Sometimes the toughest decision for a restaurateur is choosing what to do after you’ve just made a bad one. This week brought some head-turning examples of operators having to pull an about-face with grace, often with key observers watching agape.
An indie’s political backfire
A New York City pizzeria snared headlines when it announced on Tuesday that it needed to levy a 3 percent surcharge to meet its employer obligations under the Affordable Care Act.
Franny’s clearly intended to ridicule Obamacare as a terrible burden for small businesses and their customers, but it found itself alone in that sentiment. Patrons objected to the swipe at universal healthcare and Franny’s dabble in politics, and let the operation know it.
On Wednesday, the Brooklyn restaurant said it had no choice but to yank the surcharge and accept that customers didn’t share its opposition to Obamacare. It indicated that it would pay for employees’ insurance by raising menu prices—without any fallout.
Bob Evans comes clean on discounting
The hit show “Dancing with the Stars” has nothing over public companies’ quarterly conference calls with financial analysts. Executives have to watusi through a review of their charges’ financial performance and hopefully moonwalk past decisions that might not look that brilliant in hindsight.
Bob Evans Farms didn’t even cue the music in its call this week. “Not every change made will work as planned and the second quarter is unfortunately a case where a well-conceived plan did not,” declared Executive Chairman Doug Benham, a no-nonsense guy throughout his long restaurant career.
Management tried to reverse a 5-percent slip in traffic during the prior quarter by offering more price-off deals, Benham explained. Instead of pulling more customers through the door, the deals just lightened the tabs of patrons who might have visited anyway. Comps declined 3.2 percent.
“Restaurant turnarounds are not for the timid, and some of the challenges we faced during the quarter prove it,” said Benham.
Which chicken is the ticket back?
Despite the candor on discounting, Bob Evans showed some caginess in disclosing the next steps of its turnaround plan. For months, Bob Evans has been hailing a new broasted chicken as the killer product that would win back customers and generate new catering and takeout sales opportunities. The dish promises the taste and consistency of fried chicken without the health detriments, a potentially potent combination.
Now, said executives, the family focused chain is banking on roasted chicken tenders. “We expect them to be a particularly popular carry out and catering option,” said CFO and Chief Administrative Officer Mark Hood.
And what about the nearly irresistible broasted chicken? “The boneless roasted chicken tenders are a natural extension of our bone-in broasted menu items,” Hood said.
Chipotle gets called on “local”
The high-flying burrito chain managed to add a new carnitas supplier this summer without raising questions about its loudly touted commitment to buying locally. The new vendor hails from Great Britain and occasionally uses antibiotics on its pigs, another stretch of Chipotle’s pledge to deliver food with integrity.
But it was called out this week when Bloomberg.com noted that the vow to buy locally was removed from the chain’s website. The brand explained that it was toughening its supplier policies in the wake of a devastating and longer-than-initially-reported E.coli outbreak, and the new standards might not be feasible for some small local suppliers.
At least that’s sort of what it said. The exact statement talked about local produce being out of season and the complications that poses, as if seasonality were a new dynamic.
Too bad it didn’t talk with Doug Benham about how to handle a change in plan.