Monday, January 31, 2011

Religion is bad business

It’s upsetting to see a revered operation stumble over issues that have nothing to do with its core function. That’s why it’s downright painful to see how Chick-fil-A is handling the accusations that it’s anti-gay.

In case you missed the flashpoint, a franchisee of the southern chicken chain had agreed to provide sandwiches to a religious group that doesn’t see gay unions as part of God’s work. The food was scheduled to be served at a seminar championing heterosexual marriages as the Divine Plan. I believe the event was posed as a celebration of “family values,” a phrase used today in the same way “state rights” was sounded during the civil rights movement.

Chick-fil-A’s gift drew media attention, prompting the franchise to back off. But gay rights groups cited the planned support as more evidence that Chick-fil-A’s religious sensibility is inhospitable to persons of all sexual orientations.

There’s no doubt the chain regards Christianity as part of its DNA, and hasn’t shied away from promoting those beliefs. I drew fire about five years ago for criticizing a prayer breakfast that had been scheduled as an official event during the restaurant industry’s national convention in Chicago. To me, a Christian meeting had no place in a gathering that should be open to people of all beliefs. It's hardly a secret that the event, which was repeated in subsequent years, had the backing of Chick-fil-A.

Less-offensive reflections of Chick-fil-A’s religious orientation are its insistence that all units close on Sundays. Chain founder Truett Cathy recounted to me a few years ago that he implemented the policy on Day One because of his religious beliefs. But, he explained, the years revealed a business benefit to giving managers and restaurant staffs a guaranteed day off. It’s viewed as a perk, giving the chain a recruitment edge.

Chick-fil-A waivered on feeding the seminar in Pennsylvania, but it hasn’t eased back off from its support of Christian matrimony. The company acknowledges that it strives to help employees and franchisees on their “marriage journey,” and even runs a retreat center for couples.

The chain hasn’t specified that those marriages have to be heterosexual, but many critics say it doesn’t have to utter the words. The situation in Pennsylvania, the promotion of marriage, even staying closed on Sunday—all of it speaks to the chain’s commitment to conservative Christianity, which leaves no place for people with a same-sex orientation.

Chick-fil-A could’ve tempered or dispelled that impression if it’d handled the aftermath more pointedly. Today it issued a “clarification” of its stand on the matter. But nowhere in that document did it say it welcomed and appreciated all couples and orientations. Instead, it hedged, professing openness to “all people regardless of their beliefs and opinions” and pledging that “we will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family.

A sexual orientation isn’t a belief or opinion. Nor should it be mentioned in the same breath as “political agendas.’ That’s playing into fundamentalists’ assertions that homosexuality is a correctable choice and a downright sin.

I’ve covered the Chick-fil-A organization for a long time, and I know that it’s created opportunity for thousands of persons from all types of backgrounds. But I think it needs to seize the high ground here and flatly say that it values employees, franchisees and patrons of all persuasions and orientations.

It should leave religion to Sundays, outside the scope of the business.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The other sort of cool new menu

There’s been much ado about the use of iPads as restaurant menus. But there’s been nary a word about the other sort that’s coming into vogue: the humble clipboard.

The Counter uses a full-sized version—the sort a doctor gives you on a first visit to hold the form collecting your medical history—because they provide a hard surface on which customers’ can write. The clip holds the form that patrons use to custom-spec their burgers.

Fatty Crab, the small chain of Malaysian hotspots in New York City, uses a mini-clipboard to hold its ever-changing menu. Loose sheets, listing drinks as well as food items, serve as the bill of fare. Patrons flip through the sheets like a factory foreman reviewing the days incoming orders.

The Parallax in Cleveland also uses a clipboard as the organizer for its sheets of selections.
Ditto for Pine 22, a build-your-own burger concept in Orlando.

If you know of any others, please drop me a line. I feel a roundup story coming on.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Paging Rod Serling

I know exactly what you’re thinking: Argh, another blog post about Flava Flav and new employment laws. But, hey, we haven’t celebrated this sort of weirdness since Dennis Kucinich ended his run for the presidency. Did I mention he’s suing a cafeteria over an unpitted olive?

