Restaurants could get more expensive in 2017: here are 3 ways to save when you dine out

January 11, 2017

By James Dennin
https://mic.com/articles/164756/restaurants-could-get-more-expensive-in-2017-here-are-3-ways-to-save-when-you-dine-out#.gIsHHUZAZ 

Time to break out Dad’s old cookbooks: Restaurants are likely to get more expensive in 2017.

For one, a wave of state-level minimum-wage hikes across the country could make labor more expensive — which could prompt restaurants to raise their prices by as much as 5% in 2017, Darren Tristano, CEO of food industry analysis firm Technomic, told CNBC.

That’s roughly double the typical inflation-driven annual hikes of 2-2.5%, he said.

What’s more, there are pressures beyond minimum wage laws pushing U.S. restaurants to pay workers more: The number of eateries has grown since 2009, according to Thrillist, while the number of immigrant restaurant workers has fallen. Those workers therefore have more bargaining power over pay.

If establishments then pass higher costs to patrons, the price of dining out could eat up even more of your paycheck.

Millennials in the United States already spend an average of $103 a month eating out, according to a 2016 survey from TD Bank. (If you live in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco, that figure might make you lol.)

Regardless of where you live, one obvious way to be thriftier this year is to cut down on big-spender nights full of surf and turf. But realistically, no matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitably end up dropping cash on date nights, celebratory toasts — and the unavoidable best friend’s birthday dinner.

So here are a few ways to treat yourself without breaking the bank.

1. Go out to lunch instead of dinner — and ditch dessert
Research shows restaurants face harsher competition for nighttime diners than they do during the day, which often prompts them to offer the same exact dishes for cheaper.

At Jean-Georges in New York City, for instance, the difference is stark: Three courses plus dessert will set you back $84 at lunchtime, while the same offering at dinner is $118.

Beyond that?

The easiest way to save money on a restaurant meal is to abstain from the little extras, like the fried appetizer or that delicious — but unnecessary — lava cake.

Indeed, one of the most effective ways to cut costs while eating out is eliminating dessert, Steve Dublanica, author of industry tell-all Waiter Rant told Real Simple.

That’s because many restaurants outsource dessert production to another bakery and then jack up the price. No point in paying premium for a frozen dessert, especially if there’s an ice-cream parlor or bakery on the way home.

2. BYOB, especially wine
Many personal finance guides recommend the extremely restrained practice of ordering a glass of water with your meal: Water, unlike other beverages, often comes with the meal gratis.

Seriously, don’t roll your eyes.

Industry journals actually recommend restaurants mark up booze between four and five times, depending on other costs and your desired profit margin.

That means that a middling $10 bottle of wine will set you back $40 or even $50 if you want to drink it in a restaurant.

Womp womp.

If washing down your steak with water seems a bit spartan, consider finding restaurants nearby that allow you to bring your own beverage.

OpenTable and FourSquare both have categories for these dining options, although corkage fees apply, usually between $10 and $20.

Still, at $15 for a five-liter box of Franzia — which works out to roughly $2.25 per traditional 750-milliliter bottle — will more than make up pulling the trigger on that third course.

Too much of a snob for that two-buck Chuck? Here are some cheap-but-not-horrifying options from $6 to $27.

3. Ditch brunch — it’s not worth it
Savvy industry types say clocking your meal in terms of total dollars and cents spent is the wrong way to go about it.

After all, that 32-ounce ribeye may be pricier than a sensible bowl of pasta, but the ribeye cost the restaurant a lot more money to buy in the first place — and the pasta is likely to be marked up way more than it’s worth.

There are other factors to consider when dining out.

If you’re in a steakhouse, your order may have benefitted from an aging cellar or other fancy treatment that makes the steak taste better than what you could make at home: So you are arguably getting decent value — and are wasting your cash on that sad “garden salad.”

This line of thinking holds that if you’re going to eat out at all, you might as well spend a little extra on the things that actually make a restaurant meal special as opposed to foods you can just make yourself.

On that score?

It might be time to break up with your most insufferable millennial pastime, brunch. The meal is replete with cheap foods like eggs and pancakes — both of which you can prepare far more inexpensively at home.

At the very least, it’s a good excuse to finally learn to make that bacon-and-egg breakfast poutine.

 


2017 Looking Bright for Restaurant Seafood Sales

January 10, 2017

By Christine Blank, Contributing Editor
© 2016 Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.
http://www.seafoodsource.com/news/foodservice-retail/2017-looking-bright-for-restaurant-seafood-sales

Seafood restaurants – and those that serve seafood – are expected to perform well in both the United States and the United Kingdom in 2017.

“Right now, consumers should be in a pretty good place, with regard to the economy. All of the indicators, including unemployment, are trending positive,” Darren Tristano, president of foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic, told SeafoodSource.

As a result, spending at higher-end restaurants that serve seafood will rise, Tristano said. In addition to an increase in consumer spending, United States businesses will have increased expense accounts and take clients out to dinner more.

Restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris, Fleming’s and other upscale chains are expected to perform well, according to Tristano.

“Steakhouses will continue to pick up, and seafood will do well in the steakhouse format,” he said.

In addition, “more polished casual restaurants” such as Bonefish Grill and Legal Sea Foods will also thrive, Tristano said.

In the U.K., eating seafood in restaurants is also expected to rise, as consumers dine out more and seek healthy, sustainable seafood. Over the last year, seafood servings in U.K. restaurants increased 2.3 percent to 979 million, as restaurant visits also grew 1.5 percent, according to NPD Group – Crest in the U.K.

The biggest trend affecting seafood served in restaurants is sustainability, Tristano said. The health, ethical and environmental attributes of meals are increasingly important to consumers, according to one of NPD Crest’s top five foodservice trends for 2017.

Sustainability is here to stay – and it will continue to increase [in importance to consumers],” Tristano said.

