Unscrew the top at your own peril because the week was filled with surprises, from the sublime to the outlandish. Here are five with high jolt-meter readings that might’ve nonetheless slipped past, starting with hints of a possible huge win for the industry on Capitol Hill.
1. Legislative flip of the NLRB’s ‘joint employer’ ruling?
Word leaked from Congressional backrooms this week of a real chance to overturn the National Labor Relations Board’s redefinition of restaurant franchisors as “joint employers” of franchisees’ staffs. If not, employees who have a gripe with the franchisee that actually pays their wage could escalate the efforts for redress to include the franchisor, which has much deeper pockets and far more face to lose.
There’s no bigger threat to franchising, according to franchisors and franchisees alike. But the NLRB is like a renegade government pursuing its own agenda.
Yet Hill watchers say the agency could be handcuffed by a proposal some Republicans intend to slip into the voluminous spending bill that Congress will be scrambling to pass in the next few days. With funding technically ending tonight at midnight, lawmakers from both parties are feeling the heat to push through the budget measure. Democrats may be willing to accept a legislative curb of the NLRB for the sake of expediency.
2. Black market chicken wings
The demand for chicken wings spikes so dramatically during football season that some opportunists can’t help themselves. A father-and-son team were busted this week in upstate New York for running a wings racket.
The pair jacked up the wings purchase orders of the Syracuse restaurant where they worked, swiped the excess and then sold the chicken on the street or via the backdoors of other restaurants at a discount. They bilked their employer of an estimated $41,000 in wings until they were caught.
3. Metal detectors in restaurants?
An interviewer asked former Darden Restaurants CEO Clarence Otis this week if restaurants should be taking precautions against lone-wolf terrorists looking for “soft targets” to attack. No one wants to find metal detectors at the door of a favorite dining spot, suggested the interviewer on CNBC’s Squawk Box, dealing the first of many head-spinning comments. So how about encouraging customers to bring their guns to dinner?
To his credit, Otis’ head didn’t rotate one unnecessary inch at the inane question. “I don’t think so,” he said.
4. Competing with the phone bill
Otis spun at least one listener’s head with his assessment of what’s ailing casual dining, where he reigned as a god until resigning last year amid a dispute with a dissident shareholder and a long stretch of disappointing sales.
The one-time CFO suggested that restaurants like the ones he oversaw are losing dollars to telephone bills. The cost per month for smart phones averages about $150 for a household, a “significant” bite of an annual income of $50,000.
Otis also revealed during his interview that Darden had looked during his tenure at entering the Mexican segment of casual dining, but decided that consumers were unwilling to spend enough to make a venture worth while for a public company. They've been conditioned to expect Mexican food at quick-service prices, Otis said.
5. Chipotle’s third food-safety problem
Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells assured us yesterday that the burrito chain is doing everything it can to preserve the safety of its food. Indeed, he said, the concept is committed to making itself the safest place in the industry to eat.
That assurance didn't ring true when authorities had to close a store in Seattle later that same day because of health-code violations. And nine other units in the area were rated “unsatisfactory” in recent sanitation inspections.
If Ells goes back on the news show circuit to apologize again, he’ll have to cry at the very least to assure us he’s sincere.