Archive for November, 2010

Restaurants: Facebook ’social inbox’ will not kill e-mail marketing

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Restaurant marketers responded positively to Facebook’s plans to develop a “social inbox” that would aggregate users’ e-mails and separate friends’ messages from those sent by all others, including businesses.

Operators and social-media experts contended that the new platform, which Facebook announced last week, would not pose a threat to e-mail marketing, which is still an advertising workhorse for the restaurant industry. Rather, a “social inbox” could make e-mail marketing better, they said.

“It creates more and more pressure for good content, even with our e-mail,” said John Piccirillo, director of marketing and development for Fado Pubs Inc., parent of Fado Irish Pub and Tigin Irish Pub. “Gmail has its Priority Inbox now, but we haven’t seen our numbers in open rates go down with them at all. If the content is good, customers will continue to find it; how they manage it is what’s different.”

The e-mail content that has produced the best open rates recently has been “cause marketing” and philanthropic news, along with “anything that makes the customer or the staff the star,” Piccirillo said.

“When we send e-mails built around getting to know our bartenders or servers, those do very well,” he said. “So does sending along pictures of our restaurants or events from people’s Facebook or Flickr pages.”

E-mail is not going away

Scott Shaw, founder and chief executive of Fishbowl Inc., one of the industry’s pioneers in e-mail marketing, sees Facebook’s proposed platform as a way to strengthen engagement through e-mail, not to replace it.

“We love Facebook for the simple reason that the heart of any way that a restaurant grows its business is word-of-mouth marketing,” Shaw said. “We’ve been doing viral campaigns with e-mail, but Facebook is so much better for viral. It’s easier to grow a fan base than an e-mail list. So we’re looking at Facebook as another way to stay in front of your customer base and a good way to grow your e-mail database, because you’ll want different touch points [in your marketing program].”

As such, Fishbowl is going “all in” on social media, helping clients create applications and text advertisements for Facebook and showing them how to use their rosters of fans to cultivate their e-mail databases and vice versa, Shaw said.

“We don’t see it as either/or,” he said. “E-mail is not going to go away. It’s how utilities and banks send statements, and it’s not losing its effectiveness for restaurants, as measured by response rates. It’s just not the only arrow in your quiver anymore.”

Piccirillo agreed that e-mail marketing continues to work and may become only more efficient through certain social applications.

“E-mail isn’t as sexy as it used to be, but for us, it’s still really important,” Piccirillo said. “I don’t know the exact demographics, but we still see a 20-percent to 30-percent open rate, so people are still paying attention to it. When one in five people are still using e-mail, you’re not going to abandon it, you’re just going to try to make it better.”

Helping e-mails break through

No matter how social-media savvy Milwaukee restaurateur Joe Sorge becomes — and he’s co-written two books on restaurants and social media, “Twitterworks” and “Foursquareworks” — he still uses e-mail to market to his customers. That format lets him down, however, when e-mails get caught in spam filters, something the permission-based aspect of Facebook’s proposed social inbox could help, he said.

Much like how brands cannot send Facebook users messages unless the user allows that access by “liking” the restaurant on its fan page, social inbox users will be able to control whether they see e-mails from anybody other than their Facebook friends. Communications from friends would go straight to one inbox folder, while messages from brands go to an “Others” folder, though users may choose which brands’ e-mails go to the inbox for immediate viewing.

“The problem for me right now is I have a database with 47,000 e-mail addresses, and when I send out an e-mail, I know it’s not getting delivered to half those people, because it ends up in their spam folders,” Sorge said. “So if a customer could tell Facebook where they want my e-mails delivered and how, it’s a more effective connection to your desk and an aid to traditional e-mail.”

Oliver Muoto, principal at digital branding and consulting firm Metablocks, said the announcement is good news for everybody but Facebook’s e-mail competitors, including Google’s Gmail and Microsoft’s Hotmail.

“The headline is: ‘E-mail is dead, long live e-mail,’” Muoto said. “E-mail is going to become more relevant. … Facebook does a good job of providing mechanisms where users associate with whom they want to. You have to ‘Like’ a brand. The permissioning infrastructure makes it easier for people to give you accurate information and for you to get a hold of them if they want you to.”

