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The Week in Ideas, May 20, 2011

The week runneth over with ideas. And no pink donkeys this time. Swipe cards in McDonald’s, cuss jars in a Baltimore tavern and QR codes everywhere. Restaurants had their idea machines on all week.

Touchy idea: McDonald’s is replacing cashiers at some of its 7,000 European restaurants with touch screens and swipe card payments. This will cut three to four second off transaction times and allow the chain to gather more information on customer behavior, reported The Financial Times.

You kiss your mama with that idea? Baltimore’s Mount Royal Tavern won’t stand for your foul mouth. The 26-year-old tavern was getting tired of its patrons’ profanity, so it installed a “cuss jar.” Go blue and put $.25 in the jar. The money is donated to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "My thought was: 'Be an animal, then help the animals,’” owner Ron Carback told the Baltimore Sun.

Controversial idea: Contra Costa, Calif., announced this week it intended to allow food stamp recipients to use their vouchers at restaurants. The idea being that many people who receive food stamps either don’t have kitchens to cook in or don’t have the abilities to do it. The idea has been assailed by critics who argue that food stamps should not be used at fast food chains, which are the primary restaurants in areas with high numbers of food stamp recipients; food stamp recipients should receive healthier meals, they say. The Mercury News reported that other California towns have already implemented similar measures.

"The first goal of the (food stamp) program is to make sure people don't go hungry," said Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. "Right now, homeless people with (food stamps) are going hungry because they have no place to cook. Seniors without a kitchen are going hungry because they have no place to cook. Disabled people who cannot cook for themselves are going hungry.

Coded idea: Order a fancy drink at Chino Latino restaurant in Minneapolis and you won’t get a little umbrella with it. You’ll get a hook on the rim holding a small piece of paper with a QR code on it. QR codes—those weird looking pixilated boxes that seem to be everywhere now—are being embraced by marketers. Click one with your smartphone QR code reader and it takes you to a website of the restaurant’s choosing. According to the Pioneer Press, Chino Latino also puts them on T-shirts, temporary tattoos, walls above urinals and on billboards outside the plac

Gateway idea: Chuck E. Cheese isn’t such an innocent mouse after all—he’s a dirty rat, at least according to mother-of-two Debbie Keller. Keller, a resident of San Diego, has filed a $5 million suit against the chain, claiming it encourages gambling addiction in children. “We don’t think that children should be exposed to casino-style gambling devices at an arcade,” Keller’s attorney Eric Benink told the San Diego Union-Tribune. The chain has asked that the suit be thrown out.

Idea update: Panera Bread Co.’s much heralded pay-what-you-want initiative is a success. Started last year in Clayton, Missouri, as an outreach program to low-income consumers, it is being now being expanded to Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore., according to the Washington Post. Panera says about 60 percent of customers leave the suggested amount; 20 percent leave more and 20 percent leave less. The Clayton store brings in $3,000 to $4,000 above costs per month, according to the chain.

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