First things first. I’m perplexed as to why the Flav- and Kucinich-free incident in New Jersey didn’t get more attention from the restaurant industry, given the implications. Lawmakers there are considering a measure that would manacle chains from closing a unit there ASAP. If the proposal becomes a model for other jurisdictions, multi-unit operations could have a much harder time at stemming the losses from unprofitable stores.

Jersey already has a law in the books that requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to give a 60-day warning before shutting down. No warning, no padlock on the front door.

But Charlie Brown’s, the upscale casual-dining chain, found a way around that measure when it filed for bankruptcy. It argued that each store was an individual employer, and none of the 30 or so stores it shuttered back in November hit that threshold. Some 2,300 employees were put out of work instantaneously, drawing headlines and the attention of state lawmakers.

So now they’re closing that loophole. A proposal currently before the legislature would levy the 50-employee requirement on the whole chain, not the individual stores that constitute it. The practical effect would be stalling a closure until the advance-warning requirement was met.

Okay, on to Flava Flav, the rap star and former host of “Flavor of Love,” a reality TV show where women vied for his romantic attentions. He’s best known for wearing a Big Ben-class clock around his neck.

Now he’s building on that base of notoriety with an entry into the restaurant business. He’s opened a fast-food restaurant called Flav’s Fried Chicken in Clinton, Iowa, boasting as he did that he’s going to fricassee Col. Sanders of KFC fame.

In one of those strange coincidences, news of Flav’s endeavor almost coincided with report that Jay-Z was also going into the quick-serve chicken business, backing a wings concept developed by his cousin. No jokes here. Jay-Z has the Midas touch, and has succeeded at everything he’s done. He’s the former president of Def Jam records, the author of an extremely well-reviewed autobiography, and generally one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. By all accounts he’s a passive investor in this new concept, but it’ll be interesting to watch its growth.

Both announcements coincided with the news that Kanye West had shuttered one of his two Fatburger restaurants. There’s gotta be a Taylor Swift joke in here somewhere, but I just have to resist temptation.

So on to Dennis Kucinich. He’s had so many moments of dubious notoriety in his long political career that the most recent flash of weirdness merits no more than a shrug. This, after all, was the former boy mayor (age 31) of Cleveland who famously set its backdrop river, the Cuyahoga, on fire.

He was also reportedly a target of Mafia hitmen because of his refusal to sell the city’s utility company, and was at the helm when the city defaulted on its debts.

He currently serves as a U.S. Congressman from Ohio, celebrated for his liberal ideas and staunch vegan lifestyle. He ran for the U.S. presidency last election, comporting himself well in his appearances and debate participations. But he was labeled by many as a crackpot after Shirley MacLaine recounted in one of her books that Kucinich had claimed to have see a UFO during a visit to her home.

He’s back in the headlines because he’s suing a cafeteria in the Capitol for failing to pit an olive that was included in a wrap he bought. According to news reports, Kucinich asserts in the suit that he had to undergo oral surgeries to repair the harm that was done when he bit into the olive, and is seeking $150,000 in damages.

There’s no word yet in how this is being perceived elsewhere in the universe.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Snapshot from southern Cal

Restaurant veteran John A. Gordon was kind enough to pass along what he saw and heard at the recent ICR XChange Conference, a powwow in southern California for restaurant companies and investors specializing in the field. The meeting is different from most financial conferences because the presenters include private companies as well as public ones. In this case, that meant a peek inside such interesting up-and-comers as Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery-café concept, and Ignite Restaurant Group, the multi-concept parent of Brick House Tavern + Tap and Joe’s Crab Shack.

Gordon proved to be as astute in observing as he is in analyzing restaurants’ financial situations, a skill that has made him a popular source for those of us who write about the industry. He passed along these insights from the conference:

The mood of the conference was upbeat, with most of the presenters citing positive sales trends. Generally, they indicated that traffic is still weak, but the damage is being tempered by rising guest tabs.

Smashburger drew the most probing by the investors in attendance, despite the concerns voiced by some that the “better burger” segment may be overcrowded.

One extreme down note: Participant Steve West asserted that casual dining traffic will never rebound to pre-Great Recession levels, a result of the shakeout being too anemic.

Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle noted that many of the chain’s franchisees are unable to grow because of a funding drought. The stores aren’t throwing off sufficient cash flow to justify a rubber-stamped loan, and banks are reluctant to touch any franchisee except the larger ones with whom they’ve done business over a long stretch.

A Sonic executive offered the hindsight that the drive-in chain should have included fewer items on its dollar menu, and promoted them in a more nuanced fashion. The budget line translated in some patrons’ minds into diminished quality.

Chipotle and BJ’s Restaurants, two of the industry’s high achievers, cited a lack of desirable real estate sites and a shallow pool of labor talent as curbs on growth. Others cited rising gasoline prices and escalating food costs.

Texas Road House, Chipotle and Krispy Kreme all cited an effort to shrink their back-of-the-house areas, part of an overall effort to reduce the footprint of new units.

My thanks to John, a principal in Pacific Management Consulting Group, for passing along his observations. You can get more of his food from thought at John's blog,

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dueling growth strategies

Seldom have two restaurant philosophies been pitted so blatantly against one another. Contestants, start your cash registers.

In one camp are the experienced multi-concept operators who’ve decided to narrow their holdings to category titans—Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, but not the A&W burger chain, to cite the most pronounced example.

In the other group are the mini-conglomerates that figure they can maximize sales and profit growth by amassing a stable of next-tier concepts—The Office Beer Bar & Grill, not Red Robin or Max & Erma’s. They’re shopping for deals on brands that may not be tearing up the fast lane, but in the aggregate can still get you there financially.

The current test of strategies is shaping up in fast food, with Arby’s joining A&W and Long John Silver’s on the public auction block. Presumably there are plenty of other, smaller chains similarly available for the right price.

The situation echoes what happened in casual dining during most trying days of the Great Recession, when giants like Outback and Brinker pared down their portfolios—and counter-thinkers like Landry’s went on a shopping spree.

At the very least, the dynamic has changed the line-ups of who owns what. Among the new stables of restaurant brands are companies like Villa Enterprises Management, which just added The Office to such concepts as South Philly Fries, Banana Smoothies, and perhaps its best-known brand, Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen, still known to fans as Villa Pizza.

You might not know Beautiful Brands International, but you may already compete with one of its 12 concepts, including what may be the industry’s only crepe chain since the dissolution of Magic Pan, Le Beau Rouleau. Its other brands include Camille’s Sidewalk Café, Fresh Berry, Rex’s Bite Size Chicken, In the Raw Sushi, Dixie Cream Donut, Blazing Onion Burger Co., Greenz Salads, Caz’s Chowhouse, Top That! Pizza and SmallCakes, a “cupcakery.”

Then there’s Focus Brands, with Moe’s Southwest Grill, Schlotzsky’s, Carvel, Cinnabon and Auntie Anne’s.
One of the oft-mentioned other multi-concept franchisors is Kahala, the parent of Blimpie, Ranch 1, Cereality and nine other concepts.

Lesser known are Trufoods, parent of Wall St. Deli, Arthur Treacher’s and Pudgie’s Chicken; and Franchise Brands, the younger venture of Subway founders Fred Deluca and Peter S. Buck, with Mama DeLuca’s Pizza and Taco Del Mar.

All those clusters are tiny dots compared to the collection that Landry’s has pulled together: Some 33 brands, ranging from the Mongolian-themed Yak & Yetti to its namesake high-end fishhouse.

Will that more-is-better philosophy prevail? Or will Wendy’s prove that a focus on a single powerhouse brand delivers more of a return to franchisees, shareholders and employees?

We’re about to find out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sweeter than chocolates?

You foodservice romantics may want to give the loved one a special gift this Valentine’s Day: Unlimited burgers, fish fillets, steak and sodas. Yes, buy them a restaurant chain.

Certainly plenty are now on the market, particularly in fast food. This morning, in case you’re just arising, brought confirmation of what has been rumored for a long time: The parent company of Wendy’s is exploring financial alternatives for its secondary brand, Arby’s. That’s financial lingo for finding a buyer or otherwise peddling the portfolio chip. (I’ve often wondered if financial geeks have Exploring Financial Alternatives Events instead of yard sales.)

