‘Tis the season to hunker down and hope for a better next year, so the restaurant business hasn’t exactly been cranking out news like an elf production line. But a few little-noticed developments in recent days might prompt some hmm’s among the ho-ho-ho’s.
Applebee’s experiments with a server-calling system. A number of franchised stores here and there are testing a tabletop device that allows guests to summon their server if something is needed. Patrons press a button on a tabletop console, which causes a watch-like device worn by their waiter or waitress to vibrate, according to a story in the Sun News, a South Carolina newspaper.
The set-up also monitors how long the guests initially sit before a server approaches. When a hostess seats a party, she waives a watch near the tabletop console. That causes the watch of the wait staffer assigned to the table to vibrate, and an unseen timer starts. If the server doesn’t show within a minute, the manager’s watch buzzes. Then a painful electric shock is directed at the tardy server. Okay, I made that up. But it’s an interesting idea.
Server alerts have been tried for eons. The 160-year-old Tadich Grill in San Francisco, for instance, features tableside buttons on the wall that patrons can press for service. A similar set-up is a signature of a classic watering hole in New York City, the International Bar.
It says a lot that those places are known for the novelty (and kitsch) of having a server-summoning system. Plenty of other converts presumably discovered that the set-up detracted from a guest’s experience. When you have to buzz for someone to take an order, you’re unlikely to coo over the attentive service you’re getting. Unless it’s handled well, patrons might as well take a number, as if they were at the supermarket deli.
Goofy has been pink-slipped by a Disney World restaurant. Other characters had their hours cut, according to a recent post on Examiner, the network of blogs that’s been set up as grassroots news service.
If the posting is accurate, I might soon spot Goofy in a state unemployment classes. The ‘Ohana Restaurant in the Polynesian Resort of Disney World was dropped Pluto’s packmate from the character rotation, or the circulation of people in Disney character costumers during meals, according to the report.
I initially suspected he got a job as the mascot for a Major League Baseball team, since a Goofy would fit just about any of the squads. But that doesn’t explain why Rabbit, a Winnie the Pooh character to which Disney owns the rights, is also gone.
Meanwhile, Eeyore, Piglet, Tigger and Pooh himself reportedly had their circulation hours cut.
And all you see on the airwaves is non-stop reporting about healthcare.
Restaurant marketing makes the list of 2009 campaigns to remember. Unfortunately, the campaigns may not be remembered for reasons the industry should cherish.
For instance, the Wall Street Journal ranked Burger King’s de-friending crusade on Facebook as the year’s fourth best marketing program. In case you’ve forgotten the furor it sparked, the campaign rewarded Facebook users with a Whopper coupon for every 10 acquaintances they “de-friended,” or publicly designated as someone they didn’t want as a friend anymore. About 234,000 people were informed of their newfound leper status before Facebook asked Burger King to knock off the high school nonsense.
It’s vexing to see that effort on the Best of the Year list when KFC’s plug from Oprah Winfrey is on the Worst-of roster. The talk-show hostess informed viewers that they could try KFC’s new Kentucky Grilled Chicken for free, triggering a run on the Colonel’s old Kentucky chicken home.
KFC halted the giveaway, saying supplies had been depleted. But it was never clear if the chain rain out the new product or merely didn’t want to give away that much free food.
In any case, the cut-off triggered more media coverage than we’d see until Tiger was brushing broken car window off his Nike shirt. The logo would be torn off later, no doubt to Woods' delight that nothing else was torn off his body.