It’s been a summer of extremes. The Southwest baked like a sheet pan left in a 600-degree oven, while swimmers dodged icebergs along stretches of the East Coast. Tumbleweeds rolled through restaurant dining rooms, but delivery-vehicle gridlock became the standard lead-in to traffic reports. Restaurant bankruptcies kept lawyers in billable hours; so did chain acquisitions at nosebleed-level multiples.
This week was no exception. Here are developments that kept heads rotating from the “Least” pole to the “Most,” with lots of muttering about what the heck restaurants and customers were doing.
1. The most loathed foods—by state
A new dating app promises to help users find love by matching them to fellow searchers who hate the same things—including certain restaurants and food. To call attention to that point of difference, the company behind the Hater app issued a map this week that lists the most despised food or food purveyor in each state.
We now know that Californians’ most loathed restaurant chain is Chick-fil-A, or at least that’s what Hater has declared.
It also found that Oregonians hate fast food, Idahoans despise dim sum, and Kentuckians aren’t exactly fans of hummus.
The methodology for determining the most-loathed entities is vague. The aim is apparently to get singles talking among themselves about what they wouldn’t eat on a dare. It’s apparently a natural transition to how they feel about having children.
2. The most dangerous restaurant job?
The post of restaurant-chain CMO is proving to be the industry’s hot seat of the moment. By our account, no fewer than seven chains have changed their marketing chiefs in recent months, usually with considerable hoopla but few details as to why.
New leaders are in place now at McDonald’s (Morgan Flatley), IHOP (Brad Haley), Sonic Drive-In (Chief Brand Officer Jose Duenas), Papa John’s (Brandon Rhoten), Del Taco (Barry Westrum) and Fazoli’s (Donna Josephson). Arby’s and Salata kept the trend going this week by naming Jim Taylor and Michelle Bythewood as their new CMOs, respectively.
The rationales for the changes are as varied as the individuals and their backgrounds; we can’t find a common thread. Arby’s change, for instance, was the result of former CMO Rob Lynch moving up to president, while McDonald’s clearly wanted a change in direction.
But we can’t help thinking of a new study that showed how restaurant marketing is undergoing a sea change.
3. The least-malled restaurants in America
The surge in online shopping is emptying malls at a head-turning pace, forcing pillars of American retailing to shut stores by the hundreds. A new study suggests traffic at some big-name restaurant chains could be the collateral damage.
The report by the restaurant industry analysts at the Baird financial investment firm asserts that e-commerce’s devastation of malls is posing yet another challenge for casual dining. Chains that once sought mall locations, including The Cheesecake Factory and BJ’s Restaurants, are likely to feel downward pressure on sales and traffic.
The assertions contradict assurances from Cheesecake execs that their brand is unscathed because its host malls tend to be high-end centers and patrons aren’t shoppers looking for a convenient option.
Baird noted that Texas Roadhouse appears to be unscathed by the shift in shopping habits. Ditto for most quick-service chains with a preponderance of mall sites, it asserted.
4. The least-needed name change
Celebrity chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio deserves praise during these racially strained times for dropping the divisive name of a restaurant in his fold. Yes, New Yorkers will no longer have to cringe when they walk past his Fowler & Wells.
If that news elicited more of a “Huh?” than a “Finally!”, we’re with you. It seems Fowler and Wells were the names of publishers and amateur scientists who operated out of a building that formerly occupied the restaurant’s site. They were known during their time as proponents of phrenology, the crackpot theory that a person’s intelligence and personality could be inferred from the bumps, ridges and indents of their skulls. A phrenologist would surmise a person’s abilities and strengths by feeling that subject’s head.
The sinister aspect was the use of the theory to justify racial prejudice. Phrenologists contended that they could read an inherent inferiority in the skull structure of African-Americans. Indeed, it was even cited as a justification for slavery.
Colicchio is taking no chances that he could be tagged a closet bigot. This week he announced the restaurant’s name will be changed to Temple Court, the name of the building that replaced Fowler and Wells’ facility.
5. The least-noticed customer stampede
Buried in the announcement of Panera Bread Co.’s latest step toward menu transparency—printing the sugar and calorie content of beverages right on the cup—was a telling indication of how the restaurant drinks market is changing. Sales of traditional fountain sodas have dropped by 8% since March, with the volume shifting to purchases of sugar-free or lightly sweetened drinks, the company noted in passing.