Friday, December 16, 2011

Zombies & other missed opportunities

So much attention is focused on the year ahead that some crucial here-and-now issues are being overlooked. Where, for instance, are restaurant zombies?

The flesh-eating un-dead rallied at the end of 2011 to rival vampires as the scary characters of the moment. They’re the stars of cult TV shows (“The Walking Dead”), movies (“Remains”), video games (Plants vs. Zombies), literature (celebrated novelist Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One), and music (the slash-metal band Terrorizer is scheduled to release “Hordes of Zombies” in February).

No longer are zombies thriving on the societal fringes populated by pierced youngsters sporting weird black shoes and heavy eyeliner. New York magazine, a favorite of Big Apple hipsters, recently featured a nine-story special section on surviving a zombie attack (“Know Thy Enemies,” “Should You Stay or Go?”, “Hole Up Here.”)

They’ve even inspired a prank. The billboard-style road signs that highway departments use to warn of detours or construction ahead are being hacked and reprogrammed to alert drivers of an imminent zombie attack.

So where’s the restaurant-zombie connection? No one would dispute that restaurants are as much a part of American life today as sports and having a couch. Zombies are an entertainment phenomenon of our time, but they’ve yet to spill over into the restaurant business as promotional stars, the inspiration for menus, or the foundation for a new concept.

No Snarling Undead Burger. No Flesh & Blood Café. No zombie McDonald’s character.

But this is hardly the only missed promotional opportunity for the restaurant business. Consider the other social phenomena that somehow slipped past without a tie-in, or at least not much of one:

Nigel Tufnel Day: Tufnel, of course, is the fictional lead guitarist of the quasi-fictional band Spinal Tap, the focus of the Rob Reiner mockumentary, “This is Spinal Tap.” One of the movie’s memorable moments was Tufnel’s explanation of why he loved his new amp so much: The volume dial goes up to 11, not 10, as most amps do. Reiner sheepishly asks how an 11 is any different from a 10 if they both represent the maximum output of a similarly powered amp. Tufnel’s defense of 11 led fans to dub Nov. 11—a.k.a. 11/11/11—as Nigel Tufnel Day. But did you see any LTOs geared to the occasion. NO (that’s on volume setting #11).

Ugly sweaters: Actually, this one hasn’t been totally overlooked by restaurants. The Chick-fil-A in Chicago’s Water Tower Place is offering a deal to anyone who shows up with a really, really bad sweater. And D.C.’s Café Saint-Ex hosted an Ugly Sweater Party, where the patrons with the worst knit-job won $50 gift certificates.
Those places were among the few that took advantage of the sleeper Ugly Sweater Phenomenon. There are actually online ugly sweater stores, and “ugly sweater” is quickly emerging as a new category of retail apparel. The movement even has a celebrity spokesman of sorts in talk show host Jimmy Fallon.

But have you seen Ronald McDonald in a red-and-white monstrosity adorned with garish reindeer and Santas?

I rest my case.

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