Thursday, September 10, 2009

What I learned today about the restaurant industry

The day wasn’t rife with ah-ha moments, but there were a few hmm-worthy points. Here, boiled down to snack-sized portions, is what I learned about the restaurant industry during Back to School Week:

The road ahead in the green movement may really be the road ahead. By now, even primitive tribes of the Guatemalan jungle have heard about Burger King’s test of an electricity-generating drive-thru speed bump. In essence, the device moves up and down as cars roll over it, generating kinetic energy in the process. The power could be sufficient to power a nightlight in the manager’s office.

The more promising route to restaurant economy could be the technology that’s being developed with a new $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The agency wants to see if an upstart company can develop a solar panel tough enough to serve as a road surface. If it can be, restaurant parking lots, access roads and drive-thru lanes could become energy generators. Throw in a few speed-bump power plants and you could get enough juice to light Las Vegas.

What’s our diagnosis of the healthcare situation? Quick, what’s the restaurant industry’s position on healthcare reform? If you can peg it, please grab a megaphone and blare it to the rank and file. They’ve largely been left in silence by the trade’s usual town criers on public affairs—a puzzling muteness, given the issue’s financial import to the nation’s second largest private-sector employer.

Hopefully we’re just not hearing a voice that’s ringing loud and clear at the negotiations table. But it certainly would be calming to know what our representatives think of the proposals that are currently being considered. How alarmed, if at all, should an average owner-operator or chain executive be? And what arguments are being put forth to protect the industry’s interests? It sure would be nice to know what’s happening on our behalf up on Capitol Hill. And something is, right?

Restaurant tables are being put to unusual use. Apparently there’s a lot of sex taking place in restaurants’ under-filled dining rooms these days. And we’re talking about the Full Monty sort, with partners and all.

Basketball coach Rick Pitino has drawn enough media glare for his professed dalliance with a woman in a Louisville, Ky., in 2003 (she alleges the coach raped her, an accusation dismissed by authorities and a witness to the scene). And that was six years ago. Even if it was atop a table, it probably should be skipped here.

But there’s no shortage of other examples. Two weeks ago, for instance, a restaurant in Woodstock, Ga., was raided because the place allegedly doubled as the headquarters for a prostitution ring. Be grateful there isn’t a Zagat guide for the town or we’d be reading snippets like “not all the moaning is for the food,” or “the real place to have it your way.”

At the other extreme are the places that tsk-tsk such base carnality right on their signage. They’ve incorporated the phrase “better than sex” right in their names, be it Better Than Sex Cake Café in Chandler, Ariz., or the Better than Sex Dessert Café in Key West, Fla.

Then there’s the new blood (sausage) lust. At Nation’s Restaurant News, we had set criteria to determine what qualifies as a trend: Three examples of anything. By that standard, appreciation of blood sausage is a veritable craze.

You’ll find it on the menu of such hot new places as DBGB, Daniel Boulud’s downscale café on New York City’s Bowery, as well as higher end places like Chicago’s Avec, where the blood sausage figures into a pasta dish.

The tubes of congealed blood, usually described in a much more appetizing way than that, are showing up in particular in their Latino versions (Puerto Rican, or morcilla; Argentinean; Cuban; etc.).

It’s not yet made its way down to the casual chains, but we’re probably only months away from a Bloomin’ Bleeder appetizer.

1 comment:

Peter Romeo said...

What a difference two days can make. As I mentioned in this post, there seemed to be a dearth of information about how the various healthcare proposals might affect restaurants, and what rank-and-file members of the industry should be doing to protect their interests.

On Saturday, the National Restaurant Association stepped into the breach with a new microsite that provides exactly the sort of information that's needed. You can see it here: