Friday, August 10, 2012

News you can use

Slogging through the daily torrent of restaurant info, you occasionally find something stuck to the hip waders that merits the rare designation of news you can use. Here are a few pieces of flotsam that may have floated past most restaurateurs the first time around:

Applebee’s gets its freak thang on: A franchisee of the family oriented chain has hit on a promotion that’s spreading through the system as a way of broadening the restaurants’ customer base. In essence, the places are adding a second Happy Hour through a late-night program called Club Applebee’s.  A younger, more drink-oriented crowd is invited to take advantage of half-price appetizers and discounted cocktails while they enjoy the karaoke or dance music.

It’s a grass-roots program that franchisees are building into a chain signature, complete with its own website.

Red Lobster’s job description re-write: The Orlando Sentinel revealed that the granddaddy of casual-dining chains switched to a new service structure last month. Other observers are speculating that the net reduction in dining room staff could be a preparation for Obamacare, since head counts determine an employers’ costs under the reform measure.

The revamp eliminated busboy-runners and broadened servers’ scope to four tables instead of three. Tables will be cleared and meals delivered by what the chain is calling a service assistant, or sort of a server in training. Anyone who wants to become a full-fledged waiter or waitress will have to start in that post. The assistants get a tip-out from the servers they help.

J. Alexander’s handles the spike in beef costs: The regional dinnerhouse chain, which is in the process of being acquired by onetime Carl’s Jr. kingpin Bill Foley, said it had no trouble offsetting an 11% year-over-year jump in beef prices during the second quarter. The company’s food costs actually fell by more than a percentage point, to 31.6% of sales because of price increases and counterbalancing trends in the costs of other menu ingredients, which the chain didn’t disclose.

The price increase apparently didn’t dampen sales. J. Alexander’s comp sales rose year-over-year by 4.2%, for a weekly per-unit average that topped the year-ago figure by nearly $4,000. 

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