Holiday gifts are meant to be a surprise. With a few bows and some wrapping paper, this week’s standout restaurant developments would have fit the bill with nary a ho ho ho. Here were some of the premature aha moments.
1. Current events driving delivery sales
Restaurateurs are well aware that factors like the weather or a must-watch TV event can prompt customers to opt for delivery instead of trudging to a favorite haunt. But new research reveals how extraordinary developments can determine what those stay-at-homes are likely to order.
Who knew, for instance, that factors as seemingly disconnected as the presidential State of the Union address can spur a spike in comfort meal deliveries, and sales of clam chowder in particular?
Or that the Cubs’ World Series win after 108 years would unleash pent-up demand to have hot dogs delivered?
Those are some of the discoveries GrubHub aired this week after analyzing its delivery orders for the first 11 months of 2016. We report elsewhere on the five dishes that were most delivered by restaurants that use the service (and, neither pizza nor a Chinese item are No. 1). But the data also shows surprising correlations between orders and events.
Among those head-turning results:
- Last winter’s biggest storm triggered a 230% spike in requests for tomato soup deliveries.
- On the night of the first presidential debate, the most-ordered items were bean and cheese burritos.
- When a 2-year-old fell into the gorillas’ pit at the Cincinnati Zoo, prompting authorities to shoot one of the primates before it could hurt the boy, GrubHub saw a spike in orders for comfort foods, specifically biscuits and gravy and garlic bread.
2. Chipotle discovers the drive-thru
Regardless of what happens with Chipotle’s experimental entry into the burger segment, the troubled fast-casual company could register Tasty Made as a success because of the boost it provides to selling burritos. The new burger concept marks Chipotle’s first experience with drive-thru service, and that exposure could prompt the Mexican chain to reconsider its dismissal of the convenience as a dirty trademark of fast food.
That’s what Nomura/Instinet restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski says he’s hoping after visiting the Tasty Made prototype, in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He learned during the tour that Tasty Made customers have been asking if the upstart’s inclusion of a drive-thru might bring that form of service to Chipotles.
A drive-thru would fit Chipotle’s newly stated mission of upgrading service and raising throughput, the goals it’s tackling through a variety of operational changes. It could also provide a net increase in sales, since drive-thru providers tend to do more than half their business through that format. It accounts for 52% of Tasty Made’s business, according to Kalinowski.
Chipotle’s shift to a pro-drive-thru stance would complete a sweep of the once-opposed, now-supportive fast-casual giants. Starbucks and Panera have both embraced drive-thrus after showing resistance earlier in their evolutions.
3. Oklahoma’s anti-abortion requirement for restaurants
Being woven into the social fabric works both for and against restaurants, as operators in Oklahoma can attest.
Restaurateurs there are grappling with a new law requiring them to post notices in their restrooms as an appeal to pregnant woman who might be considering an abortion. “There are many public and private agencies willing and able to help you carry your child to term and assist you and your child after your child is born, whether you choose to keep your child or to place him or her for adoption,” the sign is required to read. “The State of Oklahoma strongly urges you to contact them if you are pregnant."
Restaurateurs “don't have any concern about the information they're trying to get out to women about their babies and their pregnancy,” Jim Hopper, CEO of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, told the Associated Press. But the law doesn’t provide any financial relief for buying and posting the alerts.
"It's just another mandate on small businesses,” Hopper said.
The signage is required of public places in the private sector, including hospitals and nursing homes.
4. Retailers’ latest restaurant raid
The industry should ape the competition and set up a few racks of socks and lip glosses near guests’ waiting areas. Clearly, mass-market merchandisers are seeing an opportunity in blurring the lines between retailing and restaurants. Look at the latest venture from Barnes & Noble, a brand usually associated more with books than with Bordeaux or broccoli.
The merchant has opened yet another restaurant-bar with some bookshelves surrounding it, this time in California. The Barnes & Noble Kitchen accounts for 2,600 square feet of the store’s space, with seating for 140.
This is no grab-and-go facility. The menu of the full-service establishment features local and seasonal selections, with entrees ranging in price from $14 to $26.
The bar service is also ambitious, with 20 wines and beers from six local breweries available.
The notion is to draw people with the restaurant, then hope they buy some books. To facilitate the effort, the place gives remote ordering a twist. People can order books via kiosks in the dining area.
Barnes & Noble, which now has at least three full-service restaurants open, is hardly alone in selling merchandise to people who also want a meal. Urban Outfitters bought the Pizzeria Vetri chain late last year, and Amazon has just opened its first grab-and-go cafe, Amazon Go.