The proposed new platform wouldn’t necessarily change anything about e-mail other than where it ends up, Muoto said.

“The destination would be closer to the customer and more trusted by the customer,” he said. “Facebook users have the ability to permit at a higher level than just ‘spam’ or ‘not spam.’ Vendors whose pages I like show up in this box, others in that box.”

Restaurants’ new starting place

The social network’s potential for aggregating consumers’ messages, combined with its restaurant-specific abilities to place orders or reservations from a tab on a brand page, mean that a Facebook page today is as essential as a traditional website was five years ago, Muoto said.

Restaurant brands that have yet to set up or upgrade their Facebook pages to take advantage of all the network’s advantages can do so in four steps, he said.

First is “claiming your homestead” by making a brand page and establishing a vanity URL that ensures the restaurant comes up first when users search for its name.

Step two is to start collecting fans, by leading them to the Facebook page from their traditional websites, migrating fans from old networks like MySpace, and promoting the page through an e-mail database.

The third step is to “build trust” and get permission to communicate with customers, he said.

“The way that happens is through applications,” Muoto said. “Once you [the customer] give a Facebook app permission, it knows you. The sooner you get applications and permissions, the sooner you’ll reach your goal.”

The final step is using that permission to send offers and e-mails to Facebook users in a targeted way.

Read more:

Stone Flats Offers Fresh, Healthful Fare

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Stone Flats, a new fast-casual flatbread concept that opened in San Diego last week, is hoping to attract diners looking for a more healthful alternative to pizza.

The 2,800-square-foot restaurant opened Nov. 19 and follows the Chipotle model of focusing on fresh and healthful ingredients, such as hormone-free and humanely raised meat. The signature line of flatbreads also contains less than 500 calories, although guests can create their own with more indulgent toppings, if they choose.

Increasingly, chains like Flatbreads increasingly are appearing on such chain menus as Dunkin’ Donuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Subway, BJ’s Restaurants, and Seasons 52. McDonald’s also is testing a line of Chicken Flatbread sandwiches.

Brad Mason, the founder of Stone Flats, said the goal is to attract adult females who would bypass a pizza place for a lighter option. “They make 75 percent of the restaurant decisions,” he said.

At Stone Flats, the flatbreads are crisp and cracker-like. Guests can choose either from a line of signature flatbreads and toppings, or create their own as they walk down the service line.

Toppings include five proteins: pulled chicken, sirloin steak, pepperoni, sausage, and bacon. Sauces include marinara, garlic-olive oil, and white bean hummus.

Guests also can choose from a selection of fresh produce, such as arugula or scallions. The cheeses available include low-fat and whole milk mozzarella, and goat cheese.

One dessert called a “cinna-flat” is described as “cinnamon toast meets apple pie” and is served with ice cream. The menu also includes soups and salads, beer and wine.

“Simplicity is the best way to control processes and quality,” Mason said.

Once assembled, the flatbreads are cooked in 90 seconds in a gas-fired tunnel pita oven. Guests pay and take their food from the counter.

The average check runs about $8 to $9 per person, Mason said. A flatbread with one protein, cheese and vegetable sells for about $5.50, and a salad would cost $3.50, for example.

The restaurant is aiming for sales of $500 per square foot or about $1.4 million annually.

Mason, who serves as Stone Flats’ president and chief executive, is a restaurant industry novice who previously worked in the medical device manufacturing industry. To help him design Stone Flats, Mason tapped Tom Penn, the former chief operating officer of Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza.

Cyndi Darlington, formerly of the Catalina Group Restaurants and Islands, is Stone Flats’ vice president of marketing. Jeremy Kranter and Megan Cornforth, both also previously with Sammy’s, are regional manager and general manager, respectively.

The menu was developed by consulting chef Andy Johnson, who worked previously at Rancho Santa Fe Country Club in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

Describing the 110-seat restaurant’s design as “urban loft,” Mason said much of the furniture and building materials used in Stone Flats are made from recycled materials.

Mason envisions the concept as the first in a national chain, although he has no plans to franchise.

“There’s a convergence of three essential factors right now that will help fuel our success: people want healthier choices, they want it fast, and they want a good value,” he said.

