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This week’s 5 head-spinning moments: Brain-feed edition

Restaurateurs taught consumers more than a few lessons this week, but hold off on the gloating. Enlightening parties who need a moment to recall the occupant of Grant’s tomb isn’t exactly a demonstration of genius. Still, there were occasions when industry savants took to the blackboard in what proved a head-turning education fest.

Lesson 1: McDonald’s doesn’t eat kittens

Nor did it wipe out unicorns, engineer the breakup of the Beatles, or invent shower mold. Because of the chain’s size, prevalence and iconic cultural role, the public is quick to ascribe any social ill or suspect behavior to it, no matter how unfounded the damnations may be. 

So it was this week, when nothing more than false logic gave rise to accusations that McDonald’s was about to endanger the public. The reasoning went like this: J.R. Simplot had gotten a go-ahead from the government to market a genetically modified potato. Simplot is a supplier of McDonald’s French fries. Ergo, McDonald’s was switching to genetically modified fries.

The chain had to enlighten the public that it is not buying the fries, and had never considered doing so.

It’s a shame that headquarters didn't follow with an Advanced Placement education effort. The public would have also learned that McDonald’s buys potato products from several companies, and, in what would have been a head-spinning revelation to its many, many condemners, altered its corporate charter back in the 1980s to incorporate an anti-GMO policy. Led by an investment fund for retired nuns, shareholders voted in a proxy initiative to keep genetically modified organisms off McDonald’s menus.

Can we get a Doh! from the public on that one?

Lesson 2: Sounding like a cat doesn’t make Neil Young right

Or at least not when it comes to Starbucks’ legal department. The haggard rock star declared with considerable righteousness this week that his legions of fans should boycott Starbucks because it’s opposed to flagging foods that contain GMOs.

Young explained on his website that Starbucks was part of the factory-food cabal that’s suing Vermont to overturn the state’s GMO-labeling mandate, the nation’s first.

But Starbucks explained on its website that it’s not part of the lawsuit, that it’s not funding any efforts to promote an overturn of the labeling law, that it’s not in cahoots with GMO specialists like Monsanto, and, in general, that Young hasn’t been this wrong since he recorded his woeful Trans album.

The unsaid real message: A company isn’t on the unpopular side of a cost-related issue just because it’s large and profit-driven.

Lesson 3: Restaurants don’t care about table yapping

The proliferation of tabletop tablets within casual dining led to speculation this week in at least one news medium that the devices are being used by restaurants to spy on their guests. After all, there’s a camera and microphone imbedded in the equipment.

Fortunately, even servers took it upon themselves to clear up that bit of paranoia and explain that the tablets were used to place orders and provide entertainment. But couldn’t they be part of the eavesdropping conspiracy?

Lesson 4: Danny Meyer opens up on success

The force behind Shake Shack, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café and other stellar restaurant successes teamed up with chef and fellow New York City restaurateur Marcus Samuelsson this week to offer a boot camp for other restaurateurs. The focus of the pay-to-learn session is expanding the business, be it through the addition of another outlet, the publication of a cookbook or the licensing of a name to a retail food product.

Because the immersion class costs $400 to attend (though the money presumably doesn't go to Meyer or Samuelsson), it's an idea unto itself for fostering new revenues. Some operators have long used classes directed at consumers to make some extra dough or market their businesses, but teaching fellow restaurateurs is an avenue heretofore monopolized by culinary schools.

Lesson 5: Keep hands and conversation off broccoli

McDonald’s is striving to become more transparent to consumers, an effort by the chain to change misperceptions about the integrity of its food. CEO Don Thompson gave a lesson in how to work against that goal when he disclosed this week that the burger giant had developed a form of broccoli that tasted like bubblegum.

He was quick to stress that the product was never a serious contender for a menu slot. But what was no doubt intended as an amusing anecdote might be taken differently by the alarmists who believe the Golden Arches is packed with mad scientists using GMOs, pink slime and earthworms to produce Happy Meals.

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