The industrywide LTO of the week must have been humble pie, with some of the biggest names in the business revealing they have to sweat sometimes just like regular humans. Humility was forced on one of the nation’s greatest chefs and the burrito chain that openly crows about being better than everyone else.
At least they didn’t come off as grouches willing to wreck customers’ birthday parties, or reckless operations that don’t care if the bullets they spot are silver or not.
Read on to see how the week’s head-turning moments made this week a chiropractor’s delight.
A timeout for Chipotle
The battered burrito chain says the only parties who won’t feel the love when the brand begs customers for another chance next month will be the bacteria and viruses that drove the guests away in the first place. Executives have aired plans to woo customers through a variety of means, including twice the usual giveaway of free food.
Less noticed were indications of a chainwide shutdown for a few hours on Feb. 8 to enlist employees in the giant mea culpa to customers.
Starbucks similarly used a systemwide shutdown to recalibrate the brand when a prior management regime let the chain drift away from a fixation on coffee.
The move was estimated to cost the brand millions in sales. The hit on Chipotle will presumably be less because it could come during a slow-traffic period. But management is already warning that profits could be eaten by well into 2016 by efforts to reclaim the public’s confidence.
Let them eat cake—if they’ll also eat the bill
Who knew a tug-of-war is erupting between restaurants and customers who bring in their own cake for a special-occasion dinner?
The struggle seems to pivot as much on pride as it does on economics. Restaurateurs who aim high in what they cook and serve all but wince when the artful meal is capped with a Twinkie-caliber dessert baked by a—brace yourself—supermarket.
The New York Times revealed this week that one restaurateur is so embarrassed by the frosted bring-your-own monstrosities that he makes fun of cake and customer on his Instagram page.
The common way to discourage the practice, or at least glean a few dollars to pay for the labor and dish washing, is to charge for the privilege, an extra charmingly known as a cakeage fee. The figure can range from a dollar per person to a wallop in the double digits.
The practice is so widespread that the word “cakeage” has been officially added to the dictionary.
A nude Thomas Keller?
The genius of Per Se chef-owner Thomas Keller is so widely recognized that New York Times reviewer Pete Wells had trouble believing the restaurant’s staff could muff something as fundamental as leaving a patron without a napkin. His first thought, as Wells admitted in a review this week that has the New York foodie scene aflutter, was that the woman must have a napkin allergy and the servers were knowingly accommodating her.
Wells said he came to realize after spending thousands of dollars on multiple visits that the napkin incident was more of a symptom than a fluke. The food was less than transporting, the dining-room staff was occasionally “unaccommodating” and even confrontational, and the wows expected from a culinary god like Keller just weren’t there, despite pricing that is undoubtedly top-tier (the four-person meal where the woman dropped the napkin cost the Times $3,000).
“Is Per Se worth the time and money?” Wells said in concluding his review. “In and of itself, no.”
Deciding the emperor had no clothes, he cut Per Se’s rating from four stars to two.
Remember, you heard it here first
Rare is the mass-market restaurateur who’s unfamiliar with the term BOGO, as in “buy one, get one free.” This week brought indications that a new acronym may have to be coined for a price break that’s becoming popular among operators who see no harm in serving gun-toting patrons. Indeed, they so like the idea of customers packing heat, even if alcohol is being served, that they’re offering deals to the armed-and-value-conscious.
Let’s call it a BAGG’D, as in “bring a gun, get a discount.”
The Dueling Irons restaurant in Post Falls, Idaho, snagged national attention this week with its 15-percent-off deal for any patron who’s packing.
The tabs of armed customers are slashed 25 percent at Brooks Place, a barbecue joint in Houston.
Papa Roux in Indianapolis has been knocking 25 percent off the bills of gun-toting customers since October.
With more areas allowing licensed gun owners to carry their weapons in public places, more BAGG’Ds are almost certain to follow.
Hot times for CMOs
Could it really be a coincidence that no fewer than three chains named new chief marketing officers this week? Included in the group was Taco Bell, where marketing is as crucial to the brand’s success as a taco shell. (The other two were Twin Peaks and East Coast Wings & Grill.)
The changeover likely reflects the growing importance of social media in any brand’s marketing efforts, a relatively new addition to marketers’ required-skill set. But it’s also a sign of conditions improving. There’s business to be had if a chain is willing to invest in grabbing it.