Developments that were inconceivable for the restaurant industry a month ago became startling realities—and definite road signs for the future—in the flash of recent days. Here’s a sampling of those noggin-turning moments and a look at how they reflect the times.
1. IHOP’s Twitter is hacked—or was it?
A strange sequence of events turned even weirder this week for the home of the Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity. First, some customers might have spat out their silver dollars when they read a retweet from the normally mild-mannered IHOP that slammed Hillary Clinton, calling her campaign “garbage.”
“Whoever is tweeting for @IHOP today should start getting his resume in order,” one follower tweeted in response.
Some sense was injected into the situation when IHOP revealed a few days later that an investigation revealed the chain’s Twitter feed had been hacked.
End of issue? Not exactly. Now the public is voicing its skepticism, 140 characters at a time.
“Hackers compromised the @IHOP Twitter account in order to retweet one single tweet... Seems legit,” one tweeter joshed.
“@IHOP did you use the same team investigating Russia's involvement with our election?,” another sniped.
Many of the doubters contended that an IHOP staffer had forgot to switch from the official IHOP feed to his or her personal account before retweeting.
IHOP is sticking with its findings.
1. Letter grades are too complicated?
Restaurateurs have complained that boiling down the findings of a food safety inspection to a single letter grade is an unfair simplification. A “B” scorecard in the window doesn’t say whether points were lost because an open container of cream hadn’t been returned to the reach-in, or if there was a real danger detected, like a strong risk of cross contamination.
But now one area is aiming for even more simplification, inspired by the shorthand used in social media. Washington’s King County, which encompasses Seattle, has switched to a reporting system in which emojis sum up a restaurant’s safety level. Four different smiley faces will reveal whether the establishment’s safeguards are excellent, good, okay or in need of improvement.
The switch to the symbols is intended “to provide the public with more information about the level of a restaurant’s food safety practices,” the King County Public Health department explains on its website.
3. Danny Meyer, civil rights force?
Lost in the debate about whether to replace tipping with other server compensation models has been a shameful historical past to leaving gratuities. It was brought back into the discussion this by the usually un-political and controversy-deflating Danny Meyer, the veritable Jimmy Stewart of the restaurant business.
In a podcast aired this week, the fine-dining trendsetter cited another benefit from the discontinuation of tipping at several of his restaurants. The practice of leaving tips, he explained, was one of the nation’s responses to losing the free labor of slaves. After the Civil War, restaurant industry petitioned the government to be excused from paying wages to servers, arguing that guests should pay waiters for the service they provided, not the establishment.
Regulators agreed, also extending the exemption to the railroad industry’s Pullman porters, and tipping was born.
“And no surprise, but most of the people who were working in service professional jobs and restaurants and in Pullman train cars were African-American,” Meyer said.
“Tipping is actually one of the biggest hoaxes ever pulled on an entire culture,” Meyer said.
The New York restaurateur has been the leading proponent of discontinuing tipping as the standard means of compensating servers. His model of increasing menu prices and paying a wage has become the leading alternative model. The practice has closed the gap between the compensation of front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house employees.
4. Games worth a billion
Look for arcade-style games and attractions to become a more regular restaurant feature, particularly in the casual-dining segment. One of the leading combiners of food and fun, the Dave & Buster’s, outstripped most of the full-service market with a 5.8% increase in same-store sales for its most recent quarter, on top of an 8.8% increase for the year-ago period. And it’s stock is trading near the yearly high.
Now comes word that Chuck E. Cheese’s, the games-and-food emporium aimed at children, is contemplating an initial stock offering that would put its value at about $1 billion.
A new term is taking hold to describe concepts such as Dave & Buster’s and Chuck E. Cheese’s. Investors have taken to viewing them as the interactive restaurant sector.