So, to recap what’s available to you Valentine’s Day shoppers, officially on the block right now are A&W All-American Food, Long John Silver’s, Arby’s, and Charlie Brown’s, the bankrupt steakhouse that has to be sold in the next week or so under a deal with lenders. Red Robin is a judgment call, since investors are demanding that it be sold and say suitors have come forward. But there's been no For Sale sign posted outside headquarters.

Interestingly, the first three on the industry Craig’s List are being peddled because their parents want to focus on stronger brands with more growth potential (A&W and Long John’s are of course owned by Yum! Brands, better known as the franchisors of Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut). So there’s a bit of restaurant triage under way.

If it continues, we may see the restaurant For Sale listing grow to the length of the Singles and Seeking column.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yum's second thoughts

What a difference a year makes.

David Novak, the CEO of Yum! Brands, speaking to financial analysts on Feb. 4 about the company’s vision for Long John Silver’s and A&W All-American Food:
Our goal with Long John Silver and A&W is to make those brands stronger and to build them working with our franchisees.
Novak, as quoted in a press release issued today by Yum, the parent of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC:
We do not believe Long John Silver’s and A&W All–American Food restaurants fit into our long–term growth strategy. Accordingly, we have decided to put these two great brands up for sale.

Wake up & smell the pizza

Many, many years ago, a publicist tried to convince me that breakfast salads would be the Next Big Thing for restaurants. “Hey, why not pizza for breakfast?” I sniffed. “Or a quarter-pounder? Or breakfast beer?”

For the record, the correct answers proved, “Yes, why not?,” “Definitely,” and “Not yet.”

With breakfast providing one of the few areas of sales growth for restaurants, places have been scrambling to differentiate themselves with new morning selections—ideally, additions that promise flavor, distinction and portability.

So, yes, why not breakfast pizza?

No reason at all, places of all stripes have responded. They’re propelling a.m. pizza to Choco Taco status—the one-time standard for Mexican fast-food places that wanted to offer something for dessert. When you’re known for a product that’s seemingly locked into certain mealtimes, sometimes you have to go with the obvious variation for expansion purposes, however kinky it might seem at first.

Like a hamburger cross-dressed as a breakfast option, with various a.m. staples used as the makeup. Chief among them is a fried egg. As points out, a slew of burger specialists are using their spatulas for double-duty, sliding the egg atop the patty and then adding such extras as cheese, bacon, chorizo or even home fries.

Speaking as a consumer, it works for me. Then again, on my list of things I have to try is a local bakery’s spaghetti and meatball cupcake.

It's listed right above breakfast beer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Concept mini-roundup

Betting the bank on coffee
Did I miss the start-up of a restaurant chain by what may be the deepest-pocketed company ever to try foodservice?

I stumbled upon the proof Monday in midtown Manhattan, a newcomer as fresh-looking as a first grader on Day One of class: The ING Direct Café, a coffee shop with a bank and classroom inside.

It’s one of seven locations that ING Direct, the Delaware-based virtual bank, has opened as an unusual way of marketing its financial services.

“We believe saving money should be as simple as having a cup of coffee,” the bank explains on its website for the cafes. “So we invite you to come in and experience just how refreshing it is to sip a latte, surf the Internet for free and talk to us about how we can help you Save Your Money.”

The launch of the chain is part of ING’s strategy of serving customers without having traditional brick-and-mortar banks. Much of its business is conducted via the phone and internet.

In addition to serving as cafes and ersatz banks, the cafes do triple duty as classrooms. ING offers free seminars on various money-management issues.

Other locations of the cafes include Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Cloud, Minn., and Honolulu.

Sit. Eat. Use a napkin.
Restaurants, it seems, are going to the dogs.

As a dog owner, I knew it was just a matter of time. With the couch, recliner, bed and SUV back seat already surrendered to pooches, could restaurants be far behind?

The breach in human resistance has come in Rio de Janeiro, where Pet Delicia lets Rottweilers and Yorkies slurp up casserole-style dishes. The mini-tables are located on a “carpet” of artificial grass, just in case the clientele forget their manners.

Unlike the growing number of restaurants in the States that now permit dogs in their outdoor dining areas, Pet Delicia is for canines only; there’s nothing on the menu for humans.

