve Ells said for the benefit of investors, the scaremongers who’ve warned the sky is falling again for the chain.
Chipotle intends to avert similar lapses by stepping up its training and communications with unit leaders, Ells said.
2. Domino’s take on competitors’ charge into delivery
Not long ago, Domino’s only rivals for dominance in delivery were other pizza chains and Jimmy John’s. Now, 16 of the top 25 restaurant chains are either adding or testing the service. Is the pizza giant feeling squeezed?
That wave of entrants is a nonevent, Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle said this week. The chain isn’t feeling any pressure on its comps (a 9.5% rise in domestic same-store sales for the second quarter) from the newcomers. Nor is it worried about an impact from the boom of third-party delivery services in the future.
“A lot of these delivery services are finding out very quickly that delivery is a lot harder than they thought it was going to be,” he said. “For it to work, it's got to work for the driver, it's got to work for the restaurant, it's got to work for the company providing that service, and it's got to work for the customer. There’s still a lot of learning going on in this space around how difficult it is to make all of that work.”
He added that Domino’s has invested 57 years to date on cracking the code.
3. Food handlers’ gloves can be a health hazard
Health authorities in Hawaii are beginning to police a 7-month-old law that aims to protect food-handling employees from harm. During routine health inspections, a restaurant can be fined $10,000 for failing to provide only nonlatex or nitrile gloves to back-of-house workers. Gloves are required for anyone who handles food, but latex versions are banned, a move intended to shield employees who might have an allergy to the rubberlike material.
The ban went into effect in January, but officials gave restaurants a burn-in period to adjust their safety protocols.
4. Starbucks’ cubed coffee
The coffee giant is testing a new method for maintaining the full strength and flavor of its signature product when it’s served cold. About 100 units in the Baltimore and St. Louis markets are trying ice cubes made of frozen coffee, according to Nomura/Instinet restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski.
The move comes at a time when many chains are striving to make ice a visual signature of their brand, knowing that customers love to post photos of drinks via social media services like Instagram. A unique form of ice could provide instant recognition.
For the same reason, more and more restaurants are working the names of their operations into the designs of their plates.
5. Parents aren’t getting that second drink
A restaurant in Clifton, N.Y., has proclaimed a new policy that aims to keep its littlest patrons safe. As Peddlers Bar & Bistro now proudly proclaims, parents who visit the establishment with a child in tow will be limited to a single beer, wine or mixed drink, regardless of whether they drove or were a passenger. The move will protect children by keeping their parents’ judgment sharp, the restaurant explained.
The policy was adopted in 2010, but wasn’t well known until it was discovered by the larger world this week via social media.
6. McMold miseries
Chipotle wasn’t the only big brand to contend with a food safety issue this week. McDonald’s, usually a model of prudence on that front, found itself in a highly publicized scandal when an employee posted photos of what he said was the inside of a machine that dispenses soft-serve ice cream. It’s an understatement to say they were stomach-turning.
The employee reported that he was fired, and McDonald’s went on the offensive. As far away as China, it issued a statement reassuring the public that it was looking into the situation.