Tag : Food Safety

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What is the deal with Yelp?

Yelp Reviews

We posted a blog two days ago, The Ugly Truth about Dirty Restaurants and Yelp, and it has generated some very passionate comments about Yelp and the people who were apparently sickened by the restaurant.  The original article that the blog is based off is from the Food Poison Journal.

I don’t own a restaurant or manage one at this time, so I am disconnected from Yelp reviews as a business owner.  I do travel a lot and use Yelp to find restaurants.  I pay attention to the star rating, and I read the top 10 or so reviews and make my decision based off of that, so that is my connection to Yelp.

We’ve heard rumors; I can’t prove any of this, about Yelp strong-arming restaurants to advertise with them and even promising to remove bad reviews if you become a paid customer.  I’ve also heard that people will place phony reviews to hurt their direct competitors.

We need to hear from you about Yelp – but to be heard you need to follow the rules for commenting:

  1. Keep you comments to experiences that you have had directly with Yelp and Yelp reviews.
  2. If you were able to fix the situation – post what you did to fix it so that it can help others.
  3. Keep the cursing and the direct naming of names of people or other businesses out of your comments.

If you follow those rules, we will post your responses.

Here is the question:  What is the deal with Yelp?

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Front of the House Conference

Today’s blog is a short one.  I was doing some research today and I stumbled upon this small conference that I had never heard about, the Welcome Conference.  This article below from Grubstreet.com, summarizes the author’s Top 10 take away’s from last year’s conference.  I was bummed to find out that this year’s conference in June has already sold out.

The question is this; why am I sharing a blog about a conference that is a year old?  Because on the Welcome Conference’s website they have a video library of the 2014 conference and as the WSJ coined in a different article, this conference is a little bit like a TED talk on Front of the House service.  If you get a second you should check out some of the videos on their site.

Here is Sierra Tishgart’s article from last year’s Welcome Conference.  Enjoy

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10 Big Lessons From New York’s First Hospitality Conference

These people know how to pamper. Photo: mattduckor/Twitter

Yesterday, some of the country’s most hospitable people got together in New York. The reason: Eleven Madison Park co-owner, Will Guidara, and Anthony Rudolf, who has worked for Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, hosted the first-ever Welcome Conference. This day-long celebration of front-of-house service is the first of its kind, and like the MAD Symposium and Cherry Bombe‘s Jubilee, this congress brought out heavy hitters: cherished manager Charles Masson, Nick Kokonas of Alinea, Gabriel Stulman (who owns like half the restaurants in the West Village), and even Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti. These are people who know how to make strangers feel at ease instantly. The conference’s topics included the humility of service, creating heart and soul inside a neighborhood restaurant, and using technology without losing sight of human interaction. It was restaurant-focused, as you’d expect, but many of the speakers’ points clearly apply to other situations. After all, on its most basic level, hospitality is just about making other people feel good. Here, then, are the day’s most interesting takeaways.

1. Learn How to Say No the Right Way.
Hearth‘s Paul Grieco seeks to create a feeling of “tension and confrontation” in his restaurants. While the Danny Meyer model is to always say yes, Grieco actually encourages his team to often say no. It sounds counterintuitive, but saying no with a smile creates impactful and playful dialogue with guests, as long as it’s well-intentioned. “You should not be a goddamn cork-puller — anyone can do that,” Grieco said. “You should be a storyteller.” The point is there’s a right way to speak up for yourself, even in an atmosphere where the customer is trained to think he or she is always right.

2. Find the One Little Detail That Will Make an Entire Experience Better.
La Caravelle‘s Rita Jammet recalled an excellent meal that started with pre-buttered bread. That’s the kind of tiny detail that other restaurants overlook, but diners notice instantly — a shockingly simple way to set a tone for the rest of the night. Gabriel Stulman said that he even hugged a customer who freaked out over a 45-minute wait time. (In fact, his servers compete to see who can get the most unsolicited hugs.) Hugging might be a bit much, but the point is there’s always something just a little bit more that you can do make someone feel taken care of — the best managers are always trying to figure out what that is.

3. Just Assume You Always Have to Go the Extra Mile.
Brian and Mark Canlis, of Seattle’s famed restaurant, declared, “Bad service is like prostitution.” In other words, it becomes clear to customers when they’re only getting what they want because they’re paying. But that model isn’t sustainable in the long term, and the best service happens when a staff actually cares about diners’ experiences. The feelings exchanged during a great meal — or any business interaction — last a lot longer than a single check.

4. Don’t Let Technology Take Over Your Life.
Nick Kokonas discussed how the online ticketing system for Alinea, Next, and the Aviary has revolutionized the way he does business, but the Fat Duck‘s Simon King reminded the crowd that hospitality is nevertheless built on a foundation of human interaction. For example, taking orders on iPads might expedite service, but what’s lost in the process? In fact, as digital tools only become more prevalent, small personal exchanges — like having someone available to answer the phone — will just start to feel more like special touches.

