NACS online recently posted an article entitled “Chipotle Cultivates ‘Thought’ on Packaging.”
Chipotle is doing just that. Their new restaurant packaging is part of an overall program which features original essays by influential thought-leaders, authors, actors and even comedians.
The program – created in partnership with author Jonathan Safran Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Eating Animals, Everything is Illuminated) – is meant to be an extension of Chipotle’s overall company mission to tell its unique story by engaging customers with thought-provoking ideas and cultural issues.
Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer at Chipotle, says that, “Packaging in fast-food restaurants is typically sold to advertisers, or used to promote new limited-time menu items, but we have never used our packaging that way.
Instead, we have used it to entertain our customers using wit, humor and design. Following in that tradition, our new packaging allows customers to connect with a great selection of entertaining and thought-provoking authors they may not otherwise have encountered.”
Crumpacker goes on to say, “We live in a world in which there is shrinking space for literature and writing, and less time than ever for quiet reflection. The idea of expanding the space and time, of creating a small pocket of thoughtfulness right in the middle of the busy day, was inspiring to me – particularly given the size and diversity of the audience, which is America itself.”
In short, Chipotle is trying to inspire society, even in a small way, in the hopes of creating a better tomorrow for everyone. A noble and noteworthy effort indeed.
Years ago it was fairly typical for the American family to dine-out regularly – at least once a week.
But since 2008, restaurant visits by families with children under the age of 13 have steeply declined according to a foodservice market report recently released by The NPD Group entitled, “Parties with Kids: Motivating More Visits.”
It seems families made 1 billion fewer visits to U.S. restaurants over the past six years then compared to adults-only, who made 306 million fewer visits – a considerable difference. And, both lower and higher income households contribute to the sharp decline, not just one or the other.
The report reveals that total restaurant sales have dropped across all food segments and meal periods, though dinner time seems to have been hit the hardest. To put things in perspective, restaurant visits by families account for 20% of sales or $83.7 billion.
Bonnie Riggs, NPD foodservice industry analyst says, “In order to bring back parties with kids to the restaurant table, operators and manufacturers need to understand what influences and motivates them to visit. They need to keep in mind that kids are also an important audience since they have considerable influence on restaurant selections.”
While many restaurants have focused their marketing efforts on a more demanding, more sophisticated consumer with healthier meal alternatives, upscale beverages and innovative flavorings, they’ve lost sight of how influential children can be when mom and dad are considering dining-out.
While an unstable economy certainly plays a role in the decline, other factors include the overall value-per-dollar and how kid-friendly the environment appears. Parents need to feel comfortable bringing their children into a restaurant, without worrying their child is going to break something.
Many thought the gluten-free revolution would fizzle out as nothing more than a foodservice fad. But when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provided official labeling standards for “gluten-free” this past August, restaurants from coast-to-coast began to realize how important, and culturally accepted, this dietary need has become.
Betsy Craig, founder/CEO of MenuTrinfo LLC and Kitchens with Confidence LLC, says, “For decades, the FDA has had definitions for sodium and heart-healthy, etc. There are 17 different designations based on nutritional content. Adding gluten-free as the 18th shows how important it is now to make sure if you’re serving something — and making money on something — gluten-free, that it’s verified all the way down to the sub-particles. People have been waiting a long time for that designation.”
Mintel Menu Insights recently reported a 200% increase in gluten-free menu instances since 2010. And Craig points out one example from Disney resorts, where special dietary requests in 2009 hovered around 300,000, and in 2012 they had more than doubled.
Mintel further discovered that it’s not just the gluten-intolerant who are adopting this dietary standard. It seems 65% of consumers are eating gluten-free foods as part of a healthier lifestyle and 27% do so to aid in weight loss programs.
Amanda Topper, a food analyst at Mintel Menu Insights, says, “It’s really interesting to see that consumers think gluten-free foods are healthier and can help them lose weight because there’s been no research affirming these beliefs. The view that these foods and beverages are healthier than their gluten-containing counterparts is a major driver for the market, as interest expands across both gluten-sensitive and health-conscious consumers.”
QSRs and fast casuals are now capitalizing on these recent findings – looking for their share of an increasing market trend. The gluten-free food and beverage market is estimated to reach $10.5 billion in 2013.
Craig says, “It’s a win/win situation — for restaurants and customers. The restaurant is offering more choices and the diners are choosing the restaurants that offer more choices.”
Technology has reshaped the way in which we communicate, find entertainment and even pay our bills. So it comes as no surprise that digital, fast-food ordering with dedicated apps has quickly become a popular and convenient solution for hungry consumers.
In addition to offering apps for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 8 and Kindle Fire devices, Domino’s Pizza just rolled out their latest technology innovation for iPad.
With Domino’s claiming some 40% of their U.S. sales now coming from digital ordering, the release couldn’t come soon enough.
Russell Weiner, Domino’s Pizza chief marketing officer says, “We couldn’t be more thrilled about bringing our Domino’s Pizza ordering app to iPad. This new app enhances our commitment of offering convenience to our customers wherever they are—and it looks so good, customers will get hungrier just looking at it.”
The app features digital order tracker and pizza profiles, which allow customers to save their favorite orders and re-order them in under 30 seconds from their mobile device. The app now puts the customer in complete control of the process.
Kevin Vasconi, Domino’s Pizza chief information officer says, “The new Domino’s iPad app takes the experience of ordering pizza to a whole new level. This is the coolest technology we have launched since Domino’s Tracker, and we are excited for customers to use the beautiful custom pizza builder that lets you visualize your order in a whole new way.”
With QSR’s benefitting from digital menu boards controlled from their smartphones and tablets, such as Simplicity MobileTM from VGS, it’s only logical that this easy-to-use and efficient technology begins to trickle down to their most valued asset – the consumer.
The rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been cause for much debate not only in Washington, but in homes and businesses across the country. And while the plan has its merits, restaurant owners are finding out that it’s far from being a “one size fits all” policy.
Under the ACA, employers with 50 or more full-time employees must now provide healthcare coverage – this group NOW includes hourly employees who work 30 or more hours per week. If companies do not comply, they face a penalty. This further increases the financial burden for many small, multiunit operators across the country.
Neil Trautwein, vice president of the National Retail Federation (NRF), recently testified before a Congressional committee, calling into question the 30-hour-per-week cutoff now separating full- and part-time employees and how it will dramatically affect restaurants.
“Many retail and restaurant employees do not fit neatly into full- and part-time categories, and compliance with the unprecedented levels of change under the ACA will be particularly challenging,” he said in his testimony.
Scott DeFife, executive vice president of government affairs for the National Restaurant Association (NRA) corroborated this sentiment with his statement, “There’s no part of the industry that reported to us that thought that definition worked. The restaurant industry is not a nine-to-five, five-days-a-week industry. In any one given work week, there are multiple restaurant work weeks.”
NRA recently conducted a survey of multiunit operators and found that 36% are scheduling employees for fewer hours on average. While the industry is adding more jobs, multiunit operators are now relying on workers who clock less than 30 hours a week.
“Being a small business and not having an HR department and all that, you’re basically out there doing it yourself,” says Ron Hines, co-owner of Cafe Carolina and Bakery based in Raleigh, North Carolina. The brand has four units and 65 employees, pushing it just beyond the 50-employee limit.
In addition to attending tradeshows, holding forums and creating online tool kits – all in an effort to help their members understand this complicated law and available options – the NRA is now pressing legislators to change the 30-hour workweek definition in the hope of easing impending financial strain on restaurant operators.