Don’t look now, but the yellow lights are turning green. Or at least that seems to be the variety of color blindness that beset the restaurant industry this week. What might have been agonizing do-I-or-don’t-I deliberations in years past were supplanted this week with confident declarations of, “Hell, yeah, we’re going to do it, and fast!”
The result was a series of moves that would have spun heads like an “Exorcist” remake if dropped jaws weren’t such a issue.
Here are some of those moments.
1. McDonald’s sells its ingredients
Any seasoned industry-watcher knows McDonald’s has been a control freak of daunting ferocity. Its suppliers are essentially required to build a separate production facility to keep other chain customers from stealing recipes. It once sued Molly McButter on the grounds that the “Mc” in the name was a trademark infringement. A brand name other than McDonald’s never appeared on its menu except in the list of beverages.
So it was stunning to learn that the Golden Arches intends to sell its ingredients directly to consumers. This week, the chain’s Canadian operation announced that supermarkets north of the border will soon stock bottles of McDonald’s Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish and McChicken sauces—the very same formulas that customers could formerly taste only by buying the sandwiches.
It’s not the United States, but Canada is one of McDonald’s five largest markets. And it’s within a drive of many American fans.
The reasoning isn’t difficult to fathom. Patrons who wanted to use the sauces on their own concoctions could find the recipes on any number of websites. Now McDonald’s can at least turn that emulation into sales.
2. Starbucks leaps into new tech territory
A few weeks ago, the coffee chain was griping that its advances in mobile ordering were clogging stores with too many customers. Yet this week, the innovator told its shareholders about a slew of new initiatives to grab more sales from customers while they’re still outside the stores, so the units become little more than retrieval points.
Drivers of Ford autos equipped with the manufacturer’s Sync 3 virtual assistant will be able to order coffee just by telling the screen to get it ready. Voice recognition on the chain’s ultra-popular phone app will be expanded so consumers across the United States can just speak their orders into the devices.
It’s also adding what’s called social gifting, or enabling consumers to buy a gift card for someone else via social media. They’ll be able to tweet a credit to friends and family.
To avoid what it termed a few weeks ago as sales-impeding “congestion,” the brand is experimenting with text alerts. Patrons will be sent a notice that their orders are ready, so they won’t have to wait around in stores and potentially scare away walk-in customers.
3. Jamba to add make-your-own-bowls option
In the quest to differentiate catering operations, DIY is clearly emerging as a trend. We recently reported about Nekter’s pop-up-in-a-box catering packages, which enable a customer to make their own juice drinks or bowls in the office or at a home party.
Now Jamba Juice is working on a new catering product aimed at businesses that want to feature something different as a snack or breakfast during a meeting.
“Our new Jamba Bowl Bar will provide guests with a base-style bowl bar, including a variety of fresh toppings, allowing them to create their ideal bowl,” new CEO Dave Pace told financial analysts.
Testing will start next quarter, Pace said.
4. Millennials in the board room?
Their desireability has altered the way many restaurant kitchens, dining rooms and bars function today. Is it a stretch to think that millennials could remake the industry's corporate boardrooms, too?
They might be about to do it, suggests a new report from the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute. The study found that the average age of directors for big corporations is 62.4 years. Only about a fourth of the companies have a board member who’s under 60.
The report did not break out the figures for restaurants. But the category into which the industry falls was found to have a median age for directors of 62.4 years, and the youngest member of a board for all S&P 500 companies in that sector was 48.6.
5. A record for de-franchising?
Restaurant franchisors are prone to boast about the number of licensees they’ve signed and how rapidly they were able to do it. This week brought the first instance of a licensor acknowledging a new record in booting a non-conformer from the system.
Golden Corral told the Poughkeepsie Journalthat it disenfranchised a store in the Hudson Valley, a fairly prosperous area just north of New York City, just two months after the unit opened.
"We have provided the franchisee with notification of termination as the business has fallen out of compliance with expectations outlined in our franchise agreement," Golden Corral spokesman Bill Marks told the paper.
He did not detail those shortcomings, but acknowledged that the situation was “unprecedented” for the chain.
Although the chain could have bragged about how diligently it guards the integrity and perception of its brand, it took the high road and left that unstated.