5. Own Your Mistakes.
“I don’t care how perfectly you think everything is going, something is bound to happen because you’re human,” said the legendary Charles Masson. “It’s how you handle it.” Masson says he’s received notes from customers actually praising how he’s handled mistakes. More wise words: “Service is not being beneath someone, but you have to be under someone to push them up.”

6. Take Work Just Seriously Enough.
Gabriel Stulman lets servers wear their own clothes (but if it’s a sleeveless shirt, they have to shave their armpits), play their own music, and drink on the job (to a certain extent). “If the staff is having fun, that will permeate to guests,” he advises. Try to enjoy yourself at work today.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Show Emotion.
Will Guidara, who told a moving story about caring for his mother, stressed the importance of being “fully, emotionally present” at all times. “In the absence of an emotional exchange, it’s impossible to have any sort of real, meaningful connection,” he said.

8. Take the Lead.
“You’re a boss; act like it,” Del Posto‘s Jeff Katz says. “Be in charge.” Even though he considers his colleagues his family, he knows when it’s time to be firm. Another total boss: Shake Shack’s Randy Garutti, whose organization is run so smoothly that he was able to open an entirely new location just hours before he arrived at the conference.

9. Feel Free to Google-Stalk, in a Healthy Way.
Eleven Madison Park is famous for Googling its customers, but it’s hardly the only restaurant that uses digital info to create better service. Kokonas uses the database of his online ticketing system to store information from Facebook and Twitter, allowing him to anticipate the needs of each guest. “We’re not stalking people,” Kokonas says. “We’re trying to create a more magical experience.” A little research will go a long way.

10. Don’t Overapologize.
Frank Bruni told a funny story that never made it into a review: On his last visit to Nobu 57, he pressed the soap dispenser too hard and it exploded on his shirt. Not only did the restaurant try to comp his drinks as an “apology” for the “malfunction” (for an accident that Bruni admitted was completely his own fault), the manager offered to pay for his dry-cleaning bill, or even purchase Bruni a new shirt. Remember: It pays off if you take it easy, even when you’re trying to impress someone. People want to feel comfortable, but they don’t need to be babied.

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The Ugly Truth about Dirty Restaurants and Yelp

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Would you eat in a restaurant if you knew that the week before they got several people sick? You would be a fool if you did.

Yelp is going from a review site to the first line of defense in foodborne illness outbreaks. We’ve been very supportive of Yelp posting health inspection scores on their restaurant pages, and we would like to see more cities using the Yelp platform as a way to post those scores.

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Yelp is going beyond just partnering with local governments to gather and distribute health inspection score data. They are working on an open source datatype that will standardize how health inspections could be uploaded and distributed. Standardizing the scoring data allows for better analysis and quick apple to apple comparisons.

As you read the article below from Food Poison Journal, you will see that people who were affected by the Salmonella outbreak were very vocal themselves about what happened to them.

OpsAnalitica will continue to support more transparency of health inspection scores whether it be on yelp or letter grades, etc.; because we believe that it is good for the restaurant industry as a whole.

With transparency comes additional responsibility for health departments and Yelp. Health departments must make provisions, even if there is a cost associated with expedited service, to reinspect quickly.  A restaurant that get’s a C on their health score that quickly remediates their issues should be able to get a reinspection quickly even if they have to pay.

Yelp needs to be aware that fraudulent reviews can destroy a business and need to put in place ways for restaurants to prove when they are being wronged and to quickly remove fake reviews.

Please enjoy this article from the Food Poison Journal.

Yelp to the Rescue in Los Angeles Salmonella Outbreak at Don Antonio’s
POSTED BY PATTI WALLER ON MAY 3, 2015

Over the last week, Marler Clark was been retained by two friends who both ate together at Don Antonio’s in mid-March and developed Salmonella.

According to Yelp, a lot more people did as well.

Hannah:

My co-workers and I have been fans of Don Antonio’s lunch specials for years, until now.

We had lunch there Thursday, March 19. One of my coworkers got so sick that she spent three days in the hospital. My other coworker and I got hit with the illness a few days later and not as badly, but we’re still miserable. I am shocked to read the other reviews of people getting sick and am so upset that this was preventable. I will avoid Don Antonio’s at all costs now. It’s not worth the risk of a trip to the hospital.

Jose:

Don’t go there . On Friday March 20 2015 5 of my co-workers and my self we went to have lunch together and now we all have gone to emergency room! Because of diarrhea vomiting head ache fever and much more! But the worst part is that we went so see the doctor and we are still the same! Now I don’t know what to do because I have tried everything and nothing work.

Scarlett:

Is management aware that several customers, including myself got very ill? I went here on March 20 for lunch. Shortly after I got very sick. I went to my doctor and then to the hospital. It is salmonella. I am so angry.. I read the other reviews here so I’m wondering if management is aware? !