Consumers will continue to seek out seafood for its health benefits, according to Tristano.

However, because of the inherently higher price of seafood versus other proteins, restaurant operators need to offer a mix of seafood species at various price points to “raise the appeal of the protein.”

“For example, you can have Chilean sea bass at one end and tilapia at the other end. Or, in addition to Chilean sea bass, you can add in bluegill and other types of striped bass. You can get it down to an area that is more affordable and approachable for consumers,” Tristano said.

Seafood at restaurants is already becoming more approachable, thanks to fast-casual restaurants that are performing well, such as Luke’s Lobster and Rubio’s Coastal Grill. Even quick service seafood chains such as Captain D’s are performing well, according to Tristano.

The types of seafood dishes that will perform well in 2017 include sushi, sushi burritos, poke and calamari, “a product that is becoming more approachable,” Tristano said.

“Poke is taking off across the nation,” he added. “We are seeing a lot more poke bowls and concepts that are getting into raw ahi and salmon.”

Up-and-coming sushi burrito restaurants in the U.S. include Sushiritto in New York and San Francisco, Chicago-based Sushi Burrito and SeoulSpice in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the other top NPD Crest trends for foodservice operators in 2017 are:

  • Restaurants must provide different delivery options (potentially use a delivery aggregator) to complement the traditional sit down format.
  • To maintain sales growth and consumer engagement, outlets must deliver a great experience, with a choice of quality meal options.
  • Consumers are interested in buying locally-sourced food. However, they will not accept lower quality.
  • Consumers like variety but they do enjoy their traditional favorites with a fresh twist.

10 Nuggets For $1.49? Here’s Why Fast Food Is Ridiculously Cheap Right Now

April 1, 2016

Venessa Wong
Buzzfeed News
Feb 29, 2016
http://www.buzzfeed.com/venessawong/why-fast-food-is-ridiculously-cheap-right-now#.gnYqPoN15

enhanced-mid-31676-1456426625-2

The country’s largest fast food chains have been showering customers with deals after years of losing out to newer, higher-end chains. And now, in a battle for customers who remain loyal to old-school fast food, the big chains are engaged in a brutal price war.
Fast food companies have always targeted lower-income consumers. What’s different now is that these customers are expected to benefit from lower gas prices, falling unemployment, and rising minimum wages, according to research by investment bank Cowen and Company. And as low-income consumers find more money in their wallets, commodity prices are no longer shooting upward as they did in recent years.
As “forecasts for key restaurant commodities including beef, chicken, pork, dairy and wheat are in-line to below long term averages,” restaurants are particularly eager now to take advantage of the lower costs to boost traffic to stores, said Cowen’s report.
McDonald’s announced that starting Feb. 29, customers could pick two of four “iconic menu items” — a Big Mac, a 10-piece order of Chicken McNuggets, Filet-O-Fish or a Quarter Pounder with Cheese — for $5. This deal replaces the even lower-priced McPick 2 deal launched in January, in which customers could get two items — McChicken, McDouble, mozzarella sticks, or small french fries — for $2.
Meanwhile, Wendy’s has been offering a four for $4 deal. Value monger Burger King has an even cheaper five for $4 promotion, as well as an ongoing two for $5 sandwich deal, and 10 chicken nuggets for $1.49. Even Pizza Hut has a $5 “flavor menu.”
“All the major chains have jumped on the dollar pricing in an effort to maintain share against competitors,” said Darren Tristano, president at restaurant consultancy Technomic.


McDonald’s reaps the benefit of all day breakfasts and table service

February 9, 2016

McDonald's signature rangeEven though we’re only into its second month, 2016 been rather a good year for Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s chief executive. His football team, Watford, is enjoying its best season in years and much the same can be said for the US fast-food giant.

The company surprised analysts with its latest quarterly results last week, with sales up 5.7pc in the US – nearly twice as much as had been predicted. Global sales are up by 5pc.

It has taken a Briton – albeit one steeped in McDonald’s corporate culture – to revive the most American of institutions, which was in danger of being left behind by rather nimbler competitors in the fast food industry.

From introducing all-day breakfasts throughout the US to testing waiter service at some of its outlets, including in the UK, Easterbrook has overhauled how the company operates at a bewildering pace.

The chain was in something of a mess when Easterbrook took over as chief executive in March 2015. Last August, for the first time in more than 45 years, McDonald’s announced that it was closing more outlets than it was opening.

European sales had dropped by 1.4pc, between 2008-14. In the US, the decline was 3.3pc and in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, once considered a growth region, a rather frightening 9.9pc.

It was not just the dire figures which suggested that McDonald’s was in need of a cultural shift. The company was facing competition from not only its traditional rivals, such as Burger King and Wendy’s, but also from hipper new competitors entering the market, such as Honest, Byron, Five Guys and Shake Shack.

It was pretty clear that the golden arches had lost their sparkle. Within weeks of taking over the reins, Easterbrook appeared on CBS’s This Morning television progamme in the US to signal that the 60-year-old company was in for a radical overhaul.

“We really want to assert McDonald’s as a modern burger company. To do that you have to make meaningful changes in the business,” he said. “The pace of change outside McDonald’s has been a little quicker than the pace of change within. You act your way to success, you can’t talk your way to success.”

For once, this was not empty corporate-speak. All-day breakfasts were tested in San Diego in April, and within months were available at all the company’s 16,000 US restaurants. This has brought back customers who might have gone elsewhere and even tempted in newcomers.

Other changes have seen the introduction of a “McPick menu” where US customers can have two items for only $2, despite the wafer-thin profit margin the deal provides.

The range of burgers has also been increased to include Pico Guacamole and Buffalo Bacon, and diners are now being allowed to customise their burgers. McDonald’s has also launched its first loyalty programme for people who register their details, offering, for example, a free cup of coffee for every five bought at one of its restaurants.