Meanwhile, trend-conscious dogs will be relieved to hear they don’t have to sit out the restaurant-truck craze. Now feeding the poodles and Labradors of Los Angeles is Phydough, a truck featuring organic, ultra-high quality dog cookies and dog ice cream.

That’s right: Not just doggie delectables, but ones that are all-natural as well.

How did pets survive without them? I suspect there’s been considerable four-legged traffic at Pinkberry.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Roll 'em

Not since Cher left Sonny has a split-off been this warmly received. Meatballs, sans the spaghetti, are on a roll in restaurants.

We’re not talking about the Swedish (and sweetish) versions that Ikea shoppers can spear in the stores’ cafes after a long day of room-organizer shopping.

By all accounts, that version is still going strong. But it’s no longer the only choice today for lovers of the unaccompanied ball o’ beef. Restaurants with a menu of meatballs are springing up wherever bread is being toasted and crumbed.

At The Meatball Shop in New York, for instance, guests can pick one of five types of meatballs, including a daily special. They then pick one of six sauces, including a special, with the four dressed balls served on focaccia.

You can skip the bread at Donatella’s Meatball Wagon, a seasonal food cart in midtown. A bowl of meatballs is a mere $5. If you want to splurge, you can have the only other thing on the menu, a meatball hero, priced at $7. It’s the street entry of Donatella Versace, restaurateur, design heiress, meatball goddess.

The cart might be upscale compared with some of the meatball outlets in the New Meadowlands Stadium, home of the Jets and the Giants. Executive chef Eric Borgia features meatballs made by hand according to his nonna’s recipe. The balls are available in the walk-up concessions as well as in the new stadium’s luxury suites.

The New York area doesn’t have a lock on the meatball market, despite its pronounced Italian heritage. Athens, Ga., for instance, boasts Totonno’s, a meatballs-only restaurant.

Nor are all these new meatballs even Italian. Jeffrey Chodorow, the New York-based restaurateur with outposts in other hotspots, is featuring a Japanese meatball in his izakaya, Tanuka Tavern, in a trendy Manhattan hotel.

Heck, they’re not even limited to lunch and dinner. Ruthy’s, a cupcake concept, offers a meatball version—though accompanied with spaghetti in this instance. I guess it didn’t want to be too outlandish.

Is it any wonder that meatballs top the list of restaurant trends predicted for 2011 by Michael Whiteman, the recovering editor who now functions as a New York restaurant consultant? As he notes, even Disney is jumping on the bandwagon. You can now choose one of four types of meatballs, along with a beer, at one of its theme parks.

Does it get any better than meatballs and Mouseketeer ears?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sociologists in the dining room

Restaurateurs have to master a slew of jobs if they hope to succeed: Marketer, artist, trainer, buyer, motivational speaker, equipment repairman, even plumber. Now market conditions are requiring them to add a new title to the list: Sociologist.

Economists and politicians have noted during the new-year fit of prognostication that two seismic shifts are our shaking our culture. Both promise to profoundly change who restaurants serve, and how.

Indeed, the impact of one is already evident in New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and the other wellsprings of mainstream trends. Experts give it names like “income gap, “ “wage discrepany” and “economic polarization.” Simply put, it’s the tendency of the rich to get richer while the middle and lower classes struggle harder to hold onto what they have.

Fine-dining places have noticed. Many are resorting to the sort of big-ticket indulgences that we saw in the 1990s—astronomically priced meals, decadent specialties and beverages, and high-priced experiences like having the chef devoted for the night to a single party’s service.

Some are installing a mini-restaurant within their dining rooms to serve the financial wildcats who’re collecting six and seven-figure bonuses again. In Las Vegas, high rollers can indulge at Shaboo, a dining room inside BarMasa, an outlet of famed sushi chef Masa Takayama. In Washington, D.C., powerbrokers vie for one of the few seats at Minibar, the exclusive sub-eatery of Jose Andres’ Café Atlantico.

Ironically, that tangent is coming as the rest of the industry veers in the direction of value. The Sonic drive-inn chain recently explained to investors that it was keeping the introductory reduced price of a revamped hotdog, even though the freeze kept check averages flat. Then again, maybe that’s the objective, given consumers’ ongoing propensity to sticker shock.

Consider that even fast-casual chains like Fazoli’s are adding lower priced (and lower calorie) small plates.