Dionne:

BEWARE! I see others have already posted but my daughter and I ate here on 3/19 and she got salmonella. As of 4/3 she is still ill. I’m horribly upset to see others wound up sick too; I am posting in hopes no one goes there.

Golden T.:

FOOD POISONING!

As with the other Yelp reviewers that recently went to Don Antonio’s for lunch, my two friends and I also got sick. We ate there on Friday, March 20th. I ended up in the ER for several hours, went through two bags of IV for hydration, took pain medication, anti-nausea medication and antibiotics. I just recently started to feel a little better but still not 100%.

My friend took food home for her family. Her 3 y/o and 14 y/o also got extremely ill. She and her 14 y/o went to Urgent Care and she took her youngest to a pediatrician.

Our other friend, who has a new baby, was also very ill and is struggling to recover.

This is worthy of a Department of Health investigation. For my sick compatriots, I hope that all of us can fully recover from this.

Cassandra S.:

My boyfriend recently got food poisoning or so we thought it was just food poisoning after he ate lunch at the restaurant last Friday. He’s been bed ridden since Friday and it’s now Wednesday. We’ve been to the hospital twice and to the doctor’s twice. Finally, we received a call from the Dr. that he got salmonella. Not freaking cool Don Antonois. Really disgusting.

Veronica L:

My Husband and 3 of his co-workers all ended up with Food Poisoning after having lunch at this place. We spent the weekend at Urgent Care, my husband had diarrhea, vomiting , and temperature of 103.4. Him and his co-workers all have missed work due to the same. I would not recommend this place at all! We all think they recycle their salsa.

Andrea M.:

Salmonella! My friend are here on March 20, 2015 and became very sick. The sickness lasted for one week. Had to go to the hospital multiple times. Test came back as salmonella. Beware – don’t want this happening to anyone else.

Todd H.:

Salmonella! To everybody who has been sick from eating at Don Antonio’s, go to the hospital immediately because it is Salmonella. It was the worst week of my life. Hopefully, nobody else has to go through what I went through.

Leonel Z.:

Warning do not go to this restaurant…

My friends and I came to this restaurant last week on Friday March 20 2015 and we all ended up at the emergency room with a really bad bacteria and didn’t know what it was… They gave me the results today and they said i have salmonella. Eat at your own risk.

And, one from Trip Advisor:

Ms. L:

“SALMONELLA POISONING. Don’t go here”

We have eaten here over 15 years and I was horrified to find out my friend and I got Salmonella poisoning there on March 20, 2015. It’s unacceptable that a Los Angeles restaurant with an “A” rating can be delivering salmonella to its customers for several days. I’ve just discovered others online reviews (see Yelp) confirming the same thing. It’s a disgusting illness, worse than standard food poisoning and serious. Whatever they did, too many people got sick so they should be investigated to find out what’s going on there. It’s an extremely popular restaurant, very successful and there is no excuse for such an incident. Shame on you Don Antonio’s, what happened to all of us who ate there that week could have been life threatening, words cannot describe my disappointment.

Salmonella: Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Salmonella outbreaks. The Salmonella lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Salmonella and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Salmonella lawyers have litigated Salmonella cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as cantaloupe, tomatoes, ground turkey, salami, sprouts, cereal, peanut butter, and food served in restaurants. The law firm has brought Salmonella lawsuits against such companies as Cargill, ConAgra, Peanut Corporation of America, Sheetz, Taco Bell, Subway and Wal-Mart.

If you or a family member became ill with a Salmonella infection, including Reactive Arthritis or Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Salmonella attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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McDonald’s tests delivery in New York

As part of their turnaround strategy McDonald’s has launched a delivery service test in the NYC market. The market consists of 88 stores and the ordering and delivery will be managed through Postmates which is a mobile app technology that allows customers to place orders through their mobile device. The delivery is then performed by independent contractors in their own vehicles. Think Uber for food delivery. Postmates also offers the same service for Starbucks and Chipotle.

An article on nrn.com cites that the service cost will include a standard service charge and a fee based on distance. The full menu sans ice cream cones will be available for delivery during normal business hours with some stores offering 24/7 delivery.

Seems like a good test market for McD’s especially since David Chang has launched a new concept based around delivery in the financial district of Manhattan. Population density will keep the service somewhat affordable whereas, more spread out areas would increase the delivery fee. Next best option would be college towns, especially for 24/7 service. In the long run I feel like they will need to develop their own technology and delivery system to launch this worldwide. I’m sure that option is on the table should this test turn out successful. Rather than develop the technology the quicker option would be to acquire it instead. We’ll see what the results turn out to be, we’ll be sure to follow and keep you informed.

I have copied the nrn.com article in it’s entirety below:

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McDonald’s Corp. is testing delivery at 88 restaurants in New York City through the app-based delivery service Postmates, the company said Monday, in its latest effort to modernize its domestic business.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook revealed the delivery test during a 23-minute video describing the quick-service operator’s turnaround plan.

