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!

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