“I’m also a firm believer that people will support a company that recognizes and addresses the things that are important to them, such as their desire for healthy, tasty food alternatives, environmental responsibility, community support and employees who present a delightful dining experience to our guests.”

Read more:

Panera Opens Non-Profit Cafe in Michigan

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The Panera Bread Foundation this week opened its second non-profit, pay-what-you-can cafe in Dearborn, Mich., and has plans to open a third location in Portland, Ore., early next year.

The foundation, created by Panera Bread co-founder Ron Shaich, debuted the first non-profit Panera Cares Cafe in Clayton, Mo., in May, encouraging customers “to take what they need and leave their fair share.”

“One of the goals of this charitable program is to ensure that everyone who needs a meal gets one,” the foundation said. “There are no prices or cash registers, only suggested donation levels and donation bins.”

Shaich, who serves as executive chairman and president of the Panera Bread Foundation, said: “The vision for the Panera Cares Cafe was to use Panera’s unique restaurant skills to address real societal needs and make a direct impact in communities.”

The foundation said Dearborn, a Detroit suburb, was selected for its diverse population and need.

“Given the economic challenges in the Greater Detroit area, opening a Panera Cares Cafe in this area was a natural choice,” Shaich said. “These cafes exist to make a difference by offering the Panera experience with dignity to all – those who can afford it, those who need a hand up, and everyone in between. We anticipate that Panera Cares will have a tremendous impact on the Dearborn community.”

The foundation said it selected the Hollywood District in Portland because of its access to public transportation and eclectic mix of customers.

Panera, which is based in St. Louis, operates about 1,420 restaurants.

Read more:

Restaurants using Facebook to drive online orders

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

A growing number of restaurant chains are using Facebook to drive sales by connecting fans on the social network to their online ordering systems.

A handful of those chains as well as independents are going a step further by adding “Like” icons to individual menu items on Facebook, which they say increases connections with customers and helps them know which items are most popular.

“I’m especially excited about the integration of the Facebook Like button on our online ordering website,” said Matt Schultz, e-marketing and social media coordinator for Bravo Brio Restaurant Group Inc., the parent company of 83 casual-dining restaurants under the Bravo Cucina Italiana and Brio Tuscan Grille brands.

“When users Like an item, it automatically shows up on their [Facebook] profile where their Facebook friends can click on the link and view the item on our online ordering page,” Schultz continued. “The site also displays the number of people that have Liked our items, which gives us and our users a snapshot of some of our most popular items.”

The bottom line, Schultz contends, is that “this feature is highly viral and further integrates our brand on Facebook.”

Officials at the Columbus, Ohio-based company said the Bravo Cucina Italiana chain has offered online ordering from its Facebook page for only about a month and haven’t been able to measure a significant increase in Facebook activity.

Integrated Facebook ordering with Like buttons has been in place a bit longer at Wow Bao, a three-unit Asian steamed-buns concept in Chicago owned by Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc.

“Facebook ordering has increased online sales by about 10 percent,” said Geoff Alexander, a LEYE vice president and Wow Bao managing partner. “Also, we’ve gotten lots of Likes on people’s statuses.”

Both Bravo Brio and Wow Bao both have gained use of “Like,” “Share” and “Suggest” buttons related to online ordering from Facebook through their relationship with Exit41, an online, call center and mobile device ordering systems support vendor. Exit41 officials said other users of the company’s Facebook interface for online ordering include Bailey & Sage, a Boston-based independent salad-and-sandwich concept; Hello Pasta, a four-unit, fast-casual chain in New York; and Silver Diner of Rockville, Md., a 16-unit chain of retro full-service restaurants.

Other chains with online ordering systems accessible from their Facebook pages include Dallas-based Pizza Hut, which got the ball rolling two years ago by offering its Facebook fans an add-on software application. That app permits fans to access the chain’s online order functions supported by QuikOrder Inc. and then easily return to their Facebook activities.

The Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches chain of Champaign, Ill., through its technology services vendor orderTalk Inc., has online ordering support embedded into its Facebook page that mirrors the ordering interface on its website. Facebook users must download an add-on to access that functionality.

California Pizza Kitchen, a Los Angeles-based casual-dining chain that contracts with Kudzu Interactive for online ordering support, added an ordering tab at the top of its Facebook page. That tab generates a pop-up window, where the chain’s Facebook fans can enter their zip code to move directly to the relevant pages of CPK’s online ordering system.