In a following announcement, the company described the delivery plan with Postmates as a “test,” starting Monday, enabling customers to have food delivered from select restaurants in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

“This is a city where delivery is a way of life,” Mwaffak Kanjee, vice president and general manager of McDonald’s New York Metro region, said in a statement. “We are excited to launch this test so our customers can get hot, freshly prepared food right from McDonald’s kitchens, when and where they want it.”

McDonald’s full menu — except for ice cream cones — will be available for delivery during normal operating hours at participating restaurants. Certain restaurants, the company said, will offer delivery 24 hours a day.

A delivery fee for the service will be calculated based on the distance traveled by the courier, plus a standard service charge.

“Our customers continue to tell us they want their favorites from McDonald’s delivered right to their doorsteps,” Julia Vander Ploeg, vice president of McDonald’s USA Digital, said in a statement. “We’ve listened to their feedback and are excited to launch this initiative. We look forward to learning from this test and continuing to innovate as we offer our customers everyday conveniences and new ways to experience our brand.”

The move marks the latest deal between a large restaurant chain and Postmates, which also has delivery deals with Starbucks and Chipotle. Postmates lets customers order delivery online or from a smartphone app, and uses an Uber-style model of independent contractors who deliver food with their own vehicles.

In addition to the operators using Postmates, a growing number of quick-service and fast-casual chains are testing or implementing delivery as a way to expand their reach and improve convenience. Taco Bell plans to test delivery, and Burger King offers delivery in certain markets.

How delivery benefits the restaurants remains to be seen. Executives of Restaurant Brands International Inc., Burger King’s parent company, said last week that delivery has had no impact so far on the chain’s same-store sales.

For McDonald’s, the test further indicates that the company is looking at just about everything as it seeks to lift domestic same-store sales, which fell 2.6 percent in the first quarter and have been falling for more than 18 months.

The company is testing all-day breakfast service, talking about trimming its menu and working on customization, both through a major service model change known as Create Your Taste and another toned-down effort called TasteCrafted.

McDonald’s is also giving different regions more autonomy to run their own advertising and offer their own localized menu items.

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MIT Is Developing Sensors To Detect When Food Is Going Bad

An article on fastcoexist.com talks about an MIT lab working on a sensor that will tell you when food is going bad vs relying on labels placed on the items. The stat in the article cites that in the US we waste 40% of the food that we harvest. They claim that sell by and use by dates are partially to blame.

I can see that since we live is in such a litigious society food produces are probably very conservative when they calculate the sell by and use by dates. I would guess that most dates are anywhere from a week to a month too soon in order to err on the side of caution. This gives the food producers some liability protection in a sense. With these new sensors they will shift the liability to them instead.

Will this have any effect on the restaurant industry? If you are a busy location you don’t have issues using your food before it expires. This will probably have more of an impact on home cooking and grocery than it will the restaurant industry, but it’s still a pretty neat technology. It’ll be interesting to see how it will be rolled out on a wide scale. It’s in the food producers best interest to sell more and grocery stores and consumers are interested in wasting less. Not really on the same page in that area.

It’s just cool to see all the new technology that’s being developed. I have copied the full article below:

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One reason the U.S. wastes 40% of all the food it harvests is that we don’t have a good handle on the status of that food. As consumers, we rely largely on best before and use by dates that are notoriously conservative, and often flat-out wrong. Actual food decays at variable rates that aren’t reflected in that information.

That’s why new types of food quality sensors could be so useful. If we can assess the actual state of each food item, that should allow us to make more informed choices and thus manage our fridges better. All things being equal, better information ought to lead to better decision-making.

One promising technology: the sensors being developed by Timothy Swager’s lab at MIT. Swager is testing an electrically-conductive material that changes resistance in the presence of gases called amines, which are released when food starts going bad. By reading that resistance from outside a package, you can figure out how edible the food is inside.

“You can put in tags about the size of business cards with an antennae, and then power them and read them with a smartphone,” Swager says. “You can have the sensor buried in the packaging where it’s not even obvious, and you can read it with a near-field communication device.”

The device could be several inches away, like with a contactless payment or ticketing system. The sensor inside the packet contains high-tech nanotube material that reacts to the amines. It’s really nothing more than two contact points with a conductive strip running between.

Swager has set up a company to commercialize the technology and he expects to do the first demonstrations to interested clients this summer. The first applications are likely to be for food workers working with meat and fish, but there’s no reason why consumers shouldn’t get their own devices in due time.

There are efforts to create visual clues for food status. But Swager says his method is better because it doesn’t rely on perception: it produces hard data that can be logged and tracked. And it also has potential to be very cheap.

“The resistance method is a game-changer because it’s two to three orders of magnitude cheaper than other technology. It’s hard to imagine doing this cheaper,” he says.

