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The week in ideas, August 12, 2011

It’s probably just a coincidence that the Noid, Domino’s mischief-making mascot, would return to active duty on the very week Wall Street trips into a freefall. 

The notion of taking the no-goodnik out of mothballs after 23 years, to lead a Facebook promotion, must’ve caught headquarters’ fancy awhile ago. Then again, it seemed to be a week of unfortunate coincidences.

Let’s stick with the stock market’s rollercoaster for a moment. All the major indexes fell to near-historic lows because portfolio managers transferred their money into more stable investment vehicles. That had to be a bummer for Chuy’s, the casual Mexican chain that announced plans a week ago for a $75-million IPO.

At a time when commodity prices are still volatile for a lot of restaurateurs, Seattle politicians got the idea that this would be the right time to increase their labor costs. A City Council committee approved a proposal to require paid sick leave from most employers. The measure now moves to a full Council vote, which is scheduled for mid-September. 

Other municipalities were more appreciative of restaurants’ current challenges, not to mention the comfort of the guests who frequent them during lunch. Orlando has been running a free bus service, the Lymmo, through its downtown area for awhile. The idea was to give office workers a chance to hit a lunch spot away from their building without having to get in the car, fight midtown traffic, find a parking spot, then reverse the process. Now they could just jump on and off the bus.

The service is so popular that a million riders are expected to use it on an annual basis. So Orlando got the idea of expanding the route, extending the benefits to more restaurants.

Neither fate’s vagaries nor politicians’ whims could stop the industry itself from innovating in a number of ways. Do at the View, an Atlanta pizzeria, had an app developer come up with ways to use an iPad II as a bathroom mirror and a device for alerting valets before you get up from the table to bring your car around. Those uses are in addition to the now-commonplace iPad functions of serving as a menu and tabletop ordering system.

Wendy’s, meanwhile, drew considerable attention when executives revealed during a conference call with stock pickers that the chain is preparing to roll out a new coffee line-up called Redhead Roasters, a nod to its namesake’s braids. The officials shut up after divulging that tidbit, but it looks as if both iced and hot versions will be offered.

T.G.I. Friday’s, a pioneer of licensing, decided the time was right to take its program to a new level. It announced that it will start okaying the use of Friday’s name on non-food products like glasses and bar implements.

Given the recent performance of Wall Street, anything that benefits from bar use is likely to be in considerable demand. 

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