In an even simpler approach, regional player Dion’s Pizza of Albuquerque, N.M., regularly posts an “Order Online” button on its Facebook wall with a link that takes visitors to the chain’s regular website and online ordering pages powered by ONOYSIS Online Ordering.

The move by chains to link online ordering with Facebook is taking place at a time when the social network is enhancing functionality for its more than 500 million users worldwide. Facebook recently unveiled its Social Inbox, which permits users to receive and manage e-mails, instant messages and text messages using a single interface. Also new is Facebook Deals, which enables businesses to offer discounts or other rewards to Facebook friends who “check in” at the particular store or restaurant location.

Wendy McReynolds, Bravo Brio’s director of marketing, said her team believes that as Facebook expands and adds features, users are finding less of a reason to leave its pages. She said that makes it important that the company to provide a “brand experience” at its Facebook pages that is similar to the brand experience provided at its websites.

At the same time, McReynolds said, the Facebook connection to the company’s e-commerce back end “makes it easier to get in front of users that may not otherwise be aware or willing to try our online ordering feature.”

Aric Nissen, vice president of marketing for Famous Dave’s of America Inc., said the company is working to add Exit41 online, mobile device and Facebook ordering support for its 53 casual-dining restaurants. He said he anticipates that some, if not all of that functionality, will be in place during the first quarter of 2011.

Nissen said five of the Minnetonka, Minn.-based company’s multi-unit franchisees are pursuing a similar course.

As the Internet changes to reflect social networking influences, “the idea of the guest promoting menu items and certain brands will hold great sway in the marketplace,” Nissen predicted. As part of that change, he added, “brands, too, are becoming social” because they will need to make connections with their best customers to attract more customers.

Read more:

Technomic predicts 11 trends for 2011

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Restaurant operators can’t be certain about much for 2011, as recent improvements in guest traffic, same-store sales and hiring are far from guaranteed to continue. About the only thing they can expect as they hope for traction in the economy’s wobbly recovery is that the industry will continue to look different than it does today.

In forecasting what changes may lie ahead, Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc. identified 11 restaurant industry trends for next year.

1. Action in adult beverages

Technomic predicts that as optimism grows in 2011, consumers will want to celebrate with some higher-end alcoholic drinks. As such, retro cocktails and high-end spirits may get more play at fine-dining and independent establishments, craft beers could gain in popularity against their mass-market counterparts, and fast-casual concepts could turn to alcohol as a way to differentiate themselves. Casual-dining chain Ruby Tuesday already has positioned itself to get ahead of this trend, offering $5 premium-well cocktails and craft beers as part of an expanded beverage program that debuted with a rebranding. There also are several smart-phone apps like Find Craft Beer and Happy Houred that will list nearby restaurants offering specialty microbrews.

2. Beyond bricks and mortar

Food trucks are poised to move beyond New York and Los Angeles into more U.S. cities. Not only will gourmet food trucks proliferate, Technomic said, but traditional restaurants also will begin using the tactic as a way to extend their brands into new areas or add revenue streams like catering. Chains like Qdoba, Sizzler, Dairy Queen and Gold Star Chili already have done this. Regulatory agencies in cities with a new food truck presence will be scrambling to keep up.

3. Farmers as celebrities

The era of the celebrity chef may soon give way to that of the star farmer. Look for more attention to be paid to producers and suppliers on menus across the nation as a growing back-to-the-source mentality takes hold in the industry, Technomic said. Farmers and producers may soon be high-profile spokesmen for restaurants and host more special events and dinners. At the chain level, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Domino’s Pizza have made their sourcing integral to their marketing — Chipotle with its “Food With Integrity” campaign and Domino’s with its commercials taking place on a dairy farm.

4. Social media and technology: evolutionary spurt

Look for more restaurants to gain a competitive edge with new technologies and applications, including kiosks for ordering and displaying nutritional information, iPads containing wine lists, and hand-held devices for tableside payments. Widespread adoption of location-based social media has a lot of room for scale, indicated not only by megachains Starbucks and McDonald’s piloting uses for Facebook Deals, but also by CKE Restaurants’ development of its own location-based mobile app, Happy Star Rewards.