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Healthy Kids Menus

An article on NPR is citing a study that was done by ChildObesity180 on the fast casual restaurant chain Silver Diner changing up their kids menu to offer more healthy options.

The study tracked some 350,000 kids menu orders covering 6 months before and 6 months after they changed the menu. Healthy meant the meal met the standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids Live Well Program. The new menu eliminated soda and fries as the default option and offered salads and strawberries instead. The study found that whether there were healthy or not healthy sides the majority of orders went with the default. The “old” sides are still available to order if the customer desires. Silver Diner raised the price of the kids meals 19 cents which they stated had little to no effect on sales.

Interesting study I suppose with all the healthy options hype going on. The fact that the study found that it basically doesn’t matter what’s on the menu as most go with the default options, doesn’t tell me it had a positive or negative effect on sales. You can’t really say that this is what the customers wanted for that same reason. From the time that this study was conducted in 2012 until now the restaurant industry has seen some tremendous growth so it was probably good timing to try out a new menu. It’s nice that more children are eating healthier when they go out, but sometimes fries and milkshake are needed.

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I have copied the full article below:

Will a kids’ meal sans fries and soda still tempt the youngest diners at restaurants?

Chef Ype Von Hengst certainly thinks so. He’s the co-founder of Silver Diner — a chain of fast-casual restaurants in Virginia and Maryland.

Customers want healthier options for their kids, Hengst says. “We tempt them with the stuff they like, but we make sure it’s also good for them,” he says.

Back in 2012, Silver Diner completely overhauled its children’s menu, offering options like teriyaki salmon and quinoa pancakes alongside diner classics like chicken tenders and grilled cheese. The chain also took fries and sodas off the kids’ menu (though customers can still request those items), and it made healthy side items like salads and strawberries the default options.

“This was a huge hit, I think,” he says. “I think everybody — moms and kids — appreciated this.”

Researchers with ChildObesity180, at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition, got wind of the changes Hengst was planning, and they wanted to know if he was onto something. So they tracked what families ordered at all of Silver Diner’s locations during the six months before and after the kids’ menu changed — some 350,000 children’s meals in all. The results were published Tuesday in the journal Obesity.

 

“What we found was that this new menu was really working for them,” says Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, a research associate and adjunct professor of nutrition at Tufts University, who led the study.

Before the changes, only about 3 percent of meals ordered off the children’s menu qualified as healthy — meaning they met the nutritional standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids Live Well program. After the menu revamp, 46 percent of meals ordered met that standard.

And while 57 percent of customers ordered French fries for their kids off the old menu, only 22 percent still requested fries after they disappeared from the menu. All told, about 40 percent of customers stuck with the default side dishes — regardless of whether the sides were fatty or healthy.

“There’s actually a lot of research done in other contexts that shows that people always tend to choose the default. They don’t like going out of their way to choose something else,” Anzman-Frasca notes. So if strawberries and salads are the automatic choice, most parents and kids are going to be happy with that, she says.

Although the average price of kids’ meals increased by 19 cents after the health-conscious overhaul, most customers didn’t seem to notice the difference, Anzman-Frasca adds. The restaurant’s revenues consistently increased during the study period.

“This shows that restaurants shouldn’t worry about disappointing their customers and losing profits if they change their menus,” Anzman-Frasca says.

It also shows that kids’ palettes are more sophisticated than we’d expect, she says. “We’re starting to see in this study that kids are open to more things than we give them credit for.”

Hengst agrees. “Let me tell you, the kids lost it for our low-sodium teriyaki salmon,” he says. “And meanwhile, moms were like, ‘Wow! I didn’t even know my kid liked salmon.’ ”

Silver Diner’s success comes as no surprise to Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit consumer group that advocates for healthier foods.

“If you’re a parent and you’re at a fast-food restaurant, it’s likely that you’re tired, and [the kids have] just finished soccer practice,” she says. “You’re going to order whatever is easiest.”

When restaurants make healthy options visible and easy to order, customers tend to respond well, Wootan notes. “So why not make healthy choices easy and automatic?”

A growing number of food purveyors are coming around to Wootan’s point of view.

Disney Resorts recently changed its children’s menus so that meals automatically come with fruits or vegetables and a healthful beverage. Burger King’s kids’ meals now all come with apples and milk instead of fries and soda by default. And lots of other fast-food chains –- including McDonald’s and Wendy’s –- have made similar swaps and dropped soda from their kids’ menus (though parents can still order them).

“And, you know, the kids don’t notice these changes, because they’re really just in it for the toys,” Wootan says.

Still, a 2012 report by CSPI found that 97 percent of kids’ meals don’t meet basic nutritional standards.

“Healthier kids’ meals is one of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry right now,” Wootan says. “But progress is so very slow.”

