Holding onto the past is a risky strategy in the ever-changing restaurant business, but silent acceptance may not be the best response to worrisome shifts like the one that gained considerable momentum this week in the nation’s capital. Nor is it easy to acknowledge the mounting signs of a problem inherent to delivery, a trend that’s leaving few bystanders as operators sense an opportunity.
Read on for a jolt of future shock.
1. Ending restaurants’ scheduling leeway
Operators of chain restaurants would be required to set staffs’ work schedules three weeks in advance under a bill that’s moving closer to law in the District of Columbia.
The measure, which has already survived a key committee vote, would also prohibit managers of chain restaurants from hiring new staff members until the work hours of current employees are increased.
If the bill is passed as many expect next week, Washington, D.C., would become the nation’s second city to limit so-called just-in-time scheduling, a restaurant tradition as old as providing napkins. San Francisco already has passed scheduling limitations.
The D.C. law is actually less stringent than the San Francisco measure since it applies only to local outposts of chains with at least 20 branches nationwide.
Pro-labor forces are determined that Washington won’t be the last jurisdiction to see restaurant scheduling traditions die. It has set bans on just-in-time scheduling as a new legislative priority, along with a $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave.
The District passed a $15 wage about two weeks ago.
2. Speed bumps for delivery
Several high-profile crashes involving pizza delivery drivers are stoking fears again that safety is being sacrificed for the sake of speed. It’s a flashback to the 1990s, when the promise of getting a hot pie in customers’ hands within 30 minutes was blasted as the reason drivers were hitting cars and pedestrians at a disproportionate rate.
The flashpoints this time are situations like the death of a man in Wilmington, Del., who was struck as he stood outside his car by a Domino’s delivery vehicle. The 22-year-old delivery driver, Brittany Boddiford, was charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Both Domino’s and Papa John’s acknowledged a spike in delivery insurance claims during the third quarter of last year, and Papa John’s set aside an additional $4.5 million to cover future expenditures related to road mishaps. Neither cited a reason for the upswing, though they noted a surge in sales.
Delivery has been increasing as third-party services provide chains of all stripes with a quick route into the market. Just this week, the Qdoba fast-casual chain announced an arrangement with OrderUp from GrubHub.
The risks of accidents and higher insurance rates figured into downgrades this week of Papa John’s and Domino’s stock by Nomura restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski.
3. A breakthrough in restaurant giveaways?
Restaurant chains have antagonized parents for years by offering toys in their kids meals, a tactic that forces Mom and Dad to choose between incessant whining and standing in line for a burger, fries and figurine. This week brought a head-turning sign that adults may soon have a new choice: snagging something for their own amusement.
KFC’s Indian operation is foregoing the industry’s usual gimcrack to offer a premium that could leave millennials in tears of delight: a phone charger. A new limited-time offer is served in what the chain is calling Watt a Box, and comes with a power pack and a USB charging cord.
The freebie is only being offered to certain customers and certain stores, according to local media. And KFC has expressly said that it has no plans right now to roll the premium into the U.S. market.
4. A customized Colonel
Marketers struggling to understand why KFC keeps switching portrayers of Colonel Harland Sanders may be flummoxed by the latest casting for the white-suited icon. The chicken chain is creating variations of its long-deceased spokesman and guiding spirit, starting with an Extra Crispy Colonel, played by tan master George Hamilton.
If that’s not enough of a puzzler, consider that the campaign is based on an admitted marketing failure: 50% of consumers are unaware that KFC sells an Extra Crispy version of its chicken along with the staple Original Recipe, the chain acknowledges.
Hence the recruitment of Hamilton to put down the cocoa butter and don the Colonel’s whites (though without the ribbon tie that was always configured into a neat bow on earlier Colonels, including the real one).
"Just like no one person could play the Colonel, no one Colonel can sell both Original Recipe and Extra Crispy fried chicken," U.S. CMO Kevin Hochman said in a statement. "And no actor was more qualified to play our Extra Crispy Colonel than a very tan George Hamilton."
Extra Crispy pieces tend to be more golden than Original Recipe cuts, a reflection of how they’re cooked (in an open fryer; Original Recipe is technically baked in a pressure cooker).
There’s no confirmation that a casting call has already been issued for Popcorn Nuggets Colonel.