5. Korean and beyond

“The Korean taco — an only-in-America synthesis of Korean-style fillings and a Mexican format — signals the rise of Korean barbecue and Korean food in general,” Technomic writes. While that item made famous by Los Angeles food truck Kogi Korean BBQ-to-Go has the potential to touch off a proliferation of street foods and small plates across the industry, other restaurant dishes may incorporate traditional Korean flavors like kimchee and short rib.

6. Frugality fatigue

Consumers who are able to treat themselves again in 2011 will do so — meaning that restaurants with a few indulgent menu items or experiences could see an uptick in orders of high-margin and high-price-point dishes. This could spell opportunity not only for casual-dining chains to entice diners with more premium dishes like the Flavor-Loaded Steaks at Applebee’s, but also for higher-end chains like Fleming’s Prime and Morton’s to attract new customers with their bar menus, as they’ve done throughout the downturn. Technomic also predicted that more gastropubs would pop up next year.

7. How low can you go?

On the other hand, customers will continue to demand everyday value when dining out, Technomic said. As part of any balanced-menu strategy, restaurants should have permanent value fixtures available, not just limited-time offers. In its most recent earnings call, quick-service chain Wendy’s said its value-driven LTOs did well with marketing support, but dropped off when advertising was pulled back, which necessitated the reformulation and promotion of its latest everyday-value lineup, “My 99,” with seven items for 99 cents.

8. Carefully calibrated brand action

More restaurant concepts will update brand positioning through remodels and new formats, Technomic predicted. Many chains have begun on that front already, beginning with the debut this month of a fast-casual café variant for family dining brand Denny’s, which also foresees future growth in nontraditional locations on college campuses. In a move to bolster carryout sales, Bob Evans has added a “Taste of the Farm” grab-and-go area to five of its locations, and plans to remodel 30 to 35 more units over the next six months. McDonald’s also plans to remodel hundreds of units this year and next, continuing its image update featuring highlights like the McCafe beverage lineup and free Wi-Fi in its stores.

9. Back to our roots

Consumers will continue to turn to comfort foods when dining out, Technomic projected, creating demand for traditional Southern foods, retro Italian favorites like meatballs, or gourmet updates to nostalgic favorites like doughnuts and popsicles. There also could be more opportunities for family-style service and family-size portions, like the fare offered at Italian dinnerhouse Buca di Beppo, especially if more families have reasons to celebrate in the new year.

10. New competition from C-stores

“Retailers have been encroaching on restaurant turf for some time,” Technomic said, “but now the hottest action is among convenience-store operators upgrading their foodservice, where margins are 40 percent to 60 percent instead of the 5 percent typical for gas.” Restaurants can prevent customer defection to C-stores by focusing on their differentiated menu items, ambience and service, Technomic said, while other can fight back by taking some of their signatures into grocery stores, as Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen and P.F. Chang’s have done.

11. Healthful versus indulgent: The little angel says one thing, the little devil another

The balance that restaurants usually strike between healthful and not-so-healthful food items could get complicated in 2011 when many menu-labeling requirements take effect. One possible trend emerging from the new regulations could be an upswing in limited-time offers, which are exempt from nutritional data-disclosure requirements. Technomic also predicted more moves to reformulate entire menus with an eye toward health, like Taco Bell’s recent test of a lower-sodium menu, and more menus advertised as under a certain number of calories, similar to Applebee’s under-550-calorie lineup.

Read more:

Top 5 trends for a post-menu-labeling world

Monday, November 15th, 2010

With menu labeling a likely reality for restaurant chains next year, the foodservice industry will be forced to “walk the fine line between open disclosure and customer satisfaction,” according to new analysis from researchers at Mintel.

The Chicago-based market research firm identified five foodservice trends for next year that will result from the attempt to balance federal menu labeling mandates for chains with more than 20 locations and the differing demands of customers in a still-challenging economy.

“Both the government and consumers want healthier menu options, but restaurant-goers are also very concerned about value and how their food tastes,” said Eric Giandelone, Mintel’s director of foodservice research. “Keeping both parties satisfied might be a challenge as we move into 2011.”