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A Restaurant Without A Restaurant

There’s a great article in Wired about David Chang’s new venture, Maple. Talk about going crazy with implementing technology in a restaurant. Maple is a fine dining restaurant that you can’t dine in. That’s right they only offer delivery ordered through their mobile app.

They have one kitchen in the financial district of Manhattan with a staff of 22. They have a very limited menu each day for lunch and dinner. Where most restaurants focus on ambiance, Maple focuses on delivery. They have developed and implemented very sophisticated software to manage deliveries and the staff of 32 delivery people.

The software tracks the orders that come in and prioritizes them in real time taking into account the current deliveries. It tracks the delivery drivers routes, speed, traffic etc to time everything perfectly. As you can imagine they need to be able to deliver great food at the right temperature in a timely manner. That’s quite a task to manage and could never be done efficiently without technology.

It’s a pretty amazing story. It will be interesting to see how they make out. They plan to expand to other densely populated areas as they grow. I have copied the full article below:

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WHILE HE WAS in business school, Caleb Merkl got to thinking about opening a restaurant. Everyone told him he was nuts, because restaurants are crazy expensive to run and mostly doomed to fail. Merkl knew they were right, of course. But now, he’s gone and done it anyway. Well, sort of.

Technically, Maple, which launched in downtown Manhattan today, is an app. But in almost every other way, it operates more like a restaurant. It’s got a kitchen staff of 22 who cook up a rotating daily menu of fresh meals, curated by co-founder and chief culinary officer David Chang of Momofuku fame, as well as executive chef Soa Davies, formerly of the Michelin starred restaurant Le Bernardin. On any given day, the team is whipping up dishes like arctic char with dill on a bed of olive relish or green chile enchiladas with locally sourced tortillas and home-made green sauce.

 

The difference is, you can’t actually go to a Maple restaurant. In fact, they don’t even exist. Instead, the only way to enjoy Maple’s food is to order it through the app. Maple is using technology to eliminate one of the trickiest—and most costly—parts of running a restaurant, which is, well, running a restaurant.

This approach distinguishes Maple from the dozens of startups trying to eke out a space in the food industry without actually having to get their hands dirty making and serving the food. There are restaurant delivery services like Seamless and Delivery.com that simply connect you with existing restaurants, and companies like Blue Apron and Plated that send you all the pre-portioned ingredients you need to cook your own meal at home. There are messenger apps like Postmates that let you order delivery from restaurants that don’t offer it themselves. There’s even Uber’s new food delivery service.
Maple is going after something altogether different. It’s the answer to the question: What would a restaurant be like, if you couldn’t actually go to the restaurant? For Maple’s founders, coming up with that answer means thinking as thoroughly about what makes for a good delivery experience as traditional restaurateurs think about furniture, plating, location, and decor.

“Restaurants aren’t set up to do delivery well. They don’t have the budget or time to think about packaging or putting technology together to route the orders intelligently,” Merkl says. “For us, everything we do is about how to make some part of delivery better.”

Restaurant, Redesigned

It all starts in the kitchen. On any given day, Maple offers just three options for lunch, which costs $12 with tip and delivery included, and three options for dinner, which costs $15 all-in. Limiting variety allows the kitchen staff to focus on quality and speed, says Maple co-founder and chief operating officer, Ashkay Navle. Maple plans to open a kitchen in every neighborhood it serves, which Merkl says minimizes the time it takes to go from Maple’s oven to your door. For now, Maple runs just one kitchen, which exclusively serves Manhattan’s densely populated Financial District, but that will change with time. “It’s about building as much density as we can, which is why our delivery zones are so tight,” Navle says.

But while limiting Maple’s geographic footprint helps, what really makes its model work is the technology that runs it. That’s also what helped Maple raise $22 million from tech investors like Thrive Capital and Greenoaks Capital Management. The team has redesigned virtually every piece of technology that runs a traditional restaurant from scratch. As orders come in through the Maple app, the kitchen staff doesn’t simply cook them on a first come-first served basis, and send them out in that order. Instead, the technology prioritizes the orders based on what other orders are coming in to ensure its delivery team is traveling the most efficient route.

When the delivery team is actually on the road, Maple’s delivery app tracks them all the way, measuring their velocity to determine how much time they spend on the bike, how long it takes them to walk to the person’s door, which streets have the most traffic, and which buildings take longer to deliver to than others. The app processes all of this information and uses it to inform future routes. “The system gets better at making these decisions over time,” Navle says.

It’s this technology that Will Gaybrick, who is both a Maple co-founder and a partner at Thrive Capital, says makes Maple a smart investment. “In general, food service is really not leveraging technology to scale,” he says. “But it’s technology that lets us serve better food, faster, fresher, and at a better price.”

