The road to Austin was paved with good intentions, but mainly good burgers and street tacos. Here are some key marketing tidbits I picked up on the way, along with a couple extra inches on my waistline—whatever, it was totally worth it.
1. Competitive crowdsourcing
At a pit stop in St. Louis, we dined on Missouri grass-fed beef and boozy scratch-made shakes and teas at Bailey’s Range. For the last five years and 40 weeks, the downtown eatery has been hosting a burger showdown. On the menu, two burgers go head to head, and whichever garners more sales survives to fight one more week. This week, the Chili Cheese faced off against the incumbent El Mariachi. The showdown is given prominent real estate on the menu—a great way to market new menu items and test their appeal. As a fan of a good underdog, my vote went to the Chili Cheese.
2. Unpretentious artisanal
My most bougie quality is probably my love for charcuterie (that I emphatically pronounce shar-ku-te-ri). But I prefer diners and dives to anything on Eater’s Heat Map, sort of like a female Guy Fieri who knows the correct way to wear sunglasses. So when I found Austin’s Salt & Time, a neighborhood-style butcher and restaurant, I felt understood. Our server did not spend five minutes telling us about the origin, diet and astrological sign of our meat. Instead, a modest map on the back wall gave a graphic depiction of local sourcing. It gave me just enough information to man the morale high ground and sit back and enjoy a casual experience.
3. Mobile truck mainstay
In Austin, there might be as many Texas flags as there are food trucks and trailers. With that kind of competition, food trucks are pulling out all the stops. On East 6th street, otherwise known as Dirty Sixth, young people with a serious case of the drunchies pour out of bars and are met with many greasy, cheesy options. We found the most visited operations included one key feature: seating. Some, like Way South Philly food truck, had a small amount of seating, while others came equipped with communal tables and twinkle lights. At the Mexican taco truck we stopped at, the owners bring their own picnic tables, outdoor couches and rockers to stage the area.
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.