Here are the top five trend predictions in Mintel’s Menu Insights report:

1. Healthy by association

Surveys show that 62 percent of consumers say they plan to eat more healthfully in the upcoming year, but many complain that healthier food doesn’t taste as good without the added sugar, sodium and fat. As a result, restaurants will swap better-for-you ingredients into their customers’ favorite dishes to make them appear more healthful.

Mintel pointed to Taco Bell’s recent announcement that it has significantly reduced sodium across the menu in Dallas-area test stores without customers even noticing. Jason’s Deli also promotes its food as being free of high-fructose corn syrup, trans fats or pesticides.

When consumers visit restaurants that are perceived as healthy, it makes them feel good about themselves and their meal choices, even if they end up choosing a not-so-healthful limited-time offer, Mintel said.

2. Automated menus

Mintel predicts that more restaurant companies will be using electronic order takers, or automated menus, that will allow consumers to order food the way they want it. The move will allow restaurants to reduce dependence on front-of-the-house staff, as well as full-time employees. The move will also bring in younger, more mobile customers, Mintel said.

3. Transparency

Not only do consumers want to know calorie counts of menu items — surveys indicate 61 percent feel restaurants should post nutrition information — more cities will require restaurants to post letter grades indicating health department inspection scores.

4. Indigenous ingredients

The movement toward local ingredients will go a step further next year with restaurants incorporating more traditional or authentic ingredients to ethnic or globally inspired dishes. Mintel cites the example of Frontera Grill’s Panucho Yacateco, an entrée that includes a traditional Yucatan crispy tortilla filled with black beans and hard-boiled egg with shredded chicken in tangy escabeche.

The report said “local” as a menu marketing claim has grown by 15 percent from the second quarter of 2009, a trend that Mintel said will likely increase in 2011.

5. Exemptions to the rule

Because the mandate to post calorie counts will not include limited-time offers, many restaurants will offer less-than-healthy seasonal items that will allow consumers to indulge without necessarily knowing the damage. According to Mintel, 43 percent of consumers say they’re likely to change what they order when calories are posted on menus. “LTOs allow consumers the occasional opportunity to indulge in a meal out,” said the report.

Read more:

Location-based tech gaining ground with restaurants

Monday, November 15th, 2010

More restaurant chains are embracing location-based technology, offering deals through social media or creating loyalty tools of their own.

McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc. said Wednesday it is offering a free dish off its bar menus to patrons who “check in” using Foursquare. Meanwhile, CKE Restaurants Inc. is preparing to unveil a proprietary, geolocation-centered application for smartphones to anchor a new rewards program for its Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains.

And last week, Chipotle Mexican Grill, McDonald’s and Starbucks were among the foodservice brands to sign up for Facebook Deals, a service that enables marketers to reward Facebook users who check in at restaurant and retail outlets using the Places feature from their mobile phones.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, young adults are among the heaviest users of location-based apps, though the overall population of users of such technology remains relatively small.

The study of 3,001 adults, completed in September, found that 8 percent of online adults, ages 18 to 29, use location-based services, such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places, which is significantly more than online adults in other age groups. Overall, Pew said, 4 percent of online adults use such technology.

Portland, Ore.-based McCormick and Schmick’s said it is looking to attract a younger demographic with its Foursquare offer, which gives guests a free item off the bar menu, excluding cheeseburgers, with the purchase of any happy hour beverage. The 96-unit full-service seafood chain also is offering a free entrée with the purchase of another entrée to each restaurant’s mayor, or the person who checks in the most frequently.

“We have always considered our bars an entry point for consumers wanting to try the McCormick & Schmick’s experience,” said Bill Freeman McCormick & Schmick’s chief executive. “We are continually striving to broaden our guest base to include a younger demographic. Location-based mobile applications like Foursquare are on trend with their lifestyle, and we felt that providing a great Happy Hour offer through Foursquare could further connect this audience to our brand.”

CKE Restaurants of Carpinteria, Calif., said it plans to launch proprietary mobile apps for the iPhone and Droid phones later this year in support of a Happy Star Rewards program.