Easterbrook has also done something to improve McDonald’s corporate image, announcing a 10pc pay rise for the 90,000 people who work in outlets directly owned by the company in the US. This has taken their hourly minimum wage to $9.90 an hour – increasing to more than $10 this year – considerably higher than the legal minimum of $7.95.

The one caveat, however, was that the pay rise was limited to those staff who work for the 10pc of restaurants which are owned by the company rather than franchisees. Even the white packaging is being ditched after more than a decade. Instead, food now comes in brown paper bags which, in theory, are seen as more environmentally friendly.

According to a company spokesman, the change is “consistent with our vision to be a modern and progressive burger company” –a phrase now something of a corporate mantra.

“One of the things Easterbrook has done is create a sense of urgency in the the McDonald’s business culture,” said Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant analyst at Nomura in New York. “When the company started trialling the all-day breakfast in San Diego county in April, it only took until October before it went nationwide.

“He doesn’t want to waste time, he operates on speed to market and saw it was clearly something customers wanted.

“For McDonald’s, that is rather quick. Although it can be innovative, the company is traditionally slow- moving. I think it’s a reflection on its sheer size.” Even though Easterbrook has spent much of his career with McDonald’s, having joined in 1993, he also spent time with the rather more upmarket Wagamama and Pizza Express chains. He returned to McDonald’s in 2013 as chief brand officer, having held previous roles including its head of Europe.

“Most of the presidents and chief executives at McDonald’s we have seen have been promoted from within. Having somebody with an outside perspective is exactly what the company needed” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based company specialising in the food industry.

Tristano believes that Easterbrook’s strategy has been shrewd. “He has aggressively marketed the all-day breakfast, which has put McDonald’s back at the top of the mind of consumers.

“The price point appeals to lower and middle-income consumers who are looking for something which is less expensive than the dinner menu. This has helped McDonald’s get back some of the market share which it had been losing to rivals.”

McDonald’s has also been helped by the rehabilitation of the egg in the mind of the consumer, Tristano added.

“If you go back a few years, eggs were seen as high-cholesterol. Now they are seen as high-protein and eggs are a key part of breakfast.

“The sales growth on a year over year basis is over a few years of weak sales performance, so the numbers are good but we should expect to see sustainable growth and especially year over year, fourth quarter 2016 would signal McDonald’s is officially back.

“McDonald’s appears to be listening to their customers and staying more true to their brand under Easterbrook.”

The consensus appears to that Easterbrook has enabled McDonald’s to regain its mojo. “He has brought a sense of strategic clarity, said John Quelch, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School.

“There is a tendency when a company gets into trouble to sling products at the wall and see what sticks. All that does is adds complexity. If you reach a point when you can’t explain to an employee or a franchisee what the point of a product is, then how can you expect them to explain that to a customer?

“The bench strength of McDonald’s is enormously good. It is no surprise that they were able to find somebody like him to step up,” added Quelch.


How 10 Food Trends for 2016 Will Transform Restaurants

November 2, 2015

2015 Forbes.com LLC™ All Rights Reserved
http://www.forbes.com/sites/darrentristano/2015/10/28/how-10-food-trends-for-2016-will-transform-restaurants/

At this point a couple years ago, if you asked a restaurant executive how she might user Uber to build sales, she might have guessed as a prefix for the name of her brand’s Oktoberfest-theme burger. But now, Uber and Postmates are just two of the sharing-economy apps rapidly transforming foodservice and shaking up consumers’ expectations everywhere.
Going into 2016, there are dozens of similar forces shifting the ground beneath restaurants, and most of them are far beyond what brands have the power to control. While they are hard to predict, even for a data-rich firm like Technomic, they are easy to identify and understand, because they all spring from evolving consumer demand. Major moves from the biggest restaurant companies—McDonald’s moving its food supply toward more cage-free eggs, for example—aren’t dictated solely by the bottom line. They’re dictated by what consumers need from foodservice brands.

Technomic just released its 10 major food trends for 2016 with this dynamic in mind. Because consumers are the impetus behind all the upheaval, take a look at each trend and see how many of them you’re driving with your own dining out preferences.

The Sriracha Effect: This hot sauce from Thailand will continue to grow in popularity, but the “effect” Technomic predicts is that chefs and chain restaurant executives will search for the next hot ethnic flavor to find lightning in a bottle again. Early indications are that this will drive more use of and consumer interest in ghost pepper from India, sambal from Southeast Asia, gochujang from Korea, and harissa, sumac and dukka from North Africa.

The Delivery Revolution: Popular apps that simplify online and mobile ordering making “dining in” even easier and, in some cases, “dining out” irrelevant. Delivery services like GrubHub are starting to proliferate far beyond urban centers, bringing the convenience of a restaurant meal home, where plenty of people are likely camping out in front of the TV to binge-watch a season or two on Netflix. Other services are muscling in, including the aforementioned Uber and Amazon, which is expanding its Prime Fresh memberships for grocery delivery.

One particular threat to restaurants could be app-only services like Munchery, which delivers restaurant-quality food from a commissary, cutting out brick-and-mortar restaurants completely.

Negative on GMOs: In some cases, consumers have made up their minds before scientists have reached consensus, but many restaurant customers are declaring genetically modified organisms to be nonstarters. Many diners will agree with calls for labels of GMOs on menus and food packaging; some will go further and gravitate toward restaurants that advertise a GMO-free menu. That will be a major issue for the nation’s food supply, since many crops—particularly soy fed to livestock and other animal feeds—have been modified to boost their yields and productivity.

Modernizing the Supply Chain: Speaking of the supply chain, it already has enough challenges to deal with, including climate destabilization, rising costs for transportation and shipping, and pests. These will cause frequent repeats of shortages similar to those witnessed in 2015, like the unseasonable freeze that decimated Florida’s orange crop or the egg shortage that resulted from avian flu. Those hurdles will proliferate while more and more consumers demand food that is “fresh,” “local,” or just free of additives and artificial ingredients. Every brand, from restaurants to grocery stores and convenience stores, will make big investments in supply chain management in 2016.

