This week’s 5 head-spinning moments: Ghosts & other news bonbons

Ghosts in the political machine

It’s not known if employees at Starbucks headquarters spat their coffee in surprise when they read how baristas were mustering outside that very day to demand a meeting with CEO Howard Schultz about scheduling practices. It was apparently the first they’d heard of the demonstration or even the interest in powwowing on the topic.

One picture of the purported barista uprising elsewhere in the country showed three people handing out leaflets.

The revolt seemed to exist largely in the imagination of Working Washington (as in the state of Washington, not D.C.), a front for the SEIU service union and its most visible manifestation, the Fight for $15. As we reported, the group cited a study it had commissioned as proof that Starbucks had reneged on promises to reform scheduling processes like having the employees open a store at 4:30 a.m. after they’d wrapped up the prior service day just a few hours earlier.

It’s the latest example of fact not getting in the way of union intention. The situation also spotlights the successful tactic of putting forth what seems like an impeccable piece of objective research that just coincidentally fits the agenda of its deep-pocketed sponsor, the service union.

More teases than ’50 Shades of Grey’

Word leaked this week of a 39-point checklist that Chipotle uses to evaluate and guide the development of general managers, a program cited by corporate management as the key to the brand’s phenomenal success.

Finally, here it was:  The magic formula that turned a mild-mannered burrito chain into one of the X-men.

But keep your panting in check. What emerged was merely the existence of this checklist, not its contents. At most, the head-turning reports provided additional information on Chipotle’s much-covered Restaurateur program, the incentive-heavy inducement for general managers to train the next generation of their peers.

A manager who earns the Restaurateur designation through the excellence of his or her operation is rewarded with a car and $10,000 in stock options. Standouts anointed with that distinction can then collect a $10,000 cash bonus for every disciple who goes on to become a GM.

But exactly what 39 variables are used to evaluate the GMs is still an apparent mystery.

Restaurants’ new friend in a high place

Buried in coverage of the pending change in Congressional leadership was a tidbit that should hearten restaurateurs: One of their own is now The Man.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Californian widely regarded as a shoo-in to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House, started his professional life as a deli operator while still in his teens. Kevin O’s Deli touted fresh-baked rolls and a signature Turkey Supreme sandwich, an eight-inch hero offered at the bargain price of $3.95.

McCarthy was known at the time (and afterward) to gripe about the taxes a small-business operator had to pay.  He flipped the business, which he funded with $5,000 won in California’s lottery, to pay for college.

Of course, his predecessor as Speaker wasn’t a stranger to the business, either, though Boehner never climbed to the level of proprietor. His family owned a tavern in Ohio, and it was his job to sweep and mop the floors.

Don’t weep for Dunkin’

The parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins lost more than 10 percent of its value yesterday when executives predicted a slowdown in traffic on the doughnut side of the business. Lost in the reverberations was the strategy for keeping that deceleration a short one.

Eager to dispel worries that Dunkin’ Donuts has caught whatever bug is hobbling McDonald’s, management revealed during a meeting yesterday with investors that it had the cap off the medicine bottle and a spoon in hand. They pointed to such potential remedies as enabling customers to pre-pay for orders placed via smartphone, an innovation Starbucks has found to be a sales boon, along with delivery via third parties like DoorDash and Flavor.

Less noticed was the revelation that Dunkin’ plans to use curbside delivery, a service option that could instantly help its considerable number of urban stores without a huge capital commitment.

Executives also provided a tech-based model to build business during slack periods of the day.

The industry has been excitedly discussing the possibility of dynamic daypart pricing, or changing prices throughout the day to reflect demand. A basic move would be offering a discount during slow periods like late afternoon or mid-morning.

Dunkin’ indicated that it’s already experimenting with an alternative approach of dangling a carrot via its loyalty program. When DD Perk members were offered 20 bonus points for every visit they logged after 2 p.m., about a third of loyal breakfast customers visited in the afternoon for the first time. Traffic from occasional afternoon visitors rose 14 percent, executives explained at the investors’ conference.

Turning the table on citizen-reviewers

After being the subjects of countless Yelp and TripAdvisor assessments, restaurants will have an opportunity next month to turn the tables. A new app called Peeple will enable users to rate people. And, despite assertions to the contrary by some restaurateurs, customers are people.

To be rated, a person apparently has to opt into the Peeple network. After that, knowing their name is sufficient license to rate them. 


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