Beth Mansfield, CKE’s director of public relations, said the new apps will allow guests to check in at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants to earn rewards like coupons for free or discounted menu items, as well as prizes ranging from Sony electronics to Southwest travel vouchers. Users who check in the first time can spin the Wheel of Awesome — similar to the Wheel of Awesome on the chains’ Facebook pages — and every fourth check-in and additional random check-ins will also result in a spin, she said.

Mansfield said the rewards will increase in value with the frequency of visits, and noted that guests can choose to redeem their coupon reward instantly, or save it for later use.

The Happy Star Rewards app will include a store locator, along with its loyalty program functions, Mansfield said. It also will permit users to post social media updates on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and will feature video streaming via Carl’s Jr. & Hardee’s YouTube channels and offer menu and nutritional information, she said.

CKE, which operates or franchises 3,150 Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, said the GPS-enabled Happy Star Rewards app was designed by its digital agency in Los Angeles, 72andSunny.

The research by Pew, which it said had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent for the general population and 2.9 percent for the Internet population, offered more insight on the users of location-based service:

• 7 percent of adults who go online with their mobile phone use a location-based service.

• 10 percent of online Hispanic consumers use geosocial services, compared with 3 percent of online white consumers and 5 percent of online black consumers.

• 6 percent of online men use a location-based service, compared with 3 percent of online women.

IHOP eyes college campuses

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

IHOP plans to grow its presence on college campuses through a partnership with Aramark and expand its name beyond the restaurants with a new licensing program, the company said Monday.

The 1,483-unit family-dining chain, owned and franchised by Glendale, Calif.-based DineEquity Inc., already includes one IHOP Express location operated by contract feeder Aramark at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

DineEquity spokesman Patrick Lenow said that location will be rebranded as “IHOP U,” the name the chain has designated for the limited-service variant at campus locations.

Five more IHOP U locations are planned with Philadelphia-based Aramark over the next two years, including one already in development at Virginia Commonwealth University, IHOP said.

IHOP has been focused on bringing the brand to more non-traditional locations since last year, when the company began experimenting with an IHOP Café in San Antonio, Texas, offering a smaller footprint, a heavier focus on coffee and specialty beverages.

Also in San Antonio, the company is testing a fast-casual version of the brand called IHOP Express, with a limited menu, an even smaller footprint and an order-at-the-counter service model designed for a food court setting.

Lenow said the company is continuing to tweak the brand to develop franchise options for more types of non-traditional locations, which in future could include airports, military bases, or hospitals.

A similar strategy has been employed by family-dining competitor Denny’s, which debuted an express unit for college campuses in March and this fall unveiled a fast-casual café model with a smaller footprint for urban markets.

IHOP and Aramark officials said the pancake chain’s offer of breakfast all day and late-night dining would fit well with the needs of college students.

“This is part of our long-term strategy to expand how we make the IHOP brand available to guests,” said Jean Birch, IHOP’s president. “Our current partnership with Aramark has demonstrated the benefits of making IHOP easily accessible to students and faculty through a presence on a college campus.”

In addition to expanding non-traditional locations, IHOP officials said the company is planning a licensing program that will include various retail products.

This summer, for example, an IHOP brand of flavored lip gloss targeting ‘tween girls debuted at retail chains such as Claire’s. Flavors include Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity and others that evoke signature flavors from the restaurant menu, Lenow said.

A line of toys will also be out for the holiday season, such as an IHOP coffee pot for kids and playtime versions of the “endless coffee cup,” he added.

IHOP is also looking at the development of branded grocery products, but Lenow said the company could not reveal any plans yet.

A growing number of restaurant companies are lending their brand names to frozen and prepared food products as a means of extending brand recognition to the grocery aisles.

Companies that have introduced new branded grocery products in recent months include P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, Jamba Juice, The Cheesecake Factory, Hooters, Margaritaville, Phillip’s Seafood, Uno Chicago Grill, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, T.G.I. Friday’s and Tony Roma’s.

Read more:

Japanese cuisine celebrated at Worlds of Flavor

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Chef David Chang lamented the fact that good katsuobushi was so hard to come by in the United States.

The rock-hard smoked and dried skipjack tuna is shaved into fine flakes and used, along with kombu seaweed, to make dashi, the mother broth of Japanese cuisine.

Many gallons of dashi were made last weekend at The Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Campus in St. Helena, Calif., where the 13th annual Worlds of Flavor conference focused on the cuisine of Japan.