Year of the Worker: Restaurants will also contend with rising labor costs, because of new mandates to cover full-time staff with health insurance and because the minimum wage could increase sharply depending on the state or city where they’re located. Pressure groups will ratchet up their call for a $15-per-hour wage, and they could possibly succeed in more cities like they have in New York and Seattle. Don’t expect any changes to the federal wage floor of $7.25 per hour, because no cooperation between a Democratic White House and a Republican Congress is possible, especially in an election year.
How will restaurants respond? Most will raise their wages to either comply with a new law or to compete for the best staff—but that means menu prices are going up as well, everywhere from fast food to fine dining. Also, more brands will experiment with technology and automation in the kitchens and the dining rooms to do more with fewer employees.

Fast Food Refresh: Consumers gravitate to “better” quick-service restaurants, which has transformed the industry. That has created a subset of “QSR-Plus” concepts with fresher menus and more contemporary designs, which exploits a price threshold between fast food and fast casual. Culver’s, Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger are examples of this. “Build-your-own” menus are springing up across the industry, and many quick-service brands are adding amenities like alcohol.
QSR-Plus also helps other restaurants clarify their positioning by giving up their attempt to go upscale in a piecemeal approach, and those chains instead are returning to their roots with simplified menus and lower prices.

Elevating Peasant Fare: The popularity of street foods and consumers’ demand for portability and affordability have put things like meatballs, sausages and even breads back in the spotlight. But this time, those meatballs might have a nouveau twist, such as a blend of fancier meats like duck or lamb. Multiethnic dumplings will also continue to grow in popularity, from Eastern European pierogi to Asian bao.

Trash to Treasure: Rising prices for proteins will raise the profile of underused cuts of meat, organ meats or “trash fish.” The “use it all” mindset has also moved beyond the center of the plate. Some restaurants will use carrot pulp from the juicer to make a veggie burger patty, and perhaps other chains will follow the lead of Sweetgreen, which last year partnered with celebrity chef Dan Barber to make the wastED Salad, an entrée that saves vegetable scraps like broccoli stalks and cabbage cores and combines them with upscale ingredients like shaved Parmesan and pesto vinaigrette.

Let them eat kale stems!

Burned: Smoke and fire are showing up everywhere on the menu—smoky is the new spicy. Look for more charred- or roasted-vegetable sides, desserts with charred fruits or burnt-sugar toppings, or cocktails featuring smoked salt, smoked ice or smoky syrups.

Bubbly: Effervescence makes light work of the trendiest beverages. Technomic expects rapid sales growth of Champagnes and Proseccos, Campari-and-soda aperitifs, and adults-only “hard” soft drinks like ginger ales and root beers. In the nonalcoholic space, sales will also increase for fruit-based artisanal soda and sparkling teas.


A New Meaning For ‘to go’ at Restaurants

September 7, 2015

2015-09-02_1535Peter Frost
(c) 2015 Crain Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150822/ISSUE01/308229990/a-new-meaning-for-to-go-at-restaurants

Before Charlie McKenna opened Lillie’s Q in Bucktown in 2010, he knew his small-batch barbecue sauces would play a key role in his restaurant’s success.

He probably didn’t expect that, five years later, his line of regional-inspired sauces such as Carolina Gold, Ivory and Hot Smoky would be in 2,500 stores in six countries and rise to become the fastest-growing premium brand in the segment. His retail line, which has expanded to include kettle chips, rubs and bloody mary mixes, is on the shelves at Target, Whole Foods, Mariano’s, Crate & Barrel and more, and is growing nearly fourfold each year. Revenue from the products equals that of any of his four restaurants.

“At a certain point, we were selling so many bottles from our restaurant we decided to test the waters with small local stores, then local distributors, then national chains,” says Brian Golinvaux, who was brought in to run a new specialty food division called Lillie’s Q Sauces & Rubs. “I would compare it to what happened in the beer category years ago—craft brewers saw an opportunity that the big brands were not serving and took market share.”

While restaurant-affiliated retail products aren’t exactly new—Rick Bayless’ Frontera salsas have been around for 16 years—a growing number of chefs and restaurants around Chicago are rolling out pastas, breads, sausages and sauces of all types to sell. But where there’s opportunity to boost revenue and name recognition, there’s risk.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for restaurants to familiarize more people with the quality of their products as well as the brand itself,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based market-research firm Technomic. “The danger is, if you don’t actively manage the quality of the product, you risk having a negative reflection toward the brand.”

Because restaurant-generated packaged foods fall into myriad categories, there’s limited data on how much of the market such brands represent, though Tristano says the trend is gaining momentum.

Although chefs have a built-in advantage here—after all, they’ve spent months, if not years, developing and perfecting recipes in their restaurants—producing them for a retail customer and in large volume is a different animal.

First they must have a tastier chip, a tangier sauce, a superior sausage to others in the market. Then they’ve got to find a commercial-scale producer to make, package and distribute it, which often involves months of trial and error. From there, they must get it on store shelves at a price consumers are willing to pay. And they must do all of it at the same quality as what comes out of a restaurant’s kitchen. Any misstep in the process could be fatal.

“If you look back through history, there have been lots and lots of chefs who have launched retail food products, and in many cases, it has wound up hurting their brands,” says Manny Valdes, chief executive and co-owner of Chicago-based Frontera Foods, which makes tortilla chips, salsas, seasonings and prepared frozen meals that are sold at more than 65 percent of grocery stores across the country, with sales rising by about 20 percent a year.

For instance, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s frozen pizzas once were in virtually every high-end grocer. Now they have disappeared from the market.

Closer to home, Stephanie Izard of the wildly successful Girl & the Goat in Chicago launched a series of marinades and rubs with online retailer Abe’s Market in mid-2013. The products are no longer available at Abe’s, and an Izard spokeswoman says the chef is relaunching the line. BellyQ’s Bill Kim, who sold five signature bottled sauces at his Chicago restaurants and niche retailers, has stopped producing that line, with the hope of relaunching in coming months.

PLAYING IT SAFE

Still, chefs and restaurateurs keep trying to go retail.

Jared Van Camp of Element Collective started selling house-milled flour and dried pasta from Nellcote soon after opening the West Loop restaurant in 2012. From there, he has branched into a retail juice operation, Owen & Alchemy, which sells bottled cold-pressed juices at Eataly, Local Foods and its own store. Recently, he was in Louisiana working with a co-packer to develop and bottle a line of sauces used at his Chicago fried-chicken joint, Leghorn.

He plays it safer by keeping production low and selling his products in a small number of local retailers. “It doesn’t cost much, it’s free marketing and everything you sell contributes to the bottom line,” Van Camp says. “There’s no risk to that.”

Formento’s, an Italian restaurant in the West Loop, opened in January with built-in plans to sell its products in its adjoining takeout spot and store, Nonna’s, mostly as a marketing tool. But its marinara sauce is selling so fast that owner John Ross is talking with local grocers about carrying his products, too.

And then there’s the Publican, which through West Loop offshoot market-cafe Publican Quality Meats continues to expand its retail and wholesale offerings amid soaring demand. PQM sells branded ice cream, olive oil, honey and granola, the latter in collaboration with Chicago cafe Milk & Honey.

Its breads and sausages are sold at Treasure Island and Local Foods, as well as at restaurants around the city. The sausages, produced by Hometown Sausage in East Troy, Wis., can be found on the menu of Chicago-area Shake Shack restaurants, at two professional sports stadiums in Cleveland and at festivals like Lollapalooza. The restaurant estimates that north of 5 percent of its annual revenue comes from its retail and wholesale products, a figure that’s poised to grow.

“Originally we were just a small shop on the corner that took some of the pressure off the kitchen at the Publican,” says Bradley Smith, PQM’s retail coordinator. “But as you go along, you realize, ‘Oh wow, we can sell these sausages all over the place.’ It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.”

But they’re fighting the urge to get too big too fast. One slip and they risk winding up in the same place as Wolfgang Puck’s frozen pizza.


Gone Fishing

July 27, 2015

July15-Food-Trends---Sharky's-Tacos

Copyright © 2015 Journalistic Inc.

http://www.qsrmagazine.com/menu-innovations/gone-fishin?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A%20QSRmagazine%20%28QSR%20magazine%29

Seafood gives operators a versatile protein that has a sustainable, healthful halo.

There’s nothing fishy about the seafood at limited-service restaurants today. Operators are focused on meeting consumers’ demands for seafood that is creative, healthful, and sustainable, from grilled fish fillets to upscale lobster rolls.

“There’s a little oversaturation in chicken, burgers, and pizza,” says Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish, a seven-unit southern California seafood chain. “People are eating more seafood now that they realize how healthy and accessible it is.”

According to Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc., 64 percent of the nation’s quick-service and fast-casual restaurants offer a seafood item, whether it’s fish tacos, shrimp fried rice, or anchovies on pizza. The number of seafood items on regular limited-service menus is virtually unchanged from a year ago, with 54 percent featured at quick serves and 46 percent at fast casuals.

The most offered seafood, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor database, is shrimp. It’s in a variety of dishes, part of many ethnic menus, and a popular add-on protein at restaurants as diverse as Noodles & Co. and Pei Wei Asian Diner.
Even Atlanta-based wings chain Wing Zone serves a shrimp dish. “Almost all of our food items are fried, so having fried shrimp is easy on the operation,” says Dan Corrigan, director of marketing. “We actually changed our shrimp recently to more of a jumbo breaded shrimp, and that’s doing well.” The shrimp is served with a dipping sauce. It’s only 3 percent of the sales, Corrigan adds, but when Wing Zone tested removing the item from one restaurant, guests wanted it back.
One reason fast casuals make up a big percentage of limited-service eateries serving seafood is its premium price, says Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano.

“That’s harder to translate to quick service,” he says. “Seafood’s price points are more full service or fast casual.” Nonetheless, many big limited-service restaurant operators offer at least one seafood menu item, such as the Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s or Tuna Sandwich at Subway.

Keeping seafood sustainable is more important to Americans today than ever before.

“Customers are increasingly asking where their food comes from, how is it produced, is it safe, and are there any environmental issues when it’s produced,” says James Baros, aquaculture and sustainability coordinator at provider National Fish and Seafood of Glouchester, Massachusetts. He points to Atlantic cod and some tuna species as examples of how industrial fishing nearly obliterated stocks. “It was an important lesson to learn,” he says.

Half of U.S. seafood is caught wild, while the other half is farmed. That’s up from 15 percent farmed three decades ago. “We’re seeing a big transition to aquaculture,” Baros says. “Fish is the last major food we go out and catch. You don’t hear of catching cows in the wild.”

Salmon, shrimp, and tilapia are the most popular farm-raised seafood varieties for Americans. But wild caught still has a certain cachet for diners, and many restaurants point out that their fish is wild caught. That includes the largest quick-service seafood operator, Long John Silver’s, where the classic battered and fried Fish and Chips remains the biggest seller.

“Our two main types of fish are Alaskan pollock and cod. Both are wild caught and sustainable,” says chief executive James O’Reilly. “It takes a lot of commitment to maintain a sustainable supply.”

The fried fish is usually pollock, while cod is available either fried or baked. Shrimp, mostly farm-raised in South America, can be baked or fried, and Long John Silver’s also sells fried crab cakes and clams, with langoustine bites offered as a seasonal item.

