Sunday, January 11, 2009

Was there a full moon?

I knew I should’ve brought a satellite phone on the trip. No sooner do I leave the country than an unprecedented run of weirdness besets the domestic restaurant industry. My eye was off the business for a mere week. Who knew that’d be long enough for a push to rechristen edible fish as “sea kittens,” a dissing of Chili’s by Drew Carey, a clever parry from Chili’s in the form of a job offer, and a seafood restaurant’s reprieve of a 20-lb. lobster? Next you’ll be telling me Chuck E. Cheese is taking steps to discourage parents from misbehaving.

Given the peculiarity of those developments, it should come as no surprise that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are involved in two.

The savants leading the well-intentioned but obviously deranged group are really begging for committal this time. They’re mounting a campaign to spare more fish from human consumption by recasting swordfish, haddock and the like as personable critters that might bat around a ball of yarn if they could. “Fish need to fire their PR guy—stat,” explains a mission statement of sorts. “You’ve done enough damage, buddy. We’ve got it from here. And we’re going to start by retiring the old name for good…who could possibly want to put a hook through a sea kitten?”

And who wouldn’t doubt that Tara the Tuna is every bit as cuddly an appealing as Whiskers, Aunt Sarah’s tabby? Especially when PETA’s website features a bedtime story about Tara, who “loves to squeeze herself into tight spaces and snuggle up close to her Sea Kitten pals.” In the words of Dave Barry, “Folks, I can’t make this stuff up.”

Perhaps the group is merely feeling its oats—er, grain bunnies. As CNN and countless other major media have reported, PETA announced Friday that City Crab restaurant in New York City has acquiesced to demands that a 140-lobster known as George be taken from its tanks and released into the ocean. “Yay!” exclaims PETA blogger Liz Graffeo. “Next step: ban catching lobsters completely.”

George might’ve slipped away, but Chili’s isn’t letting Drew Carey off the hook. The comic and game-show host gave the industry a nudge in the ribs by telling the Washington Post he probably would’ve been a restaurant manager if he hadn’t succeeded in showbiz. In his glibness, Carey seemed to suggest any schlub could manage a casual-dining restaurant, even if he or she started as a server.

The implication for any server who doesn’t rise to restaurant GM: You’re a loser.

Chili’s president Todd Diener decided to give Carey a taste of what a GM’s job is really like—and snag considerable press in the process. He released a letter Friday that invited Carey to manage one of the chain’s 53 outlets in Los Angeles for a few hours. Carey’s pay would be donated to a charity of his choice—“perhaps the Cleveland Public Library?” (part of Carey’s schtick is having grown up in Cleveland).

The letter said it was accompanied by a $100 gift card so Carey could at least enjoy the chain’s hospitality and fare.

There wasn’t an edge or even a hint of irritation in Diener’s letter. But anyone in the industry would know what a rude change in perception awaits Carey if he accepts the offer.

For the publicity value, and the chance to maintain the industry’s weirdness streak, you have to hope he accepts.

Okay, time to track down the now-removed YouTube video of the fight that erupted recently in a Chuck E. Cheese’s in Pennsylvania. According to a local news report, fights often erupt in the concept because adults bump into one another. Kids’ parties often bring together estranged mothers and fathers sharing custody, and sparks sometimes fly between the parents.

A subsequent report indicates the restaurant is now hiring off-duty policemen to serve as safety monitors.

“It’s madness, absolute madness,” local police chief Robert A. Martin is quoted as telling The Patriot-News.



Bret Thorn said...

PETA also recently announced a recipe contest for "ethical foie gras," and when it comes to Chuck E. Cheese, this story about a unit in Flint, Mich., indicates that parents’ drunkenness might be part of the problem.

Bret Thorn said...

Oops. The link from my comment above is broken. Try this instead: