Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good, bad and ugly behind today's headlines

Sometimes it's difficult to cover the news and remain impartial. Wait a minute--I don't report for a paper anymore! I can be as judgmental as I want!! With that in mind, here are my nay's, yea's and to-the-gallows uptakes on a few restaurant-industry developments that came to light today:

  • A shout-out to the Maine Restaurant Association for including a mushroom-picking guide on its website. At a time when the restaurant industry is trying to incorporate more local, fresh ingredients, the association is providing information that can help members be part of the trend. It’s a nice touch--and so distinctly Maine.

  • A big Good, Eh? to Canada for emerging as a nation of foodservice thought leaders. This Saturday, McDonald’s units there will be turning off roadside signs and rooftop lighting for Earth Hour, a concentrated version of our Earth Day. The units are also ahead of their Yank counterparts in trying a new Snack Wrap made with burger patties, a favored contender for No Brainer Potential Hit of the Year. And how do we repay our neighbor to the North? By abandoning some of its markets, as Outback Steakhouse is doing in shutting all nine of its Ontario stores. The country that gave the world Timbits definitely deserves better.

  • A definite raised eyebrow is turned to the parents in Bellevue, Wash., who formed a group to teach their children how to eat better. The notion is noble, but the name raises some concern about the mindset that’s being instilled: Future Foodies of America. Little kids dressed in black, pairing juice to chicken fingers? Insisting that the fingers be of the free-range variety? And specifying that only an aged Wisconsin variety will do for their grilled cheese? I’ll have to look for the pint-sized members at the James Beard Awards. And I guess it could be worse. Minis for Molecular Gastronomy would’ve been cause for an intervention.

  • A hearty slurp for the James Beard Awards, the industry's version of the Oscars. It's a celebration not only of the nation's best chefs, but also the often-overlooked communications side of the business. Full disclosure: I was a judge of the journalism competition. We’ve got a lot of smart people in the U.S. media who can write beautifully and provocatively about food and food-related issues. I’ll bet we could whup Canada’s ass on that front any time.

  • A definite raspberry to Maryland officials for blowing the dust off a regulation that probably hadn’t been applied since spats. They’re employing it now as a sneaky way to squeeze a few more dollars out of restaurants and bars. The measure mandates that soda fountains pay a licensing fee. Isn’t a soft drink tower or a fountain gun nothing more than a modern day version of the soda fountain? That’s what the officials are arguing as they hit up anyplace that doesn’t sell soda exclusively in bottles. Fortunately, the fee can be as low as $10. Still, it’s something you’d expect from a guy in a white straw hat as he pushes snake oil. How about levying an ice-wagon fee for each reach-in?

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