The Complete Package

There’s a sophisticated science to Maple’s method, but of course, there’s an art to it as well. Not satisfied with tossing your meticulously delivered meal at you in a grease stained brown bag, Maple’s founders also went to great lengths to ensure the packaging itself is optimized for delivery. That means they tested nearly every off the shelf package to find the one that can withstand heat and condensation the best and minimize the amount of space the food has to shift around. They also hired one of the Museum of Modern Art’s former assistant creative directors to design their subtle yet sophisticated branding.

“Restaurants have that asset, but it rarely travels with delivery,” Merkl says. “We think it’s especially important to recreate some emotion around food, when we don’t have a physical space.”

What’s more critical to Maple’s success than any of this, though, is the fact that the food is actually incredibly good. With Chang as a co-founder, Maple has access to one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. That’s an asset no amount of technology could replace. According to Merkl, who was introduced to the Momofuku founder through a connection at Thrive Capital, Chang was receptive to the idea of Maple from the start. “He’s already playing at the highest level, and now he’s more interested in where food is going than he is in how much farther he can push fine dining,” Merkl says.

‘Not a Technology Company’

But while there are obvious advantages to forgoing a physical restaurant, including minimizing overhead and making it much easier to scale, there are also substantial obstacles to delivering on the promise of perfect delivery. For starters, Maple’s business model still requires a huge staff, only instead of waiters and waitresses, it’s a delivery team. Right now, the company has 32 delivery people, and that’s just for one neighborhood. Navle expects it will grow with time.

Then there’s the fact that in order for Maple’s technology to be worthwhile, Maple needs densely packed routes. That means that Maple may never be a practical solution outside of big cities, and even in those cities it will need a large volume of orders in any given area to make the delivery-only model economically efficient. That’s why Maple is only going to expand geographically once it has built a substantial user base in the Financial District.

But while Maple may not scale as quickly as the average tech company, Merkl says it will scale much more quickly and efficiently than the average food company. And that, he says, is what Maple is, first and foremost. “I know it’d be super in vogue to say, ‘We’re building a platform that will deliver you anything,’ but we’re actually just trying to build a food company,” he says. “We’re not a technology company or a logistics company or a growth for growth sake’s company. We’re a food company, and we’re by nature going to grow more slowly, because it’s about building trust over time.”

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Chipotle removes GMO ingredients

Chipotle announced that they have removed all GMO ingredients from their menu. GMOs are getting a lot of buzz the last handful of years or so, and being in St. Louis where Monsanto is headquartered, I certainly hear my fair share of the GMO arguments.

For Chipotle the move makes sense, they have been talking about it for a few years and it has finally come to fruition. This is part of their brand; healthy, fresh, organic ingredients. They market this heavily and it’s certainly a differentiator in the industry. Is this a big deal? Or is it just expected from Chipotle at this point as we get more and more familiar with the brand?

Will other chains have to follow suit? Does this matter in the grand scheme of the industry? I wonder if most people care about GMOs or not. Obviously, people like Chipotle and are frequenting their locations often as seen in their sales. Is that because their food tastes great and is reasonably priced or is it because of their image and appeal to the more ingredient aware consumer? My guess is it’s a combo of both, but mostly the former. They make a great burrito.

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Check out this video from the Wall Street Journal talking about the announcement today:

https://youtu.be/oAt4u3jYx3E

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Pizza chains thrive on convenience, value, technology

Nation’s Restaurant News posted an article today on the turnaround and success of large pizza chains recently. Publicly traded pizza chains posted a 6.4% same store sales growth in the 4th quarter of last year. Domino’s posted 14.5% sales growth in the first quarter. Marco’s Pizza’s net sales rose 41% last year. So there are some great numbers coming out of the pizza market.

Go back 6-8 years ago and pizza chains were struggling big time with some (Round Table Pizza, Sbarro and Giordano’s) filing for bankruptcy. The article cites the following as the reason for the turnaround:

  • Pizza chains reworked their business models
  • Improved their menus
  • Found the right value message
  • and worked hard to make their restaurants more convenient

The biggest factor according to the article was adopting technology. Apps to allow for ordering and customer engagement has spurred a lot of the growth and signs point to that trend continuing. Some stores are seeing up 60% of their orders coming from online, mostly through mobile apps. By adopting technology to handle labor intensive tasks, operators are now able to cut back on labor, thus being able to keep prices very reasonable to the consumer. Pizza prices haven’t risen at the rate that other food has recently and technology is big part of that stat.

I have copied the full article below for you:

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Despite intense competition from grocery stores and burgeoning fast-casual pizza players, traditional pizza chains have been outperforming the overall restaurant industry in recent quarters.

Publicly traded pizza chains averaged same-store sales growth of more than 6.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, and based on the 14.5-percent first-quarter sales growth at Domino’s Pizza Inc. — its best domestic result in at least 16 years — that performance has accelerated so far this year.

Privately held chains have also been performing well. Madison Heights, Mich.-based Hungry Howie’s same-store sales have risen 10 percent so far this year, CEO Steve Jackson said.

