At a time of considerable struggle for the restaurant business, this week brought telling indications of the industry’s resilience. Personally and professionally, the restaurant community refused to be intimidated by business currents and even a societal tragedy of staggering proportions, the murder of 58 people in the dining mecca of Las Vegas. Here, for a change, are reasons the business should be relishing its strength instead of fixating on problems.
1. Another disruption by Starbucks?
The upcoming holiday season could be a tough one for restaurants, particularly places that depend on shoppers to keep the kitchen busy. The shift toward online gift hunting is a mega-trend that restaurants apparently can do little individually to counter. Starbucks, however, isn’t buying it.
The restaurant business’ second-largest chain bet this week that it can drive consumers to its brick-and-mortar establishments by eliminating the option of shopping online. It shut its thriving web store, figuring patrons who want to buy a mug or a pound of coffee as a gift will just shift that purchase to a cafe.
If the serial disruptor is right in that assumption, the move could prompt other legacy retailers to do the same. It’s a big “if,” but it’s a positive development per se for any restaurant that depends on mall traffic. They can only benefit from anything that brings back shoppers.
2. Help from the holiday calendar
Holiday spending could be nudged higher this year by some quirks in the calendar, according to the National Retail Federation. It notes that consumers will have 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, for one more shopping day than they had in 2016. Plus, Christmas falls on a Monday, providing a full weekend of last-minute shopping (and hopefully dining) mania before Santa arrives.
Overall, the NRF expects holiday spending to top last year’s tally by at least 3.6%, though restaurant expenditures aren’t factored into that forecast.
3. Warren Buffett buys into another restaurant business
The Oracle of Omaha knows a thing or two about making money, so his double down this week on the restaurant business should have turned heads as a sign of confidence.
His Berkshire Hathaway investment empire, which already owns International Dairy Queen, bought 38.6% of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain this week, with rights to bump up the holding to 80% in 2023.
The chain’s 750 locations sport a variety of grab-and-go and sit-down foodservice operations, including a number of Denny’s units. The private company generated food and beverage sales last year of $253 million, according to Technomic.
4. Ronald McDonald goes rogue
The competition between Burger King and McDonald’s has always run a little nasty. Last Halloween, for instance, a BK in New York recast itself into the ghost of McDonald’s, suggesting that concept was cooked. Fans of the Whopper have also donned the outfit and mask of BK’s mascot, the creepy-looking King, and made a showy appearance at the archrival’s counters and drive-thrus. In Europe, BK is poking fun at McDonald’s by suggesting Pennywise, the murderous clown that scares the bejesus out of audiences watching the movie “It,” is a dead ringer for Ronald McDonald.
Evidence surfaced this week that McDonald’s fans have had enough of the bullying and figured they’d play for some laughs. About a dozen dressed up as Ronald McDonald and stormed a BK in the United Kingdom, yelling at the staff, “You’re shit and you know you are.”
Instead of responding in kind, the BK employees graciously laughed along with customers who witnessed the escapade, according to news reports. They even shook hands with the cussing Ronalds.
5. Restaurant community stands unbowed
Among the 22,000 concertgoers who could have been shot at random during Sunday’s rampage in Las Vegas were at least two members of the restaurant community. But don’t expect Corey and Craig Nyman, the sons of longtime restaurant operator and consultant Robert Nyman, to be wincing from the experience. The two spoke with CBS newsman Anthony Mason the day afterward to show the resilience they shared with fellow Las Vegas residents after the tragedy. Here’s the clip.
The elder Nyman and his wife, Judy, were not at the show, but had been in the Mandalay Bay an hour before the shooting started.
Craig Nyman is the head of music and live performances for the Life Is Beautiful arts festival, held two weeks earlier in Las Vegas. Authorities now say the Mandalay Bay shooter, Stephen Paddock, may have considered mounting his sniper attack during that event.