“Our seafood menu has evolved,” O’Reilly says, adding that the brand has increased its healthier options while also adding more portable items, including fish tacos, seafood-salad sandwiches, and fish strips. These steps are helping the Louisville, Kentucky–based company maintain its seafood leadership, O’Reilly says. “I believe that growth will be fueled by the addition of Millennials concerned with quality and sustainability,” he says.

Battered fried fish is also the No. 1 item at Captain D’s, which has positioned itself as a fast-casual seafood dining experience. While about two-thirds of the menu is fried, the biggest growth is in grilled items, says Jason Henderson, vice president of product innovation for the Nashville, Tennessee–based chain. Double-digit growth pushed grilled food to about 10 percent of sales in 2014.

The grilled menu includes Alaska salmon and pollock, tilapia, and shrimp, while the fried fish is pollock. The chain also features breaded flounder and catfish, a nod to its Southern roots, as well as fried shrimp and stuffed crab shells.
Most diners don’t ask about the food’s source, Henderson says, but the menu often makes it quite clear, particularly with Alaskan fish.

“We’ve worked with a long list of accounts to increase the visibility of Alaska seafood,” says Claudia Hogue, foodservice director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The state produces 53 percent of America’s seafood harvest.

In addition to white fish—cod, halibut, and pollock—Alaska is known for its wild salmon. Some salmon varieties are available year-round, but for most, the season kicked off in May and runs through the summer. There are also Alaska Dungeness and other crab varieties, along with scallops and prawns.

“We encourage people to use the Alaska name because we know customers more and more want to know the origin of their fish,” Hogue says. Studies commissioned by the institute indicate consumers feel better about buying Alaska-brand seafood.

Southern California–based Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill makes a point that fish served in its tacos, burritos, bowls, and other items are wild caught, and varieties like salmon and cod are from Alaska.

“We’re a lifestyle brand, and many who visit us recognize the benefits of wild-caught seafood,” says David Goldstein, chief operating officer of the two-dozen-unit chain.

The most popular seafood item is Charbroiled Fish Tacos featuring salmon or wahoo. Fish tacos are $4.29, versus $2.99 for chicken and $3.99 for steak. Other favorites are the Salmon Power Plate, Salmon Burrito, and Tempura Cod Tacos.
Sharky’s also features mahi mahi, pollock, and shrimp, and all these offerings provide “a real point of differentiation for us,” Goldstein says. Seafood has grown to 11 percent of sales, twice what it was a few years ago.

At Ivar’s Seafood Bars in and around Seattle, fish (Alaska cod) and chips is the big draw. “We ride the up-and-down tides on price points,” says Carl Taylor, director of operations at the regional favorite. “It’s a premium product we serve.”

The majority of the menu is fried. In addition to cod, there’s fried halibut, salmon, clams, scallops, big and small prawns, and oysters. The menu also has several chowders, grilled halibut and salmon, Dungeness crab, and salads with different seafood varieties.

“Within the past three years, we expanded the grilled items and added fresh fish,” Taylor says. “We sell it as long as the run is going.” The two-piece Fresh Halibut Platter, with cole slaw, wild rice, and cornbread, sells for $15.99.

Ivar’s oysters are from the Washington and Oregon coasts. The Alaska Dungeness ($9.29) is higher in terms of price, he says, but worth every penny. “I could go out and get rock crab and mix it with the Dungeness to lower the price, but we don’t.”

Just as consumers equate wild salmon with Alaska, they link lobsters with Maine. That’s the draw at New York–based Luke’s Lobster, which has 17 fast-casual “shacks” in Mid-Atlantic coast cities and recently expanded to Chicago.

“We are exporting the experience of the Maine lobster shack,” says founder and president Luke Holden, whose father has been in the seafood industry for years and built up well-established relationships with fishermen across the Northeast coast.
The $15 fresh lobster rolls are made to order in the traditional Maine style, with a quarter pound of chilled lobster meat in a top-split bun—the sides are shaved to toast better—plus a slick of mayonnaise, Holden’s secret seasoning, and lemon butter.

“All the meat is from the claws and the knuckles; the knuckle tends to be the most delicious part,” Holden says, adding that the tail is considered premium, but not for lobster rolls. “You would have a tug of war with a warm bun and a chewy tail.”

The shacks also offer crab and shrimp rolls, Jonah crab claws, and New England clam chowder. Crab is purchased from fishermen from Maine to Rhode Island, while the shrimp is wild from Canada.

Lobsters were sustainably caught long before it became a trend, says Matt Jacobson, executive director of the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Some rules governing trapping date from the 1870s. Today, lobsters must be males between 3.5 and 5 inches in body length. Others are tossed back—smaller ones to grow, and females and bigger males to breed.

While many consumers consider lobsters a center-of-plate item served whole, there are many other uses for the meat, Jacobson says, including in salads, pasta, and Asian dishes. Lobster rolls are also growing in popularity nationwide.

Lobster rolls and fish tacos are the two top sellers at Slapfish. “Lobster is incredibly indulgent, and the growth in our lobster rolls has been 100 percent due to Instagram and social media,” Gruel says. “People see them online and want them.”

The fish tacos are available with grilled or fried fish, largely wild-caught species ranging from Pacific cod to Maine’s Acadian redfish, depending on the season. The tacos include cabbage, avocado purée, and pickled onions.

“The key is the balance,” he says. “You want a good amount of cabbage to provide that great crunch, and the acidity to cut through the richness of the fish.”

Slapfish’s limited entrée menu also includes the Crabster Grilled Cheese sandwich with lobster and crab, and a Surf ‘n Turf Lobster Burger smothered in lobster and caramelized onions. There’s also fish and chips, chowder, chowder on fries, and shrimp.

