Contentions that Whac-A-Mole was inspired by a restaurateur’s typical day cannot be confirmed, but it’s easy to understand why that theory arose. Few jobs are more demanding and complicated than running a successful restaurant, where the head honcho has to constantly pivot from customer relations to marketing, personnel management, kitchen oversight, finance and purchasing. And that’s just between lunch and dinner.
Hold onto your mallet, because developments this week show the job is only getting tougher. Who, for instance, would have imagined that restaurateurs would have to become sports coaches and protectors of the local market’s health?
Here are some of the new jobs that were foisted on restaurateurs this week.
1. Water engineer
Government’s failure to provide residents of Flint, Mich., with safe drinking water was a major news story this week, but overlooked in the torrent of coverage was the role restaurants have assumed in protecting and soothing the public. Operators there have been forced to take on the added jobs of safety agent and chemist.
Restaurateurs are trying to keep people dining out by figuring out how to filter the water used in their establishments and remove the harmful lead. Then there’s the challenge of communicating those efforts in a convincing way to a doubtful public. And, finally, there’s the constant pressure to be an effective chief financial officer. Some establishments are installing mechanical filters that can cost in the neighborhood of $1,800.
There’s one other job being forced on the restaurateurs: undertaker. Not all operators are able to muster the dollars or knowhow to pull in customers. Restaurants there, by their own admission, are dying.
2. Sports cheerleader
How the Carolina Panthers fare in this weekend’s football playoffs could be determined by what sort of pre-game send off Waffle House gives the team. Players revealed this week that the “secret weapon” in their success this season has been a reliance on the much-mocked diner chain for sustenance and comfort. Constantly in need of calories, they find Waffle House’s menu to be the source they need.
3. Car buff
Gear heads learned this week of a development in the car world that underscores the need for restaurateurs to pay attention to what’s coming to auto showrooms. BMW is introducing a new so-called virtual concierge feature that will enable drivers to find a restaurant, book a table and get directions to the place, all presumably through verbal requests.
With other car manufacturers working on similar capabilities, and Apple far along in its creation of a dashboard concierge service called Apple Play, restaurateurs may soon have to kick a tire or two to stay abreast of marketing trends.
4. Time traveler
Almost unnoticed in recent days was a tidbit of news that might have deepened a feeling among casual-restaurant operators that it’s déjà vu all over again. Clearly, the happy hour is making a comeback, as evidenced by Chili’s resurrection of the traffic builder at the chain’s restaurants in Texas. According to Mark Kalinowski, restaurant analyst for Nomura Securities, the happy hour is being advertised via radio. It could be the 1980s all over again.
The return of irresistible drink specials is part of a new initiative by Chili’s to differentiate itself from fast-casual marauders by focusing intently on the bar. “So we're looking at every aspect of our bar business, from the design of our bars to the products we offer and how we deliver service,” Wyman Roberts, CEO of parent company Brinker International, explained this week. “We believe it's a huge opportunity for us.”
The casual chain, whose bar was a key to the concept’s early success, isn’t the only example of renewed interest in happy hours. Ruth’s Chris is revamping its bars in part to make them more hospitable places for happy hours, and Illinois restaurants got a green light to reconsider two-for-one specials when the state legalized happy hours last year after a 26-year ban.
5. Chipotle basher
This one seems to come easily to the industry, as we learned in covering the fast-casual chain’s food-safety problems during November and December. Operators wrote to thank us for showing that the chain isn’t some mystical power that can do no wrong. And then of course there are Rick Berman’s high-profile attacks on the chain.
This week, the digs were craftier. Freshii announced that it will cut the price of its Mexican items in half on Feb. 8—not coincidentally the day Chipotle will close all its stores for four hours to re-inspire their staffs.
And, in the wake of Chipotle’s problems with E.coli and norovirus, White Castle said it will post the health-inspection scores for all of its restaurants on a special website, WhiteCastleClean.com.