What is in this article?:
What’s on the radar for 2013?
6. Be careful what you promise
Natural. Organic. Artisanal. Local. Claims like these are under intense scrutiny as bloggers, journalists, nutritionists and, of course, lawyers holler “Your pants are on fire!” Keep your eyes on major suits (among others) over genetically modified ingredients conflicting with “natural” claims and suits against several yogurt makers over whether their “Greek” product is the real thing. Nutella agreed to overhaul its labels earlier this year. Jamba Juice has faced a suit over its ingredients, and actions against Applebee’s and Brinker have targeted calorie and fat content on their menu labels. Expect more as menu labeling laws kick in across the country.
7. Bundling gets bigger
Fast food meal bundles are nothing new. But since the recession, bundles are getting more play at casual dining chains: Chili’s and Golden Corral’s 2-for-$20, periodic bargain dinners-for-two at Red Lobster and T.G.I. Friday’s, Olive Garden’s 2-for-$25 this summer, and lately its buy dinner and get a free entrée to take home. The Palm in September had a three-course dinner for $39.95, including an eight-ounce filet. Morton’s introduced a $29.95 lunch package. Outback has been offering four courses for $15. The objective: fill seats at any cost, and stem the tide of people trading down.
At the other end of the spectrum, there’s an opposite strategy at hot upscale independents. Instead of discounting, they’re charging oodles of money! Whole animal or whole bird dinners are expanding, triggered by successful nose-to-tail dinners across the country and, in equal part, by large format meals like New York’s Momofuku $200 Korean bo ssäm family-style meals of a dozen oysters, a whole roasted pork shoulder, bbq sauce, kimchee and lettuce in which to wrap the meat. It’s available at lunch or only before or after peak dinner hours.
At Daniel Boulud’s dbgb this past summer $495 got you an entire pig for up to eight people plus head cheese as a starter, a mountain of side dishes and baked Alaska.
Grace Restaurant in Portland, ME, has a “whole beast” lamb dinner for six to eight people at $65 a head, including harissa-spiked lamb tartare, cured lamb “bresaola,” rigatoni with smoked lamb shoulder, and leg of lamb stuffed with pine nuts and corn. Like many such feasts, it requires 72 hours’ notice.
Mozza, in Los Angeles, keeps its “scuola” event venue busy with specialty dinners including a whole hog multicourse extravaganza of various body parts served family style for up to 30.
Wong, in New York, does it with duck: duck in lettuce wraps, duck buns, duck meatballs, whole duck two ways, duck broth and duck fat ice cream with plums. The shebang is $65 per person for four to eight on 48 hours’ notice.
Although fairly timid (rarely do you get tongues, kidneys, livers and tails) these “dining adventures” are immensely profitable. Chefs know exactly how much to purchase for a pre-ordered table, the kitchen cooks a banquet-style meal, tables get filled at off-hours, waiters don’t juggle complicated orders and the festive event prompts diners to vastly over-order cocktails and wines. Diners, meanwhile, revel in theatricality and in a carnivore’s delight at digging into an animal, often getting finger-sucking greasy.
8. Awesome automation
Sprinkles, the L.A. cupcake chain, made headlines with its pink 24-hour Cupcake ATM that purportedly sells 1,000 pieces daily to people seeking an after-hours sugar fix.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s is importing its touchscreen order-and-pay kiosks from Europe to the U.S. to speed service and shorten lines The chain also plans back-of-house upgrades to handle increased orders.
These are evidence of industry-wide moves to accelerate getting food into customers’ hands. Sprinkle’s creative cupcake vending is no threat to, a Panera Bread. But the machines can help accelerate service and generate incremental sales. More examples:
• A Lay’s machine in Argentina churns out warm, salted chips from real potatoes and sells them by the bag.
• Seattle’s Best Coffee brands machines in grocery and convenience stores, so you’re not forced to buy anonymous swill on the go since this one starts the process with whole beans and vends coffee, mocha and lattes.
• A butcher in Spain has a 24-hour vending machine for prepared meals, sausages, steaks and meatballs; in-store customers can use it during business hours, bypassing salesclerks.
• Jamba Juice launched JambaGO, vending its products in nontraditional locations like schools, entertainment complexes and convenience stores.
• In France, a 24-hour machine sells freshly baked baguettes.
• In Korea, a Coca-Cola Machine has an interactive dance feature. Users imitate dance steps shown on a large screen and the machine rewards them with bottles of soda; in Singapore, you hug a vending machine lovingly and out comes some Coke.
The Japanese buy everything from underwear to lobster from vending machines, but we’re just scratching the surface. Machines at U.S. airports vend paperbacks, sunglasses and electronic gadgetry. Why not more food?