News tidbits have been piling up in my Miscellaneous folder like coffee grounds at the bottom of a barista trainee’s espresso. Indulge me as I review a few restaurant-industry developments that might’ve slipped past you in recent days:
Chicago wants standards for restaurant valets: An ordinance passed Tuesday by the City Council would require valet companies serving restaurants to provide enough lot parking for 15% of a capacity crowd’s cars. The measure was pushed through, after being toned down from a 25%-of-capacity requirement, to combat what government officials have dubbed fly-by-night valets—concerns that go into business with nothing more than a few matching windbreakers for the attendants. They merely double-park cars on the street, creating a hazard. Other areas have taken aim at the same problem with proposals to mandate insurance as well as off-street facilities.
Suze Orman leaves restaurants steamed: The quirky personal-finance guru has tossed a hornet’s nest into restaurant management offices from coast to coast by urging consumers to forego dining out for at least a month. The advice is one of the core recommendations of her new book, “2009 Action Plan,” which aims to help readers weather the times. It also urges them not to spend anything for a day, and not to use their credit cards for a week.
Some members of the industry expressed dismay and disbelief that the popular TV figure would issue such advice when the restaurant industry is reeling (this week’s standout casualties in New York alone: The Plaza Hotel’s Palm Court, Ruby Foo’s and Fiamma). I’m sympathetic, but dining out is not a patriotic duty.
China gives U.S. brands the finger with new piracy mall: If you lament the homogenization of world culture, consider the retailing concept that’s reportedly about to open in the People’s Republic. Among the establishments shoppers can peruse: McDnoalds, Bucksstar Coffee, a fried-chicken place called KLG, and Pizza Huh. After having a meal, they could continue their hunt for the best price on Adidos or Dama sneakers.
Those aren’t typos. The place’s schtick is to offer knock-offs of copyrighted brands without the usual nod and a wink. And this is all out in the open, completely on the up-and-up, though U.S. restaurant brands may have a decidedly different opinion.
Tom Colicchio has another big idea: Regular readers will know I regard the New York chef’s recent brainstorm, Tom: Tuesday Dinner, as a more innovative idea than anything that’s come out of Detroit since the minivan. Now, according to the blog site Eater.com, he’s followed up that brilliant stroke of with a new marketing venture: Damon: Frugal Friday.
Damon is Damon Wise, the chef de cusine of Colicchio’s Craft restaurant. Every Friday beginning tomorrow, Wise will develop a one-day menu of items priced under $10. According to promotional information cited by Eater, the dishes will fall into eight categories, ranging from the familiar (salads, small pizzas, cheese plates) to the eyebrow-raising (“food in a jar,” “meat on a stick”). The materials cite such examples as crispy pig ear, deviled egg salad, and caper berries and piquillo marmalade.
Like Tom: Tuesday Dinner, the new special-night meal will be served in one of Craft’s private dining rooms. With the downturn in New York’s party business, it’s a smart way to put vacant space into money-generating use.
Chipotle is heading abroad: After poking a toe into a foreign market with the opening of a lone store in Toronto, the college students’ cult favorite is jumping across the pond. The company disclosed this week that it will develop a single restaurant in London as a possible beachhead to European expansion. Since the 800-unit chain doesn’t franchise here, it’s unlikely to license overseas. It’s a shame that the company isn’t still a half-sister to Pret a Manger, the all-natural grab-and-go chain that, like Chipotle, once counted McDonald’s as an owner. The two might be compatible partners, and Pret owns London.
Starbucks offers to caffeinate those who give back: The coffee giant continues to play to the socially minded with a new promotion keyed to Obama’s inauguration. The President-Elect has asked every American to volunteer their time for the public good next Monday. Agree to do your part, Starbucks announced yesterday, and there’ll be a free tall coffee waiting for you afterward.
Meanwhile, some media have reported that Starbucks is about to announce an arrangement with MSNBC whereby the cable channel’s live coverage of the inauguration will be simulcast within the coffee chain’s 650 U.S. stores.