A taste of the Hawaiian Islands is part of the draw at Coconut’s Fish Café. The four-unit chain began in Maui, Hawaii, and has since moved to the mainland. It features mahi mahi, ono—the Hawaiian name for wahoo—and ahi.

“They are all wild, and they are line caught,” says Dan Oney, chief operating officer. “The people we buy from are able to track the fish to the boat. It’s the concept of taking care of the earth and taking care of our customers.”

Most of the fish is grilled, and the ahi tuna is seared rare and served with wasabi. “We have big, beautiful, 6-ounce fillets of fish that if you go to a sit-down restaurant, you would pay $30 or $40,” Oney says. Coconut’s platters start at $10.99.
Mahi mahi and ono are in the seafood pasta, as well as the fish tacos that include family-recipe coleslaw and tomato and mango salsas. There’s also a fish sandwich and other fried items—fish and chips, shrimp, calamari, and coconut shrimp—on the menu.


Romano’s Macaroni Grill Has a New Twist to Dining Options

July 10, 2015

pictureMike D. Smith
Copyright 2015. Hearst Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by NewsBank Inc.
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As chain with 147 locations adjusts to desires of millennials, it adds a walk-up express line to its traditional sit-down table service

Fans of Romano’s Macaroni Grill can still walk in, take a seat and wait to order from a familiar-looking Italian-American menu. But diners seeking quicker, cheaper meals now can turn toward a walk-up express line and order from “Romano’s Kitchen Counter.”

The addition of this “fast-casual” option, with lower-priced and easier-to-prepare items, represents the latest shake-up for a chain that has seen its value plummet since 2008. Macaroni Grill’s newest owners are hoping to attract more of the typically younger customers drawn to places like Chipotle, Panera Bread and Zoës Kitchen, while not abandoning the full-table service it has provided for 27 years.

“We decided to play in both spaces,” CEO John Gilbert said recently at the Macaroni Grill at 5802 Westheimer Road.

The makeover comes amid an industrywide shift as restaurants struggle to keep pace with demographic changes, diners’ ever-evolving moods and a post-recession dining landscape that favors new, fresh, quality and quick.

Gilbert took over earlier this year after the sale of the company by Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group for just $8 million. Ignite had paid $55 million for the properties two years ago, taking them off the hands of a California private equity firm that had given Dallas-based Brinker International $88 million in 2008.

The number of restaurants in the chain dropped as well, to 147 today from 200 at the time of the Brinker sale.

Those 147 locations churn out annual sales of about $350 million, serving about 20 million meals each year.

However, Gilbert saw much room for improvement.

The restaurants had undergone only one makeover once since 1992. That is a far longer interval than the seven years that Gilbert said is ideal.

As the restaurant chain’s brand aged, so did its core customer.

Part of the formula for Mac Grill’s turnaround is a remodel. The dimly lit interiors will undergo changes to make better use of each restaurant’s ample space. The exteriors are being studied for more eye-grabbing details that can capture passing traffic.

Those changes are to complement the most noticeable shift – the mix of express and casual service, cashing in on what Gilbert said is an undeniable industry change toward express service.

Dual-concept mode

The company first tested the dual-concept model in a Cleveland, Ohio, restaurant.

First came express lunch. Customers order at the counter from a different menu more suitable for quicker service, with more “handhelds,” like sandwiches, plus calzones, pastas and spaghetti. Express customers get a number and take a seat.

The chain took its express lunch national in October, then added a dinner express menu in February with a seven-minute guarantee for the $7 lunch and nine minutes for the $9 dinner.

“In the aggregate, it’s working,” Gilbert said, adding that he measures success through dining traffic. “Are we getting more people in our restaurants than we did before? I think, absolutely, that’s true.”

A growing segment

Of the 61 billion American restaurant visits in the year ending in May, fast casual accounted for 5 percent of the market, said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst with NPD Group.

Still, it’s the segment everyone’s talking about. In 2009 and 2010, during the recession, overall restaurant industry growth was negative two years in a row for the first time.

Overall growth has been flat since. The segment bucking that trend is fast casual, which has posted 7 to 8 percent quarterly growth.

All of this is happening as the restaurant industry now features more options for ready-to-eat, fresh food – think, supermarkets and enhanced convenience stores – and sees, increasingly among millennials, more cooking at home.

“It’s been a real battle for market share, and with this one segment growing, everyone is seeming to try and emulate it,” Riggs said of fast casual.

While mixing fast casual with casual is attractive, Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food service consulting firm Technomic, says it can have its pitfalls.

One challenge is the potential for customer confusion. Those who know a restaurant’s brand will expect full service, and there can be a learning curve for others.

There’s also the risk of alienating core customers.

“I think that the mistake many of these concepts are making trying to compete with fast casual is they are losing sight of consumers coming to them for a particular reason, what they’re known for,” Riggs said. “You really have to do your homework and understand what your customers’ needs are. They can go to a fast-casual restaurant if they want fast-casual.”

Some brands have created offshoots to tap the express service market. Examples include Pizza Inn’s Pie Five and Red Robin’s Burger Works. Other brands have tried and failed.

The best use of a hybrid model is to boost lunch sales with more value, convenience and service, Tristano said.

Gilbert said that is happening with Macaroni Grill’s changes to date. Lunch sales, which represent about 30 percent of the chain’s business, have increased by about 20 percent.

Lunch express, so far, is more lucrative than express dinner.

Interior remodeling

Customers will begin to see the other changes soon. A Houston location will undergo the first interior remodel within a few months.

The company continues to explore additional express-service menu items, a new pizza-menu lineup, steakhouse items, additional salads and seafood. The dozen new express-menu items are being evaluated for their popularity, with such items as parmesan truffle fries and brunch offerings being explored.

There also are plans to test a “wine-on-tap” system and an express-only version of the restaurant – all part of the effort to retain its loyal customers and appeal to younger diners.

