The caretaker CEO is facing extinction in the restaurant business, where bold decisions and quick execution are proving crucial to surviving, never mind thriving. Examples from the past week should have any plodding, hesitant leader carefully considering the latest brochures from the Viagra Village retirement community.
Here are a few that could have them calling the 1-800 number.
1. Chipotle backs away from burgers
As quickly as it raised the possibility of tossing a few patties on the grill, the troubled nonconformist has decided to stick with burritos, pizza and Asian bowls, at least for now.
Chipotle confirmed this week that it’s dropped its patent hold on the terms “better burger” and “betterburger,” suggesting it won’t be making a run on the likes of Shake Shack and Five Guys. The move appears to be an about-face from a decision that resulted in lawyers being dispatched to secure the trademarks on April 1.
Still, Eater.com reported that Chipotle declined to answer the flat-out question of whether a burger venture is a future possibility.
2. Smell it your way
That new car smell may be delicious, but drivers in Brazil can now give their vehicles a truly mouthwatering aroma. Burger King’s local operations have greenlighted the sale of a Whopper-scented air freshener that locals can hang from their rearview mirrors, similar to the pine tree-shaped ones that are ubiquitous in the United States. The packaging come-on: “Flame grill your ride.”
There’s no word yet on whether the car fresheners will make it to Burger King’s home market, but the writing on the packaging is in English.
3. A McDonald’s that serves only fries
Arguably the industry’s most conservative brand for years has turned into the business’s boldest experimenter. After running out of a garlic-garnished version of its celebrated French fries in a San Francisco test, McDonald’s opened a pop-up this week in Australia that features a slew of new variations on the side. And that’s all that customers can get—the restaurant serves nothing but fries, fries and more fries.
Included among the choices are fries garnished with peri-peri cheese sauce, curry and a Caesar sauce with bacon.
The newly experimental chain has repeatedly stated that it intends to take ideas that work in one nation and transplant them in others.
It has yet to reveal how the fries-only restaurant has fared.
4. Drive-thrus for non-drivers?
One of the thornier decisions McDonald’s management may have to face is what to do about a possible class action seeking changes in the setup of the chain’s drive-thrus.
A blind man in Louisiana has already filed a lawsuit, alleging that McDonald’s insistence on drive-thru customers being in a car is discriminatory. Lawyers for the plaintiff, Scott Magee, say they’ve already been contacted by other disabled consumers who’d like to join the legal action.
Magee contends in the suit that refusing to serve consumers on foot via the drive-thru is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
McDonald’s has yet to respond publicly.
5. No coffee for The Donald?
Starbucks has a vexing choice of its own: what to do about mounting public demand that it pull out of all hotels and casinos run by Donald Trump. An online petition growing by leaps and bounds points out that Trump’s conservative politics don’t exactly mesh with Starbucks’ pledge to respect all customers and employees, regardless of their nationality, gender identification or sexual orientation.
It also notes that Starbucks has urged employees and customers to act on their political convictions. Shouldn’t it do the same?
The question puts Starbucks in a difficult situation. CEO Howard Schultz takes great pride in his and his charge’s political activism. Should it take a position against Trump because of his comments about immigrants, Muslims and women? Or will guests in Trump’s properties be the ones who really suffer if the chain should pull out of those locations?
6. Grappling with the new overtime rules
During the National Restaurant Association’s annual convention in Chicago last week, we asked a goodly number of restaurateurs about how they planned to comply with the U.S. Department of Labor’s new overtime rules. In response, we saw a lot of shrugs and heard a lot of assurances that headquarters was working on the answer post-haste.
The same question was made by a financial analyst this week to Kevin Miles, CEO of the Zoes Kitchen fast-casual chain. Miles didn’t air a plan for compliance, but his response put the issue in context: Half of field-level management would be affected by the new standards.
Without any changes, each person would either have to be paid overtime when a workweek exceeded 40 hours; have their annual salaries raised to at least $47,476; or have their hours cut so they’re not exceeding 40 per week.