The week in ideas, August 26, 2011

Normally the industry needs a few days to digest an important notion originating outside its ranks. But restaurant leaders wasted no time in warning that a ground-shaker aired this week will be a crack to the industry’s head.

Fortunately for the business, the stunner out of Washington wasn’t the only idea to be floated. Two initiatives arose closer to home, in restaurant kitchens and c-suites, while a third came to light in Upstate New York, with nods to Hollywood and Boston.

Idea #1: Restaurateur as shop steward.Groups like the National Restaurant Association were quick to blast a new requirement from the National Labor Relations Board that all employers post placards alerting employees to their right to unionize. The posters, measuring 11 inches by 17 inches, have to be on restaurants’ walls by Nov. 14. Restaurants that normally include employee notices on their websites will also have to post the alert there, and all the notices will have to be translated into other languages if at least 20% of the staff isn’t proficient in English. 

Idea #2: Grill marks. Outback Steakhouses is hoping to add some sizzle to its steak line by installing wood grills in all its restaurants. Steaks were all formerly cooked on flattop grills, for an effect more akin to being blackened in a skillet than being seared on a backyard barbecue. The chain said it would give away a million steaks to introduce the new option.

Idea #3: Dressing down, amigo. A pricier steak specialist, the retro-cool Sullivan’s chain, has decided to spice up its holdings with a more downscale Mexican spin-off, Sully’s Side Bar. The prototype will feature riffs on border staples, like a brisket taco, when it opens next month in Austin, Texas.  Its other intended points of differentiation are a line of tequilas and tequila-based cocktails, along with a selection of Mexican beers.

Idea #4: Marky Mark as maitre d. Actors Mark and Donnie Wahlberg are teaming up with their brother Paul, a chef in their hometown of Boston, to fire up a burger concept called Wahlburgers. The place will open in Beantown, but the Wahlbergs had to get the blessing of Rochester, N.Y., restaurateur Tom Wahl, since he owns the  trademark to “Wahlburger.” No word on if he also gets a walk-on on “Entourage,” the cable series loosely based on the Wahlberg brothers.


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