Tuesday, November 25, 2008

News of an unfamiliar sort

What’s all this unusual restaurant stuff I’m seeing on the wires? Could it be a dusting of good news? Indeed, if it weren’t for Starbucks’ warnings about the tough slogging ahead, restaurateurs might’ve thought we’d hit a time warp to more temperate times. And not all of the hurrahs are being generated by McDonald’s.

Gift card sales are expected to ebb this holiday season because dollars are tight and no one wants to get stuck with a gift card to a bankrupt store or restaurant. Yet Cracker Barrel said its card sales are running 7.6% above last year’s tally.

Jack in the Box said its company stores in California posted positive comps for the July-through-September period.

And McDonald's, a chain whose recent performance really calls for steroids testing, is betting it can raise the price of its popular double cheeseburger by roughly 20%, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Then there’s the macro news. The Dow closed up two days in a row. Part of the $800 billion in government aid announced today includes backup for institutions that extend Small Business Administration loans, the mother’s milk of restaurant start-ups. New Jersey passed a law today that intends to help small businesses through loans and credits for newly created jobs, a potential model for other jurisdictions.

Okay, it’s not exactly a click-your-heels-three-times kind of change. But in this environment, with parallels drawn constantly to the Great Depression, anything short of dire news feels like a Mary Poppins song.

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