There aren’t many ways to sugarcoat this past week in the restaurant business. And if I’m being honest, I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s going to be a disturbing string of stories in the coming days and months. If there is a silver lining here, though, it’s the hope that exposing this disgusting behavior, which has gone mostly unchecked in recent decades, will dam the flood. This idea that, “oh, it’s a restaurant. This culture is just how it is.” Or, “if you want to work here, deal with it or go somewhere else.” It just needs to stop.
I think TV shows, as well as some trailblazing chefs, brought attention to the brigade era of restaurants. Quality of life isn’t the joke it once was. The idea that you could verbally abuse, taunt, demean, and mistreat employees without any kickback was commonplace in the past. It still is in many restaurants. But it definitely seems like it’s trailed off a bit. The screaming chef doesn’t hold the firm place in American culture like it once did. And that’s a great thing. Let’s hope sexual harassment and the awful abuse of power from male workers heads for the gutter. It’s about time this sordid world was exposed and cleaned up.
These were this week’s top-read stories on foodnewsfeed.com and QSRmagazine.com.
Five female workers filed a sexual harassment suit against the Landry’s Inc. chain in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. They allege constant groping and abuse at a restaurant near Faneuil Hall in Boston. Among the claims: a woman said she was trapped and groped in a walk-in cooler by a sous chef and supervisor. The 53-unit chain came out and said, “an offending employee was immediately terminated, among other disciplinary actions” when the complaints were raised in 2015.
Reports started to surface during the week that locations of the bagel chain were closing. Einstein Noah Restaurant Group then announced that the closures were part of a 30-store plan meant to improve positioning for future growth. Most were located in Eastern markets. This wasn’t exactly surprising given the brand’s struggles. But even more so, it probably had to be expected when Caribou Coffee, part of the JAB Holdings empire, came in and scooped up the 240-plus unit chain in August. It will be interesting to see how the future unfolds for Bruegger’s. It seems like more co-branded stores with Caribou would be a likely option.
Look, if I’m just being candid, this week made Mario Batali seem like one of the most sordid characters in the business. Not just this story, which came to light following an Eater report Monday, where at least four women accused the famed chef of inappropriately touching them during his time at the helm of his company and led to his decision to take a leave of absence, but the details featured in The New York Times reported on Ken Friedman, the James Beard winner and owner of the Spotted Pig. In this story, Batali was allegedly referred to by some of the NYC restaurant’s employees as the Red Menace. The reason behind it being exceptionally disturbing. I’m not sure what the future holds for Batali, who did apologize for his actions. Regardless, it will be hard to look at him the same ever again.
Now here’s some news I will enjoy repeating. Taco Bell announced Thursday that it plans to invest heavily in digital in 2018. Details were a bit scarce but a couple major points emerged: Chief among them, the decision to add self-serve kiosks and delivery. As with all fast-food chains offering delivery, the logistics will be interesting. Does Taco Bell go the third-party route, a la McDonald’s and UberEATS, or does it try to keep the process in house, like Panera Bread? No matter what Taco Bell decides, it is hard to fathom the amount of money it will produce off this initiative (if all goes well). Think about it. It’s 2 a.m. and you’re in college. Maybe you’re not ready to go drive a car or leave the lounge. But do you want Taco Bell? Yes. Yes, you do. Just imagine the possibilities.
As it turns out, not everybody was please with the $2.9 billion price tag on Buffalo Wild Wings. Several law offices are investigating the sale. Kahn Swick & Foti, LLC, the office of former Attorney General of Louisiana, Charles C. Foti, Jr., Esq., the Law Offices of Vincent Wong, Robbins Arroyo LLP, and several more, are reviewing whether the Buffalo Wild Wings board of directors upheld their duties to shareholders to find the best sale price. Legal teams argue that the board may have failed to adequately shop the company before agreeing to the sale to Arby’s. The $157 per share is lower than the $170 per share price evaluated by Guggenheim Securities in July or the $160 evaluated by Maxim Group LLC in October. This is interesting. With that said, I’m not sure I can imagine this actually taking hold and resulting in anything tangible. I guess we’ll have to see what happens.
BDO releases an industry benchmarking report each quarter called The Counter, which measures the data from publicly traded restaurant companies. It’s been a pretty common trend in recent releases that fast casual is sagging. Like most segments, the third quarter was especially harsh, with overall sales falling 0.4 percent. They were down 2.1 percent in fast casual, the largest change of any group. This could be credited to a few things. In this case, mostly to hurricanes crushing the performance of several big brands, including Fiesta Restaurant Group. Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical were hit especially hard. I’m a believer in fast casual and think it will recover in time. There are just too many concepts flooding the marketplace right now. Give it a few years and the top brands will emerge and regain share. Or, perhaps, this kind of stagnant growth will simply be the new normal for some. It’s kind of hard to say. Credit quick service for improving its product. The gap just isn’t what it once was, and that’s making a big difference when it comes to consumer spending.
This piece of news caught my attention. On the surface it doesn’t seem like much. Chris Sullivan, one of the four founders of Outback, announced he was resigning from the board. He told The Tampa Bay Business Journal that all was good and he remains a major shareholder in the company he helped bring to life. Well, what does this signal about the future of Bloomin’? Did Sullivan, who’s been part of the picture for 30 years, want to depart before an impending activist battle? Obviously we don’t know yet. But the fact Jana Partners is now involved (8.7 percent stake) and has said they want a review of strategic alternatives, could mean Outback’s in for an eventful 2018. Jana is the same fund that took a stake in Whole Foods Market earlier in the year. In that case, like Bloomin’, Jana pushed Whole Foods to explore strategic alternatives. On June 16, Amazon sent a shock wave through foodservice with its $13.7 billion purchase of the supermarket behemoth.
Operators have plenty on their plate for 2018: Big, bold flavors. Healthy ingredients. Healthy-ish indulgences. Social media. Value. Competition. And on it goes. We broke down the nine biggest trends to keep an eye on moving forward. In sum: You can’t overlook anything in this industry.
More trends, but this time on the full-service side. We took a look at everything, from food trends to tech trends to concept trends, to try to predict what’s coming next.
Perhaps no concept in foodservice delivers what customers want better than eatertainment. Bowling, beer, food. Hard to beat it when you consider the experience-driven consumer of today’s food generation. This segment will boom in the next few years. One good thing about that: the brands, like Topgolf, Main Event, Dave & Busters, seem to be making each other better.