The week in ideas, December 2, 2011

In this installment of Week in Ideas, McDonald’s pulls a fast one on San Francisco, fish get the bar code treatment, babies get charged for just being babies and a desperate Austin restaurateur decides to live on the roof of his restaurant. “It’s a desperate measure,” he says, stating the obvious.

Idea #1: Charge for Happy Meal toys. Silly San Francisco, you thought you could ban toys from Happy Meals? Well, you gotta get up pretty early to get one past Ronald. McDonald’s has found a way to skirt the city’s new ban on kids toys in meals that don’t meet certain nutritional standards by having restaurants charge for the toys. Sure, they could make the meals healthier, but what fun is that? At the 19 McDonald’s in the area, when someone orders a Happy Meal they are given the option of buying a toy for 10 cents. See? It doesn’t come with the meal anymore. Sneaky! The dime goes to the Ronald McDonald House charity. Arch-rival Burger King has already followed suit--though it's not giving the dime to Ronald.

Idea #2: Bar code that fish. With the FDA approval of so-called “DNA bar coding,” fish species (and presumably other types of food) can be ID’d at the restaurant level to protect against the purchase of mislabeled fish—a growing concern—as well as to show proof of a species provenance when touting its sustainability. The Consortium for the Barcode of Life—which could easily be the name of a nefarious corporation in a dystopian sci-fi thriller—is based at the Smithsonian Institution and developed the technology. The group plans to create a database of 5 million standardized DNA sequences, identifying 500,000 species, by 2015.

Idea #3: Charge more for babies. The highly touted ban on kids that has cropped up at some U.S. restaurants has jumped the pond, with a twist. Instead of banning kids outright, a London restaurant added a surcharge for mothers dining with their infants, even though the infants didn’t even eat, but just occupied space. As you can imagine this did not sit well with the customers or mommy bloggers worldwide. The restaurant, the Cosmo, issued apologies saying it was all a misunderstanding.

Idea #4: Drum—er, guitar—up business. A restaurant owner in Austin, Texas, has gotten desperate. His three-month-old restaurant is floundering and he has no money for marketing. So, in the tradition of the town’s omnipresent bumper sticker slogan—“Keep Austin Weird”—the operator, Pappy Jack Allen, is now living on the roof of the restaurant, Pappy's Bar and Grill, and playing his electric guitar as a publicity stunt. “It is a desperate measure,” Allen told the local NBC affiliate. He plans to live on the roof until the end of the year. The Week in Ideas is rooting for ya, Pappy!

Today's top stories

1
In an effort to align with customer demand, McDonald’s will next week begin testing a breakfast version of its signature Happy Meal . The test—taking place at 73 locations in the Tulsa, Okla., market...
2
Same-store sales for the Pie Five fast-casual pizza chain fell 12% for the fourth quarter ended June 26, deepening the losses of parent company Rave Restaurant Group to $2.3 million for the quarter...
3
Ruby Tuesday took more dramatic steps on Thursday to improve the casual-dining chain’s fortunes, announcing corporate layoffs and the sale of the company’s Maryville, Tenn., headquarters. The...
4
Days after Neil Naroff’s departure as chief strategic officer of American Blue Ribbon Holdings was announced, CEO Hazem Ouf revealed he was also leaving the parent of O’Charley’s, Village Inn and...
5
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6
Customers may have recovered from the E. coli contaminations of nearly a year ago, but Chipotle Mexican Grill is still feeling poorly. The former high flyer has tried everything short of hypnotism...
7
The parent of Dunkin’ Donuts has hired the executive formerly responsible for McDonald’s high-growth international markets to lead the doughnut chain in the United States and Canada. David Hoffman,...
8
Restaurants and other employers would be spared from costly new overtime pay regulations if 21 states succeed in the legal challenge they jointly filed yesterday. The lawsuit asks the U.S. District...
9
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10
Pizza Hut is expanding its senior executive team with the hiring of a social media and e-commerce veteran as the chain’s first chief customer officer. Helen Vaid will be responsible for customers’...