Soothsayers would have lugged their crystal balls to the repair shop if the conjured images of a few years ago foretold this week’s noteworthy developments for restaurants. A snapshot of marijuana’s impact on fast-food traffic could have worked as a Carnac bit, yet weed smokers were proven by a new study to be a very real and increasingly important customer pool.
Meanwhile, the basis for many a call of “Wolf!”—the dire prediction restaurants would someday have to close because they couldn’t find employees—became a reality.
Add some surprising omens of where casual dining is headed, mix in a new fashion line from Taco Bell, and we have a week of what seem like Tarot card misdeals.
But give us an abracadabra and read on.
1. Weed smokers’ restaurant preferences
As more states legalize the recreational use of marijuana, a new study suggests restaurants should target the mellowed indulgers in those areas, and quickly.
The research shows that 8.5% of the population in legalized-pot markets is buying weed through the official channels. And among those users, 43.4% go to a McDonald’s when the munchies hit, according to the report from Green Market Report and a group called Consumer Research Around Cannabis.
McDonald’s, the symbol of American wholesomeness, was preferred by users over such punchlines for stoner jokes as Taco Bell (used by 18.3% of legal weed buyers).
McDonald’s following among the bong set is the result more of distribution than the craveability of its food, according to the report’s collaborators.
“McDonald’s wins by virtue of the sheer number of locations—by default really,” said Jeff Stein, VP of CRAC. “Those competitors which better understanding cannabis users and their consumer habits can certainly close the gap by integrating what they learn through their marketing efforts.”
2. Labor crunch shuts restaurants
Big U.S. restaurant chains are being forced to shut stores in Canada because the local operators can’t find enough people to run the places, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
A KFC and a McDonald’s in the province of Quebec had to close temporarily because of the worker shortage, the CBC reported late last week. Others have been forced to cut their hours, the public media operation said.
Quebec province has been particularly strapped, with unemployment at the lowest rate it’s been since the government started keeping records.
Meanwhile, unlike the United States, Canada is looking to increase immigration. By issuing what are called international experience visas, a trial of sorts for permanent resettlement, the federal government has increased the number of young foreigners working in the nation by a factor of 10.
3 . This time, it’s marketing simplification
Restaurants of all stripes are trying to decomplicate their operations to deliver a faster and better experience for guests. The fewer moving parts involved, the greater the chance that everything will go right.
Olive Garden, which has morphed from casual dining’s goat into the sector’s star, is also pursuing that simplification in its marketing. During the chain’s most recently completed quarter, one promotion was cut from the marketing calendar, and it proved “a really smart move,” said Gene Lee, CEO of parent company Darden Restaurants.
“It eliminated one all-team meeting, it eliminated bringing in extra product,” he explained to financial analysts.
To stay top of mind, the chain instead lengthened its surviving promotions and changed the message in the middle of the stretch to re-energize the push for sales.
“It was incredibly effective,” said Lee, noting that Olive Garden’s operating income jumped 7% during the three-month period.
4. Another casual chain adds alcohol delivery
The chain announced this week that customers in certain California markets can have the packaged hooch hauled to their doors along with lettuce wraps and the like by DoorDash.
Patrons have to show proof of age and identity before the alcoholic beverages are handed over.
5. Taco Bell takes the runway
Hold off on buying that new fall wardrobe for a bit. Taco Bell leaked word this week that it’ll be debuting a new “collection” on Oct. 11 in collaboration with the Forever 21 “fast fashion” retail chain.
Teasers for the limited-edition line, which will be available both in Forever 21 stores and online, show such haute couture head turners as a sweatshirt emblazoned with Taco Bell art and a sleeveless t-shirt imprinted with the slogan “Fired Up.”
Prices were not disclosed.
The line will be the latest stab at fashion from Taco Bell parent Yum Brands. This summer, sister concept KFC introduced its retail line.