At a time that can politely be called trying for restaurants, some players are shrugging and saying, “So what?” They see no reason to show mercy for the less fortunate and struggling, even if they were in that shape just a short time ago.
Here’s what we mean.
1. ‘Put down the sugar and back away’
While the U.S. restaurant industry is still adapting to pending menu labeling requirements, colleagues in the United Kingdom are facing the next effort to turn dining out into a means of promoting public health. Regulators there are giving restaurants a Tony Soprano choice: Reduce the size of your desserts and high-caloric treats, or be publicly shamed as a health hazard.
The nation’s eateries were also directed to escape public condemnation by cutting the amount of sugar they use, and were given advance warning that calorie reduction targets for savory items could be next.
The message was delivered in a private meeting with food sellers. Starbucks and McDonald’s were mentioned as being among the operations in attendance. The means of shaming the non-volunteers was not detailed.
The situation is not dissimilar to efforts by regulators and health officials in the States to reduce the sodium content of chain restaurant food and curb advertising directed at children.
2. Starbucks tries another way of serving coffee
As if the King of Coffee hadn’t brainstormed enough ways of getting a latte into customers’ mitts, one more method was added to the list this week. A single Starbucks near the chain’s hometown of Seattle is testing car delivery, where patrons merely pull up and have their preordered coffees brought to them.
The idea is to provide drive-thru-like service without the queue that can form at the chain’s relatively few drive-thrus. It also eliminates the need for customers who use Starbucks’ new order-and-pay-ahead app to save further time by staying in their vehicles, noted Nomura Securities restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski, who brought the test to light.
The service could also provide an alternative to building more drive-thrus, which are virtually impossible to open in some areas of the country because of concerns about traffic and the pollution from waiting cars.
3. Starbucks hits a green milestone
It’s not unusual today for a sizeable restaurant chain to have at least one LEED-certified “green” store within its ranks. Starbucks announced that one of the stores it opened this week was the 1,000th unit within the system to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.
“We hope our success will encourage and influence other retailers to do the same,” said Starbucks Corporate Architect Tony Gale.
4. Look who’s outpacing the pack
The Chicago Cubs could have been the inspiration. Or maybe everything is topsy-turvy in the exasperating current environment. Whatever the reason, yesterday’s goats lay claim this week to being the industry’s outstanding financial performers, and they’re showing no mercy in strutting that distinction.
Olive Garden was the butt of stand-up comedy routines two years ago, when investors blamed the chain’s lackluster financial performance on such damnable practices as giving away too many breadsticks and not salting its pasta water. Now the Italian chain is capo dei capi again, outpacing most of casual dining, albeit with a 2% same-restaurant sales gain for the most recent quarter.
And the rest of its Darden Restaurants family is similarly faring well, with all five of the smaller brands posting positive comps. In the context of today’s casual-dining market, the group is the X-Men squad, squaring off against the gang from Peanuts.
Darden CEO Gene Lee raised some eyebrows when he observed to analysts that more shutdowns in the sector would be a welcomed break. He spoke after this week’s rash of bankruptcies, noting, “We could use some inventory to come out. That would be helpful.”
The other stunning performance was turned in by KFC’s U.S. operations, which hadn’t been a frontrunner since Colonel Sanders’ white suits were in style. Yum Brands’ chicken chain posted a 6% domestic same-store sales gain for the quarter ended Sept. 3, a period in which many quick-service brands yelped loudly about the difficulties of the times.