If the surprises keep coming, neck strain could eclipse the flu as a health concern, at least for avid restaurant watchers. The week’s developments had heads rotating like lawn sprinklers, from a shocker on pay to the mainstreaming of a dangerous new restaurant craze. Add in a riddle and a stab at reversing a tide, and we have the stuff of Ripley.
Put on your neck braces and see what we mean.
1. Who pays the most?
There’s a sense in the business that no chain pays its managers more than The Cheesecake Factory, a complicated, high-volume concept that embraces variation in its cathedral-sized restaurants. A benchmark of head-turning power was set 20 years ago when word emerged that a Cheesecake unit chief could earn a living in the low six figures, along with the use of a company-leased BMW.
But that income looks like chump change compared with how another California-based operation pays its GMs. Word leaked this week that In-N-Out, the privately owned, all-company-operated retro burger chain, typically pays its GMs $160,000 a year. That’s for operating a cookie-cutter quick-service operation with a menu that’s a standout in simplicity and brevity. Its units average $2.5 million in annual sales, compared with Cheesecake’s $10.7 million, according to Technomic.
In-N-Out confirmed that the figure, first reported in the The California Sun, was accurate. And the sum doesn’t include the cool, retro soda-fountain hats that managers get to wear.
2. Forget karaoke. Hatchet throwing is the bomb.
Thinking of adding karaoke as a draw for slow nights? Wimp. Why not be a real bad ass and go with the hairy new craze in on-premise entertainment, hurling axes and hatchets?
Yes, the newest activity to catch hold in bars and restaurants is using lumberjacks’ gear in place of darts. Customers wing either a regulation-sized axe or a downsized tomahawk at a target, ideally while sipping beers and ordering appetizers.
There’s even a league of enthusiasts, the National Axe Throwing Federation, which indicates that blade-throwing contests are now held in 41 states.
The activity is so disjointed from a restaurant's or bar’s usual operations that many places are positioning themselves as hatchet-throwing establishments that feature food and grog, rather than the other way around.
3. What’d he just say?
The puzzler of the week may be what Red Lobster CEO Kim Lopdrup meant when he revealed on Fox Business that the chain intends “to give guests new ways to use Red Lobster.” In restaurant lingo, a statement like that usually refers to snagging more off-premise business through third-party delivery, enhanced takeout efforts and a push for catering. But Lopdrup cited a boost in off-premise sales as the third pillar of the 749-unit chain’s top-line strategy. The new-use pursuit was Pillar No. 4, a distinct endeavor.
Our bet: We’ll see a dramatically different prototype that rides the trend toward fewer seats, easier takeout and delivery, and faster lunch service.
4. Inside the cashless Starbucks
We sent a reporter to Seattle this week to check out two head-spinning innovations in the hometown of Starbucks and Amazon: the former’s new cashless store and the opening of the latter’s next generation of food shop, Amazon Go.
The biggest surprise may have been the new Starbucks—primarily because it delivered no surprise whatsoever. “This Starbucks seems almost completely normal,” noted Jackson Lewis, the tech reporter for our sister publication, CSP. “No disruption. No fuss. Just a couple of signs posted letting customers know the drill.”
Amazon Go is another story, as you can read here.
5. That’s right, a reduction in the minimum wage
The minimum wage may be steadily climbing toward $15 in many areas of the country, but Maine may drop out of that parade. The state legislature is considering a proposal to roll back the lowest legal wage to $9.50 an hour, from the current level of $10. The reduction would also presumably slow, if not reverse, a scheduled rise to $12 an hour, as required by a referendum that passed in the last election.
Opponents of the $10 wage say it has hurt seniors and others on fixed incomes by forcing retailers to raise their prices for basic groceries.
The rollback has the support of Maine’s controversial governor, Paul LePage.
6. Battle of the bennies
The week brought an upswing in benefits for restaurant employees, a surprise given how acutely the industry is feeling the spike in labor costs. Starbucks drew headlines with its announcement of giving stock grants, more paid sick leave and family leave, as well as an across-the-board raise in pay. Almost unnoticed was the employment sweetener that was added by Brinker International, the parent of Chili’s and Maggiano’s.
The casual-dining operator underscored that educational assistance is the benefit of the day. Employees will now be able to take English-as-a-second-language courses, pursue a high school graduation equivalency degree or study for an associate degree in business and general studies, all at the company’s expense. To be applicable, a team member has to log at least 90 days with Brinker, working at least 24 hours a week.
Educational benefits are also offered by McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Starbucks.