Clairvoyants weren’t the only ones who might’ve witnessed this week’s most arresting restaurant developments without a tinge of surprise. Even such head turners as Starbucks’ decision to scrap another concept were more of a continuation of recent patterns than a switch in direction.
Still, predictability didn’t keep beans from snapping left and right to follow the events. Here’s a neck-saving review if you missed them.
Starbucks pulls the plug on tea cafes
A much-ballyhooed diversification into tea bars came to a quiet end for Starbucks this week when the chain disclosed plans to close or convert three of its four Teavana cafes. Only the branch in Seattle will remain open, and that will function as a lab of sorts.
The coffee giant is still pushing the tea brand, but through Starbucks cafes and Teavana’s several hundred retail shops. Yet it’s no longer crowing about creating the sort of experience for tea drinkers that coffee fans find in a Starbucks outlet. Starbucks CEO had boasted that the venture could be a $90 billion opportunity for the company.
The retreat from tea bars underscores a new back-to-beans drive by the coffee giant. It is also shuttering its West Coast outpost of the Evolution Fresh juice-press concept, but opening a second Starbucks Reserve Roastery, a high-end cathedral to coffee, in New York City.
And it’s only been seven months since it threw in the napkin on the 23-store La Boulange bakery chain.
The coffee focus is less laser-like internationally. The Teavana concept, for instance, will likely be one of Starbucks’ growth vehicles in India, a tea-centric market.
What, no Hallmark card?
Special-interest groups have given the world such trumped-up occasions as Squirrel Appreciation Day (last Thursday), National Hug Day (also on Thursday) and National Pie Day (two days later). Restaurants have seized on the trend with such concocted events as ugly lamp festivals (when customers are encouraged to bring their abominations for a visit), and ugly sweater celebrations are now routine.
A restaurateur in Australia decided the global phenomenon has gone too far. Matt Chun posted a sign outside his Mister Jones restaurant to announce that the establishment was observing the latest narrow-interest occasion, National Dickhead Day.
“Yes, we’re open on National Dickhead Day,” the chalkboard observed. What Americans might not get: The occasion was actually a widely observed one, Australia Day.
Customers were apparently not amused. Local media reported that vandals seeped glue into the restaurant’s window joints and jammed the locks. Others bombarded the restaurant with angry emails and voice mails.
This year’s Global Peace Day has yet to be set.
A new benchmark for help wanted classifieds
The policy of hiring anyone with a pulse to work in a restaurant is going the way of rotary phones and free meals on planes. Heightened consumer expectations and an irrefutable correlation between employee skill and profits are pushing operators to aim higher in their recruitment and hiring efforts. But few have gone as far as Farmbloomington in Bloomington, Ind., which may have broken all standards in its recent Craigslist ad for a line cook.
The classified ad lists 44 criteria, ranging from “you show up early, and work hard each day,” to believing “’Yes, Chef!’ or ‘Oui, chef!’ is the only proper response in a traditional kitchen.”
The local health department might have some concerns about the requirement that a new hire show up for work “even if sick as a dog,” so the chef can decide if a sick day is warranted.
There are also recommendations that applicants be prepared to be efficient in their trips to the walk-in, mindful in monitoring supplies and laser-focused on avoiding waste.
You can see the whole ad here.
Blizzard proves worst and best of times
Restaurants typically don’t do well when a storm drops nearly three feet of snow on a market, halting transportation and prompting officials to direct a citywide shutdown of businesses. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests last weekend was an exception for places that managed to stay open and field a staff amid Blizzard Jonas.
Requests for seats at New York City restaurants usually booked months in advance fell 88 percent week over week on Saturday, 38 percent on Sunday and 26 percent in the days afterward, according to Resy, an app for bidding on hard-to-get reservations.
Most places threw in the napkin and followed Mayor Bill De Blasio’s recommendation to close and forego delivery during the storm. But those who managed to keep the oven fired, like Shelly Fireman’s Trattoria Dell’Arte enjoyed gangbusters business.
Advice Guy told of us a friend in the business who only had one cook show for the Saturday shift, when the snow was still falling at a rate of several inches per hour. The place decided to sell only hamburgers, charging $20 for each, and slapped 300 patties on the grill. It made a fortune.
‘Who removed my cheese?’
McDonald’s is the envy of many restaurant chains because of its well-grooved processes and systems—the sterling example of how to avert problems through well-oiled operations. But even Babe Ruth whiffed from time to time.
The Golden Arches caught fire on social media this week for a production problem with its new mozzarella sticks, a French fries alternative consisting of battered and baked mozzarella cheese. Post after post showed a hollow capsule of breading.
The chain explained to the media that “a low volume of guest concerns” had led to the discovery of a production problem. The cheese had melted during the baking stage and leaked out of the breading, a quality control issue that went unnoticed, McDonald’s acknowledged.
McDonald’s didn’t reveal how it’s fixing the problem, but indicated that steps are being taken. It also apologized to customers.
The sticks are priced at three for $1.