“The bigger risk is not doing anything,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said, too, that he admits the chain has to catch up to its competitors.

“There are customers who like us truly because we’re not busy,” he said. “That’s not healthy for us.”


Fast Casual Still Surging Segment Eats Away at Fast-Food Chains, Pulls in Millennials

June 11, 2015

Alejandra Cancino
Copyright (c) 2015 The Capital (Annapolis). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

CHICAGO – Darren Tristano’s daughter had a definite preference when it came to where she wanted to celebrate her 16th birthday: She wanted to go to Panera Bread, a favorite among her peers.

“That’s when you know fast casual has arrived,” said Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based food-research firm Technomic, at a recent conference in Chicago on the growing popularity of restaurants that offer a casual environment mixed with fast service, such as Panera and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

U.S. sales in the fast-casual segment are expected to swell to $62 billion in 2019, up from $39 billion in 2014. Pushing that growth, Tristano said, are millennials hungry for higher quality foods at affordable price points, now at $9 to $13 per check. Behind them are teenagers, like his daughter, who prefer cheaper meals but are evolving into the next wave of fast-casual customers.

As the industry grows, Tristano said, restaurants are experimenting and expanding on their success. Chipotle, for example, partnered with two restaurateurs in Colorado to open Pizzeria Locale, a fast-casual restaurant with the assembly-line concept customers seem to love. Denny’s launched a fast-casual restaurant called The Den that targets college students. And Panera is experimenting with having customers place their orders on computers.

The new ideas seem to be working.

Fast casual is gobbling up sales of quick-service restaurants, such as McDonald’s and Subway. In 2014, the segment grew to own 16 percent of the limited-service restaurant market, up from 12 percent in 2009. By 2019, it’s expected to reach 21 percent.

Because of that growth, Tristano said he expects that sales at quick-service restaurants will not rebound, but rather will continue to decline as fast casual takes over.

Fast-food chains still command a hefty presence, however. McDonald’s has about 14,000 U.S. locations, compared with Chipotle, which has about 1,800 locations.

A young player in the segment, Protein Bar, has grown to 20 locations, mostly in Chicago, but also in Washington, D.C., and Colorado.

The joints, whose customers are between 25 and 40 years old, sell high-protein meals made with ingredients such as quinoa, organic tofu and black beans, Protein Bar founder Matt Matros, 36, said.

Matros cobbled together $600,000 inloans, savings and credit card debt to open his first store in 2009 in downtown Chicago.

He now has 65 investors, 550 employees and more than 10,000 daily customers.

Matros’ restaurants are considered part of the “healthy” segment of fast casual, which is expected to grow by 30 percent annually.

Other segments expected to have double-digit growth include Mediterranean concepts, pizza and salads.


Pinkberry Flirts With Self-Serve in Two Southern California Shops

May 27, 2015

By Nancy Luna/Staff Writer

For several months, Pinkberry has been quietly testing self-serve machines in at least two Southern California locations.
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Pinkberry, credited for launching the modern-day frozen yogurt craze, is testing self-serve machines in two Southern California locations.

The do-it-yourself experiment has been ongoing for months at shops in Brea and Burbank. A Pinkberry official played down the test, which comes a few years after Chief Executive Ron Graves said he would never play the self-serve card.

“Leapfrogging the competition requires you to know and be true to your brand as well as deeply understand your competition,” Pinkberry spokeswoman Laura Jakobsen told the Register this week. “This is research – you can only learn so much by observing.”

At the Pinkberry on Imperial Highway in Brea, the store offers 10 flavors at 49 cents an ounce. The front counter has a bar, where customers can choose from an assortment of fruit and candy toppings.

By comparison, a nearby Yogurtland in Brea had a menu of 16 different flavors at 41 cents an ounce.

In Burbank, the self-serve option has been around a year, while Brea converted in December. Jakobsen said Pinkberry has no plans to convert more shops.

“We opened the self-serve stores to gain insights from both a consumer and operational perspective,” Jakobsen said. “We are not considering converting more locations.”

Darren Tristano, a restaurant consultant for market research firm Technomic, said five years ago that premium frozen yogurt chains like Pinkberry “would have great competition from self-serve fro-yo brands” in a post-recession economy.

“There is no surprise that Pinkberry would test and consider replacing or adding self serve to their concept,” Tristano said. “The affordable price points of weigh-and-pay as well as the labor savings is a strong driver for change within the market.”

Though brands such as Golden Spoon Frozen Yogurt have been around for more than 30 years, Pinkberry is considered a pioneer in the category.

When Pinkberry debuted 10 years ago, it elevated the frozen yogurt category with its slick presentation and tart-heavy fruit flavors. Pinkberry now has 250 shops in 21 countries.

Copycat brands have since saturated the market, including Yogurtland, Tutti Frutti and Cherry on Top. To differentiate themselves, many adopted the self-serve model. Their popularity soared among consumers who enjoy controlling how their food is prepared.

“The trend in consumer control demonstrated by build-your-own formats is the next generation of customization,” Tristano said.

Irvine-based Yogurtland launched its first self-serve store in Fullerton in 2006. It now has about 300 stores in the U.S., Australia, Guam, Thailand, Venezuela and Dubai.

When asked in 2012 about the popularity of self-serve froyo, Pinkberry’s Graves told Inc. magazine that he refused to “go self-serve.”

“Why? Because that would be letting the competition define us,” he said.

History shows it could also be brand suicide.

In 2012, Rancho Santa Margarita-based Golden Spoon tested self-serve in a handful of Southern California stores. At the time, the chain said it would eventually convert at least 40 locations to the trendier do-it-yourself shops.

But after its loyal customers balked at the messiness of self-serve, the chain halted those plans.

“Sanitation was a key issue,” Chief executive Roger Clawson told the Register in 2013. “Our core customer demands full service.”