Sharp turns from the status quo left some restaurateurs virtually tongue-tied this year. They lacked the words to tag the new phenomena shaping their world. Fortunately, masters of geek-speak were standing by with the appropriate slang terms, sparing operators from having to point and grunt like cave dwellers.
Here are some of the expressions that gained currency in 2016 as the business and its fellow travelers grappled with unfamiliar realities.
‘Siri, define ‘chatbot’’
There appears to be a sizeable chunk of the delivery market that can muster neither the time nor energy to touch a screen or—oh, the rigors!—place an order via phone. The danger of muscle strain was cut appreciably by the embrace this year of what amounts to an invisible friend, a chat buddy who’ll place the order if you just ask him, her or it. The customer converses verbally or via text just as he or she would with a real person. But actually at the other end of the virtual conversation is the chatbot.
Blame this clunker on the unions. Labor invented the term for instances where employees who work a restaurant’s closing shift are also expected to reopen the place in the morning. The gap between the shifts can sometimes be too short to afford a full eight hours of sleep. Worker advocates pushed hard for legislation this year that would outlaw clopenings by requiring restaurants and other employers to provide staffers with at least a 10-hour break between consecutive shifts. They succeeded in Seattle, and Emeryville, Calif. They’re still pushing in Oregon and New York City.
There are plenty of riffs on this one, but the various names all refer to the same thing: prohibitions against changing an employee’s hours for at least two weeks before the start of a scheduled shift. The proposals are intended to protect workers from the uncertainty of not knowing how many hours they’ll be able to work during any given week. In places like San Francisco and Seattle, they now have two weeks’ advance notice of their schedules. And if their hours are cut, they’re still paid for the scheduled time.
The secure scheduling bills are often carriers for clopening bans and provisions requiring employers to give current employees more hours before looking to hire new people.
The other addendum to the vocabulary from organized labor is this takeoff on “daycare.” Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, the pro-labor group that insists it’s not a union despite walking and quacking like one, is harping on the term as a way of casting servers’ jobs in a bad light. The group has noted how rarely a restaurant offers childcare or funding for the service to parents working a night shift. Nightcare was underscore in 2016 as one of the benefits they’d like to see extended to restaurant employees.
We preferred the term “nonrestaurant restaurants,” the label initially applied to delivery-only concepts like Maple, Sprig and Munchery. After all, they’re not really restaurants. There’s no dining room, no takeout, not event a storefront. They’re just a kitchen that serves food via delivery.
But that phrase has been nudged out of vogue by “headless restaurants.” We’re not sure of the origin, but it’s gaining currency—perhaps because the services themselves proliferated and expanded so quickly during 2016.
Picture a milkshake that has a banana split smashed on top of it, so the over-the-top dessert stands more than a foot high. The particular components are less important than the extreme indulgence they provide as a combo—gluttony that exceeds the sum of its parts.
Freakshakes could easily be divided into two or three hefty treats, but they’re intended for one patron. They first started swelling waistlines in Australia, then waddled to the U.K. This year, they started showing up in American restaurants here and there. It’s not unusual to see them served in a full quart-sized Mason jar.
A milkshake might be the foundation, but the piled-on elements can be savory as well as sweet. Some of the more popular versions use bacon and pork belly—what else?—in lieu of cake or ice cream.