The restaurant industry hasn’t exactly tiptoed into the new year. We’ve already seen leadership changes at six big chains, the acquisition of two major operations (including a chunk of McDonald’s) and the launch of more ventures than the business has witnessed in some complete years.
And that’s just the start of why chiropractors should be delighted. Here’s a special expanded edition of Head Spinners, touching in particular on how several prominent industry figures are rethinking their roles in 2017.
1. Chipotle doesn’t think you’re stupid after all
After ignoring many conventions of the business, and sniping at rivals that did embrace the tried and true, Chipotle is changing its attitude. This week, surviving CEO Steve Ells told Wall Street watchers the iconoclastic fast casual would strive to right itself by trying check-building add-ons, fostering ties with stores’ local communities and training employees on service fundamentals. The new tactics are straight from the standard chain management textbook, and salute the traditional approaches that once drew the brand’s sneers.
The most dramatic about-face might have been on training, with Ells following up his assessment days earlier that probably half of Chipotle’s restaurants are delivering substandard service. He acknowledged at the ICR Conference that Chipotle had focused too much on the soft and fuzzy goal of empowering employees, instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of pleasing customers. Under a new training system, “We have much more time to ensure that every employee is thoroughly trained and coached on the skills they need to deliver an excellent guest experience,” Nomura restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski quoted Ells as saying.
Ells also revealed plans to lure back lapsed customers by holding fundraisers at units, noting that 40% of the consumers who participate in such events haven’t been to a Chipotle in the last six months. By serving charitable causes, the chain is adopting what 94% of restaurants already do, according to the National Restaurant Association.
The chain also reiterated its plan to add a dessert as an added draw and check builder.
2. Starbucks also shows competitors some respect
Chipotle wasn’t the only high-flying fast casual to show some respect for quick-service convention. After trying to recast stores as bars at night, Starbucks scrapped its Evenings program, which had already spread to more than 400 units. Instead, it’s putting a much brighter spotlight on lunch, particularly as a way of bolstering food sales.
You could almost hear the chorus of "Duh!"s from the rest of the limited-service sector, where lunch has long been the busiest daypart for virtually all but pizza brands.
3. Where restaurants could be
If the restaurant industry wonders how its world would be different if Hillary Clinton had won, a big clue was revealed this week in a document from her campaign. Instead of getting Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder as the secretary of labor, the business would have gotten Starbucks’ chief, Howard Schultz.
A document from the Democratic candidate listed whom she was eying for her cabinet. Schultz was the nominee for the labor post.
Schultz, though not a union champion, has been an innovator in providing such employee benefits as healthcare, education assistance and even a regular gift of coffee. The chain prides itself on taking a high-touch approach to the staff.
Puzder has been a hardline opponent of employer mandates, citing the burden on businesses and the potential impact on job creation. He’s also been a strident champion of a free market, questioning the benefit of manipulating the minimum wage, and has championed the benefits of robotization.
The two couldn’t be further apart in their approaches.
4. Former McDonald’s CEO returns
After keeping a low profile for two years, former McDonald’s chief Don Thompson revealed to Chicago media this week that he’s back in the business.
One of the few McDonald’s chiefs not to rise through the ranks (he came to the company as a tech specialist and former vendor), Thompson has formed an incubator company to develop new concepts. His firm, Cleveland Avenue, has already opened one, Drink, a bar serving nonalcoholic beverages from startup suppliers and entrepreneurs, Crain’s Chicago Business reported.
Cleveland Avenue has also invested in a fast-casual concept called HalfSmoke, which presumably features the Washington, D.C.-area style of sausage, a hot dog made of spicy, coarsely ground meat.
5. Get ready for robot baristas
Reports emerging from the CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas will likely be good news for cyborg praiser Andy Puzder. Among the most-reported innovations were robotic coffee and tea makers. Most were apparently developed for the at-home brewing market, but at least one had obvious commercial application. Showgoers who tried it were asked for their name, their order and how they wanted it customized.