Toledo, Ohio-based Marco’s Pizza is on track to add 150 locations this year, and finish with more than 700 units. Net sales last year rose 41 percent.

How are pizza chains seeing such success? By making their business models convenient, enabling them to take advantage of their natural value to court families and groups looking to feed a lot of people for less money.

“It’s a community food,” said Bryon Stephens, Marco’s president and chief operating officer. “Whether it’s family, friends or neighbors, we add to the value equation and have food everybody can share.”

It’s a remarkable comeback from six years ago, when a strong argument could be made that Americans had reached their fill of pizza.

Domino’s sales fell for three straight years (2006-2008), and at one point its stock was trading at less than $2 a share. Pizza Hut’s sales fell 12 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. And in 2011, Round Table Pizza, Sbarro and Giordano’s all filed for bankruptcy.

The sector was loaded with competitors. Grocery stores were making inroads into the business with a huge selection of higher-quality frozen pizzas, as well as their own offerings. Convenience stores started selling pizza, too. And the U.S. was saturated with pizza restaurants.

Amid intense competition, pizza chains reworked their business models, improved their menus, found the right value message and worked hard to make their restaurants more convenient.

In particular, they’ve leveraged technology to make it remarkably easy to order a pizza without being in danger of being put on hold.

Pizza chains were among the first in the restaurant business to see technology as a way to make their operations more efficient and customer friendly. In recent years, they’ve intensified technological adoption.

Both Domino’s and Papa John’s get at least half of their orders through digital channels. Domino’s has apps that let customers order through a smartwatch or even a television.

The increased popularity of pizza has coincided with the growth of smartphone use. According to eMarketer, the number of smartphone users has nearly tripled between 2010 and 2015.

At Marco’s Pizza, about 17 percent to 20 percent of sales now come through digital channels, but that percentage is rapidly growing. At some newer locations, the rate is as high as 60 percent.

“The pizza category is one of the first to get on board and embrace the whole tech revolution,” Stephens said.

The chain’s Digitale project lets customers order pizzas over the Internet and by smartphone, but it also tracks those orders to customize its relationship to those customers. It also helps find similar customers, Stephens said.

“We understand who they are and what they’re buying from us,” he said. “We get to social, digital marketing that allows us to communicate to them more frequently. Consumers are more fragmented than ever on where they’re getting their media. We’re spending a lot of money against those initiatives.”

Hungry Howie’s put online ordering in place five or six years ago, and its use is increasing 30 percent to 40 percent every year, Jackson said. The 560-unit chain has enjoyed 20 straight quarters of same-store sales growth.

“We say that online ordering is a big part of that,” Jackson said.

He also admits that he is a relatively recent convert.

“When online ordering started to service, personally it took me a little time to get on board,” Jackson said. “You pick up the phone, call and order a pizza. Or I have to find my computer, turn it on and boot it up. Who’s going to do all that?

“The real transition happened over the last five years with the iPhone, apps. Samsung and Android have done a good job to make our phones so important that we can’t live without them.”

The adoption of technology might finally be shifting the advantage to pizza chains. For years, chains ceded a large part of the market to independents, even as other restaurant sectors consolidated. But many executives now say that technology has shifted the advantage to chains.

“Chains’ tech advantages has led to the erosion of independents’ market share,” Stephens said.

The ease of pickup isn’t just limited to technology. Detroit-based Little Caesars shifted its strategy a decade ago to $5 Anytime Pizza, letting customers pick up large pizzas for the price of a Subway Footlong sandwich. And Papa Murphy’s took take-and-bake pizza and made a chain out of it.

The convenience of buying pizza has combined with the sector’s traditionally strong value, particularly for families and groups who see pizza as a more affordable option.

A family needing a quick meal, for instance, can order a pizza or two for not much more than $10 in many cases. And now they do so easily, either by picking it up directly or ordering via smartphone.

That’s a value that has been in place for years. Jackson recalled his days working at Dairy Queen, when ice cream cones cost 10 cents to 35 cents. Today a cone is $2.

“I was delivering pizza in 1972,” he said. “At the time, it was $3 for a pizza. The competition is selling large pizzas for $5 today. If you take the analogy of Dairy Queen or coffee, that pizza should be going for around $50.”

Letting your Why guide your actions

Check out this video on what makes Chipotle’s pork different.

Chipotle stopped serving pork in hundred’s of it’s stores back in January because one of their suppliers wasn’t living up to Chipotle’s animal care standards. I’m assuming that this cost them quite a bit in profitability as pork is a higher contribution margin item than chicken or steak.

I think that Chipotle’s corporate culture and commitment to selling humanely raised animals is a great example of understanding yourself as a company and what your customers value.

So often companies market their corporate responsibility but when the rubber meets the road, and they have an earnings call coming up, they cave and go for profits and alienate their customers and damage their brand. It is refreshing to see Chipotle practicing what they preach.

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