Extremes are the new norm, at least in the restaurant business. How else to explain this week’s phenomena of clown countermeasures, straightjackets fitting the dress code and the stampede for a new sort of California gold strike?
It’s enough to make you run for the security of Grandma's house, or exactly what a restaurant in New York City is promising as a point of distinction.
Read on if you’re not sure what we mean. A detailed explanation follows, but don’t expect the week’s head-spinning developments to make much sense.
1. Clown capers bring Ronald McDonald the hook
It’s either a brilliant run-up to Halloween or the new benchmark against which all weirdness will now be measured. Either way, we’re beset by what appears to be a coordinated global clown attack.
In small towns and cities across two continents, people in pancaked makeup and oversized shoes are terrorizing the rank and file, including restaurant patrons. In Wagoner, Okla., a man dressed as a clown stood outside a McDonald’s and sang scary songs until the authorities were summoned. Thousands of miles away, in the United Kingdom, a 23-year-old described as a “killer clown” was photographed as he tried to scare away a McDonald’s drive-thru customers.
In Phoenix, a clown robbed a Domino’s.
In New York City, Australia and throughout the U.K., people in Bozo garb have been chased by the police and mobs of citizens after being spotted with knives and axes clutched in their oversized white-gloved mitts.
This, of course, poses a unique problem for McDonald’s, the Happy Place where the world’s best-known clown resides. This week the chain said it will try to be “thoughtful” about scheduling appearances for its red-haired, over-lipsticked Chief Fun Officer, Ronald McDonald.
“McDonald’s and franchisees in local markets are mindful of the current climate around clown sightings in communities,” the industry-leading chain said in a statement. “And as such are being thoughtful with respect to Ronald McDonald’s participation in community events for the time being.”
As a public service, we provide this list of tips on how to protect yourself from killer clowns.
2. This is the relief?
Cynics in San Francisco might feel they’re catching a seltzer blast from a different sort of clown. Word spread among restaurateurs there this week of a historical development: For the first time in 77 years, the state will increase the number of liquor licenses that are in circulation within the City by the Bay. A batch will be issued on Jan. 1 as the result of a little-noticed bill that was signed into law last month by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The move will provide an opportunity to secure a license for a mere $13,800—a fraction of the price for licenses already in circulation.
But there’s an asterisk to the good news: Only seven licenses will be issued.
3. Crazy by design
The extremists giving killer clowns a bad name might feel at home in restaurants experimenting with a new cutting-edge ambience: insanity by design.
At the new Dirty Habit restaurant in Washington, D.C., groups can opt for a 10-person padded room. A statue of a man in the fetal position is intended to unnerve patrons. Ditto for a signature drink, the Pleasantly Uncomfortable.
The restaurant, situated inside a hotel, was inspired in part by Bedlam, the infamous London insane asylum.
Dirty Habit, a twisted sister of the same-named but far more straight-laced restaurant in San Francisco, is not alone in borrowing some insane touches. Alcatraz ER in Japan was designed to suggest the psychiatric ward of the famed U.S. prison, with dishes that include penis (actually, a sausage served on lettuce) and intestines (a longer, curling sausage). Signature cocktails include the Brain Buster and Play With Yourself, which is served with vibrators.
4. Literally grandma’s cooking
A restaurant sometimes has to wait a fair period of time to be noticed, even if its kitchen staff is unmatched. Proof came this week with attention suddenly turning on Enoteca Maria in New York City’s least trendy borough, Staten Island, where locals know the restaurant because of its true home cooking.
Indeed, it has no permanent chef. The stove has been manned for 10 years by a parade of visiting talents, each an actual grandmother from some corner of the globe. Although the cooks might hail from Ethiopia or Poland, every one is called Nonna, or grandmother in Italian.
The intent, according to Enoteca Maria’s website, is to celebrate home cooking and traditional meals, whatever the source. Customers can now even take a class from the nonnas.
For a decade, few outside the borough might have noticed. But this week brought a flurry of attention from foodie-favored sites like Gothamist.com.
5. Fanaticism redefined
According to the prevailing wisdom, no restaurant chain draws as many visits from its super-heavy users as Taco Bell, hands down. This week, the brand revealed just how many people qualify for that hardcore status.
Half the population orders from a Taco Bell every month, revealed Greg Creed, the brand’s former president and the current CEO of parent company Yum Brands. And it’s not a one-and-done thing; they tend to come back every 11th day for more.
This year, he told CNBC’s Squawk Box audience, the chain will do $10 billion in sales within the U.S., and it’s just started expanding internationally.