The week brought a hodgepodge of head-turning moments, from undeniable proof the industry is shrinking to a barkworthy break for pet-loving staffers. Here’s a quick review.
1. ‘I’ll turn this car around right now!’
Years of parental threats have apparently left an impression on authorities in Boston, where restaurant bars are facing the possibility of a ban on cocktail glasses if customers don’t start playing nice with one another.
Places where patrons tend to use the glasses as weapons were advised this week by the Liquor Licensing Board that they may have to resort to less dangerous containers, like plastic cups, if guests don’t behave. Glass beer bottles would also be verboten.
“If we see a pattern of glass as a weapon, it will no longer be allowed,” Chairwoman Christine Pulgini said at a public hearing covered by the Boston Herald.
The hearing was called because of complaints filed against two local watering holes where glass figured into recent fisticuffs. But these were not your classic sawdust-on-the-floor establishments. The two offending institutions: Minibar at the Copley Square Hotel, and the Bond Lounge at The Langham.
2. Parental leave for dog lovers
Employee benefits continue to expand in the restaurant industry. Witness the perk that will soon be provided by a Scottish brewery with a U.S. brewpub under development. Employees of BrewDog will be granted paid time off to deal with a new puppy or the adoption of a rescue dog.
The benefit also extends to human additions to the family.
The first U.S. BrewDog draught room opened this week in Ohio.
3. Good news on the supply side
Industry observers trying to explain restaurant chains’ worsening sales problems have new evidence that an oversupply of seats is definitely a factor. Although the number of restaurants in operation has fallen overall by 2% in the United States, the nose-count of chain places inched upward in roughly the last year by a point, according to The NPD Group.
At least the competition was thinned by a 4% drop in the tally of independents, the researcher said.
4. Is delivery worth it?
With on-premise traffic continuing to soften, casual chains are feeling the pressure to branch into delivery, despite some significant hesitations about product quality, guest experience and even the economics. The potential complications were driven home this week when executives shared some of the complexities with financial analysts.
For one thing, acknowledged Doug Benn, CFO for The Cheesecake Factory, there’s the cost of paying a third-party deliverer. Margins might take a hit, but counterbalancing the impact are the savings from not having to wash patrons’ dishes and napkins, he revealed. About half the chain is now offering delivery, a development CEO and co-founder David Overton had initially discounted as something the brand would not do.
Still, a lot goes into the decision and the rollout, revealed Liz Smith, CEO of Outback parent Bloomin’ Brands. About 135 of the company’s restaurants now offer delivery. “We have a dedicated team that we've had in place for two years focusing on that,” she said.
Texas Roadhouse is still not convinced it’s the way to go, unless you’re talking about a store in New York City or some other dense urban setting. Founder and CEO Kent Taylor readily acknowledges that he doesn’t want to surrender control of the guest experience by moving a Roadhouse meal out of the restaurant.
5. Red Robin’s bold service targets
Red Robin is one of the full-service chains that’s moving into delivery with caution. In the meantime, the brand is focused on boosting the speed of an on-site visit.
COO Carin Stutz revealed this week that the burger brand has set a goal of bringing down the average wait time for an order to 10 minutes, from the currently “acceptable level” of 16 minutes.
Similarly, the chain is striving to ensure that a drink is sold along with every burger—or as CEO Denny Post put it, "Making sure that as you walk through the restaurant, every burger has got a beverage sitting next to it. The only thing it makes me unhappy is a glass of water."