Audacity abounds in the restaurant business. This week, it all but flushed the industry of reason. Initiatives that sounded like daft concepts for new reality shows were put forth with all the confidence of a TV pitchman shilling a new potato peeler. Never mind that only a spud head might see the logic behind some of the moves.
Here’s a recount.
1. Jared Fogle says he’s not to blame
Former Subway pitchman and current prison resident Jared Fogle was enriching lawyers again this week, asserting in a lawsuit that he wasn’t responsible for the mental anguish suffered by a victim of his sexual exploitation.
A suit Fogle filed last week alleges the parents of the victim, identified only as Jane Doe, were the true reasons why the underage girl suffered depression and hurt herself, according to People magazine, which said it had a copy of the court papers. The action contradicts an assertion from the parents in an earlier lawsuit that the trigger for the girl’s problems was being videotaped while changing clothes and bathing.
Rather, People quoted Fogle as contending in his suit, the girl was harmed by the couple’s “hateful and abusive relationship toward each other, which included, but was not limited to, engaging in frequent fighting and arguing between themselves; abusing alcohol and getting drunk; and engaging in frequent fighting, physical abuse, and arguing with Jane Doe."
The footage was allegedly taken by the head of Fogle’s charitable foundation and passed along to his boss.
Fogle is serving a 16-year term for sexually exploiting underage girls.
2. Starbucks veers into the media business
An endorsement of Hillary Clinton for the presidency earned Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz an appearance on at least one major TV news program. No doubt he jotted down a few notes relevant to the chain’s truly head-turning move this week: the launch of an online information channel.
The chain announced that it intends to counter the negativity and cynicism of the mainstream news media by producing video spots, podcasts and stories focused on uplifting individuals. The first installment, a series called Upstanders, spotlights 10 individuals who are pushing for positive change.
The content is being channeled to the public via the Starbucks app, some social media sites and the chain’s much-visited website. The chain said its models are The New York Times and the Washington Post.
The spots are produced by Schultz and a former Washington Post editor, Rajiv Chandrasekaran.
3. A Hillary backfire
A more tongue-in-cheek attempt to figure into the presidential election went very wrong for Legal Sea Foods, the polished-casual seafood chain based in Boston.
The operation has built an ad campaign around the purported run by CEO Roger Berkowitz for the Oval Office (#FeelTheBerk). The most recent spot was a print ad that shows a large photo of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over the headline, “We have a term for cold fish. Sushi.”
The ad was intended to play off Clinton’s perceived aloofness and reserve. But many who saw the ad in the Boston Globe took it as a suggestion that the former U.S. Secretary of State and senator is frigid, noting that “cold fish” is a slang synonym. They objected loudly in social media that the spot is sexist.
The Berkowitz campaign has actually been nonpartisan. Around mid-July, it ran a spot that poked fun at Clinton’s Republican opponent, Donald Trump. “I can assure you, it’s not the size of your hands that are important, but rather the size of your shrimp,” read the caption accompanying a picture of The Donald.
4. Seattle’s scheduling bid
A dramatic downturn in the restaurant industry’s economics hasn’t dissuaded lawmakers in Seattle from proceeding with another potential squeeze on margins. The City Council indicated this week that it’s about to pass a bill that would prohibit employers from changing hourly work schedules less than 14 days in advance.
If hours are reduced during that time, the employee would be paid for half of the dropped hours. The staffer is also entitled to half the pay if a shift is dropped.
If hours of a shift are lengthened, the employee collects the usual wages plus an additional hour’s worth of pay.
Among the measure’s more controversial provisions: Restaurants must maintain a 10-hour rest period between opening and closing. If the gap is any shorter, opening-shift employees collect time-and-a-half pay.
Employees of full-service restaurants have formed a group to oppose the bill, saying they fear a net loss of hours as a result.
5. Again with the chips?
If you’re still dripping ice water after being frozen in a glacier for a few years, you probably don’t know that one of the most successful restaurant products of recent times was Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco, a variation featuring a big, bent Dorito chip in place of a traditional hard taco shell.
The success brought a slew of other chip-incorporating fast-food hybrids, but Doritos mashups remained the signature of Taco Bell.
Until this week, that is.
News emerged from Spain of a new Burger King specialty called the Steakhouse Doritos Burger, a concoction that doesn’t exactly break new ground with its recipe of burger, cheese and chips.
There are already reports of the burger being tried next in the United States, where Burger King still has orange fingers from its last chips-inspired item, the Mac N' Cheetos (strips of mac and cheese dusted with crunched-up Cheetos.)