Progress ran into considerable resistance this week within the restaurant business, with robots losing ground to actual carbon life forms in a big way. Fortunately for the trade, clocks weren’t turned back in the handling of a scandal that reinforces damning impressions of the industry’s working conditions.
Here’s what we mean.
1. New rules sideline delivery robots
Restaurants’ efforts to perfect delivery robots were set back in recent days by a little-noticed change in San Francisco’s sidewalk regulations. The Board of Supervisors adapted requirements that any operation trying cyber-delivery obtain a permit and follow strict new guidelines about where and what an autonomous nonhuman can deliver. The measure is intended to lessen the odds that the devices, now noticeable on the streets of San Francisco, will collide with more fragile sidewalk occupants, like humans or pets.
The tech site Wired called it “perhaps the harshest crackdown on delivery robots in the United States”—an irony, given that the City by the Bay is a preferred test track because of its proximity to Silicon Valley and pronounced streak of nonconformity.
The rules require delivery robots to emit a warning sound, be equipped with a headlight, always cede the right of way, and move no faster than 3 mph. Only nine will be allowed to ply the sidewalks at any given time, and a human handler has to accompany each in case the technology goes haywire.
Companies dispatching the robots will be required to maintain insurance—including workers' comp coverage.
2. Trolling re-erupts in BK-McD's feud
The chances of ending hostilities between Burger King and McDonald’s were dimmed this week by renewed sniping from the Home of the Whopper. A YouTube video posted by BK show its creepy mascot, The King, sending McDonald’s restaurants a toolshed-sized Christmas gift, wrapped and bowed, via helicopter and truck. The King arrives and presses a button to reveal what’s inside the box: a grill. “Now you can flame-grill too,” the to/from ticket reads.
McDonald’s has yet to retaliate. Fans of the Golden Arches recently took matters into their own hands, swarming BK units overseas and yelling putdowns at the staff.
3. Don't get shortchanged on new financing route, SEC warns
Securities regulators have put the brakes on a controversial new way for small businesses like restaurant operations to raise capital directly from the public. Under the arrangement, known as an initial coin offering (ICO), a venture sells virtual coins to investors. The cybercurrency represents a piece of equity, with the sort of inherent value a stock certificate holds. Speculators can buy or sell in the expectation the price of a coin will rise or fall. But it can also be used as currency to buy goods or services, the way bitcoin can.
This week, Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton issued a warning to investors about buying cryptocurrencies, as the virtual coins are called. He noted that the financing model carries considerable risk, in part because the emerging market is nearly unregulated. It’s also so new that there is no track record of success.
The only restaurant company known to be using cryptocurrency at present is Burger King’s operation in Russia, and its WhopperCoins function as much as reward points for frequent guests as they do currency. Guests earn the coins by ordering a Whopper. The virtual currency can then be redeemed for free food, but it can also be sold or bartered to other Whopper fans. The hope is that the coins will someday be accepted as currency by other businesses.
The SEC blocked an ICO this week by a restaurant-related company, Munchee, a restaurant review site that hoped to raise $15 million with the offer. It also intended to offer the cybercoins as a reward for consumers who submitted restaurant reviews.
4. Past winners’ sex scandals prompt rethink of Beard Awards
The sexual harassment allegations leveled against past winners of a James Beard Award have prompted the organization behind the honors to reconsider the program’s criteria.
“The Foundation and its Awards Committees are evaluating our policies to both ensure the integrity of our programs, and be certain they remain a beacon of excellence and source of inspiration in our industry,” the James Beard Foundation said this week in a statement.
The foundation also used its blog to provide a tutorial on sexual harassment and where to get help in countering it.
Among the former winners who have been hit with allegations of sexual impropriety in recent weeks are Mario Batali, John Besh and baker Johnny Iuzzini.
5. 'Super Sizer' claims a share of sexual harassment blame
Morgan Spurlock, the smartass behind the documentary “Super Size Me,” is usually a gadfly to the restaurant industry. But in the wake of the sexual harassment scandals that tarnished the business this week, the filmmaker stepped forward to assume some responsibility for what’s become a blight across much of the business world.
“I am part of the problem,” he wrote in an online post. "I don't sit by and wonder 'Who will be next?' I wonder, 'When will they come for me?'"
Spurlock owned up to a number of incidents where he acted in a way that offended women, and one in which he was accused of rape.
He vowed to change his attitudes and behavior, and resigned as head of his own production company.