A new study commissioned by Tyson Foodservice shows that the five strongest draws for restaurant customers today are all value-related (in descending order, two-for-ones, dollar menus, discounts, price promotions, and full-service restaurants' combo deals.)

All things considered, you can’t help but conclude he industry is drifting toward either end of the socio-economic spectrum, just like society itself.

At the same time, and not coincidentally, some commentators have noted an historic shift in the earning potential of blue-collar Americans. When U.S. automobile factories and steel mills were booming, workers could afford a comfortable middleclass life. Now many of those jobs have disappeared, and plenty of the remaining manufacturing line posts are paying far less. There’s less money left for dining out.

Yet virtually every mainstream fast-food concept would attest that its core user—the legendary superheavy user—is a blue collar male between 19 and 35 years old.

That foundation market may be eroding, which explains why there’s a clear drift in the design of quick-service places toward more residential designs. They’re trying to position themselves as the places where youngsters can comfortably hang out and be entertained while they munch and sip. The settings are intended to make moms comfortable, too.

Both trends are slow moving. The restaurant industry appears to be adjusting quickly. Just ask any sociologist.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Scrambled competition--and I don't mean at breakfast

Enough with the pssts about the industry’s trade magazines. I like dishing as much as the next yenta, but I really don’t know what the purchase of Nation’s Restaurant News by the parent of Restaurant Hospitality is going to mean for the titles.

Yes, I worked at the former—twice, in fact—for a total of 11 years, and I’ve competed with the buyer since 1981. But the executives at Penton Media haven’t called to spell out their strategy.

Suffice it to say you only buy something in hopes of generating additional profit. Having two staffs produce separate magazines on two frequencies for overlapping audiences and advertisers doesn’t sound like a surefire means to that end.

Less puzzling is what’s happening at the other title in the field, since I’m personally involved now. As of Monday, I’ve rejoined Restaurant Business, where I served as Editor in Chief for 10 years, as Editor At Large. I’ll also be deeply involved with the publication’s popular event, the Restaurant Leadership Conference, and its website,

I’ll be working again with Susan Vincer, my friend and former colleague from Restaurant News (she managed the business aspects of the title’s website, and I was responsible for the editorial content).

Best of all, our new employer is going against the tide. Instead of cutting positions, it’s adding us. We’ll be joining a team of veterans that includes Scott Allmendinger, Sam Smith and Bill Anderson. Our rookie is Sam, RB’s editor, with a mere five years in the foodservice media. Most of us can measure our tenure in decades.

So how’re all these developments going to change the competition in the field?

Stay tuned.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011: A year of less?

The new year is only a few days old, but a 2011 trend is already showing on restaurant menus. If the trajectory holds, this is going to be 12 months of subtraction, as in yanking out calories or additives—or, in the case of Panera Bread Co., both.

This week my local Panera mixed a new option into its rotation of soups: All-Natural Chicken Noodle, with a mere 130 calories per serving. I can attest that it was good. Darn good, in fact, though I acknowledge a bias toward anything that reduces guilt and the consumption of nasty chemicals.

But it wasn’t as good as the store’s previous addition, an all-natural steak chili made from brisket and served with cornbread cubes. It gets a higher grade despite having a higher calorie count.

I know about the calories because they’re now posted on the menu board, as they’ll soon be depicted in California because of mandates passed some time ago. You have to wonder if that’s a factor for this latest less-is-more movement.

Then again, I don’t think Culver’s operates in any areas with calorie-disclosure requirements. Yet the Midwestern burger and frozen custard specialist officially kicked off a promotion today of what it’s calling Mindful Choices, or meals containing fewer than 500 calories. The components were already offered. What’s new is spotlighting them as a packaged meal.

The other factor clearly coming into play is the propensity of consumers to include losing weight among their New Year’s resolutions. Indeed, Applebee’s is playing off that wave of pledges with its newest menu additions, which include two reduced-calorie cocktails. The mojito and Long Island Iced Tea join a 100-calorie margarita introduced last year to form a new SkinnyBee drink line.

The chain also extended its array of entrée selections with fewer than 550 calories.

All in all, 2011 is shaping up to be a year of shaping up.