The new year is less than a week old, but it’s already provided plenty of jaw-dropping moments for keen-eyed restaurateurs. Here are a few of the developments that turned heads while some places were still sweeping up confetti.
1. Restaurant union sets cutbacks
The business predictions for restaurants haven’t exactly been rosy (the most optimistic call for virtually no change in sales and traffic in 2017), but that’s duck soup compared with the year envisioned by organized labor. With an anti-union employer moving into the Oval Office, the most active labor group in the restaurant business has decided to back off its high-profile attempt to organize the industry.
The backer of Fight for $15 is immediately cutting its budget by 10% and will trim another 20% from 2016 spending levels during the remainder of this year, according to a memo from the president of Service Employees International Union. A copy of the communication was obtained by Bloomberg Businessweek.
It’s not clear how much of the funds will be diverted from Fight for $15, the crusade in which employees of quick-service restaurants have been encouraged (and allegedly paid) to picket for a $15 hourly wage.
Bloomberg reported that the cuts amount to about a $30 million reduction in the SEIU’s spending this year and another $70 million haircut in 2018.
2. Sweetgreen goes cashless
The fast-casual salad chain is prepping for phase one of a gradual discontinuation of cash sales in all but one market. The move is expected to cut service times by 10%, since cashiers will not be required to count money going into or out of a till.
Starting Jan. 18, the 60-unit operation plans to accept only credit card or app payments in California, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, according to a pre-Christmas report from Business Insider. The rest of the chain will make the shift in March.
Massachusetts prohibits businesses from refusing to take cash, so Sweetgreen’s Boston operation will continue to accept greenbacks.
The changeover follows a limited test in early 2016.
3. Cinnabon’s Princess Leia twist
The cinnamon bun chain acknowledged that it might have overreached in paying tribute to Carrie Fisher and the late actress’s hairdo in her most famous role, "Star Wars'" Princess Leia. It tweeted a cinnamon-colored drawing of Fisher, with a picture of a cinnamon bun replacing the Princess’ distinctive swirled braids.
"RIP Carrie Fisher, you'll always have the best buns in the galaxy," Cinnabon joked.
Not every fan laughed. One tweeted a photo of Yoda, the celebrated "Star Wars" philosopher, and a caption reading, “Off, you must log.”
The outcry was loud enough for Cinnabon to delete the post and tweet an apology. “Our deleted tweet was genuinely meant as a tribute, but we shouldn't have posted it,” the chain said. “We are truly sorry.”
4. Wendy's smackdown of a troll
A tweeted lie about Wendy’s wasn’t allowed to go uncorrected by the burger chain, which used a soft touch to argue its attacker right off the social media platform.
The quick-service giant had tweeted a beauty shot of a double burger being clutched by a customer who seemed about to take a bite. “Our beef is way too cool to ever be frozen,” read the post.
That drew a nasty reply from a user calling him or herself Thuggy-D. “Your beef is frozen and we all know it,” the poster wrote. “We all laugh at your slogan ‘fresh, never frozen’ right. Like you’re really a joke.”
Wendy’s pointed out tactfully that Thuggy-D was wrong on that point, which prompted the challenge that there’s no way raw beef could be delivered on a truck. He didn’t say why that was an impossibility, but did snipe that McDonald’s was a better choice because of its “dope ass breakfast.”
“You don’t have to bring them into this just because you forgot refrigerators existed for a second there,” Wendy’s retorted.
The comeback apparently drew blood. Thuggy-D deactivated the account assigned to that user, @NHride.
Taco Bell cans XL drinks
A new year brought new self-improvement resolutions from Taco Bell, the perennial youngsters’ favorite in Yum Brands’ fold. The change that customers might most notice: no more extra-large drinks.
“Taco Bell is saying goodbye to its XL soda cups in 2017,” the chain told customers in a post-New Year’s announcement. It wasn’t specific about whether the cups had already been yanked from stores, of it they’d be phased out over the year.
Among the other initiatives Taco Bell resolved to pursue: a further 10% reduction in the sodium content of its menu items during the next eight years, and an expansion of the chain’s Live Mas scholarship program for employees.