• Worlds of Flavor kicks off in Napa Valley
• Read Bret Thorn’s observations from the Worlds of Flavor conference on his blog.

No doubt many of the 39 chefs visiting from Japan to present at the annual conference brought their own katsuobushi with them, but some of the participating American chefs disclosed their strategies for sneaking it into the country during visits to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Chang, instead, made his own. Sort of.

Chang, the chef-owner of New York’s much lauded Momofuku restaurants and Ma Pêche, steams pork tenderloin for an hour, and then he smokes it for six hours. Next he packs it in rice for three days so it can dry out and develop a flavorful mold.

“The idea came from koji mold which is used to make sake,” Chang told the conference attendees, referring to a mold that’s cultivated on rice and is necessary for the fermentation of Japan’s national alcoholic beverage.

Finally, he lets the pork sit for six months. “What you get is something that’s totally petrified,” and quite similar to katsuobushi, he said.

Chang showed the audience how he grated his invention, and used it instead of the dried skipjack to make dashi.

Dashi was of course just one aspect of Japan’s culinary heritage that was explored during the umami-packed, three-day conference.

Attendees saw how udon, the thick, chewy noodles of western Japan, was traditionally made by stomping on the dough. Yoshihiro Maeda, chef of the 269-unit chain Hanamaru Udon, explained that the stompers’ bodyweight was used to develop the gluten in the dough.

Attendees also watched soba expert Yoshinori Horii, the eighth-generation chef of Sarashina Horii restaurant in Tokyo, mix the dough for buckwheat noodles, and then roll them into a circle, transform the circle into a square by manipulating it onto a rolling pin at different angles, and then slice it into noodle strands 1.5 millimeters thick.

Anthropologist Theodore Bestor discussed the phenomenon of the legendary Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, and White House pastry chef Bill Yosses showed how the Japanese visual esthetic influenced his desserts.

Sushi and sashimi were explored at length, of course, and in one of the breakout sessions Yousuke Imada, chef-owner of Kyubey, a restaurant in Tokyo that specializes in raw fish, implored attendees not to dip pristine pieces of fish, dabbed with fresh wasabi, into soy sauce — a common misstep in sushi bars.

He also explained that, although fish made into sushi should be cold, the rice should be warm — the same temperature as the human body.

American participants in the conference took liberties with Japanese tradition, including Takashi Yagihashi, the chef-owner of Takashi in Chicago, who added ground duck to dashi and used a coffee siphon to infuse the broth with the Southeast Asian aromatic herbs lemon grass and kaffir lime leaf.

Tim Cushman of O Ya in Boston made fried-oyster sushi, dipping Kumamotos in buttermilk, and then coating them in flour, Parmesan cheese and garlic before frying them and putting them and a dab of wasabi on circular disks of sushi rice wrapped in nori seaweed.

He topped that with an aïoli flavored with the Japanese citrus-pepper condiment yuzu-kosho.

Douglas Keane, the chef of Cyrus in nearby Healdsburg, Calif., imparted what he called an “earthy” quality to dashi by flavoring it with leeks, garlic, turnips and the shavings of matsutake mushrooms.

He also spiked the broth with sake and its sweeter cousin, mirin, arguing that adding acid to a dish intensified its umami — the agreeable protein taste that dashi brings to Japanese cuisine.
He admitted that his approach was “not necessarily accepted” by the Japanese.

Former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl, who raised eyebrows in 1993 as The New York Times’ restaurant critic by giving three stars to Honmura An, a soba noodle restaurant, in her first-ever review for the paper, traced the history of Japanese food in America.

She credited kaiseki, the elaborate, seasonal-ingredient-focused meals derived from the Japanese tea ceremony, as being the inspiration for both French degustations and American tasting menus. She also said it wasn’t a coincidence that the current popularity in the United State of street food from around the world emerged at the same time as the first American generation to be raised on sushi came of age.

She said the next hurdle in the Japanese revolution in America was texture.

She pointed out that slippery Japanese delicacies like natto, a type of fermented soybean, and nagaimo, a Japanese tuber with a seemingly inexhaustible capacity to exude slime, remained unappreciated by most Americans.

She said that when the average American could enjoy nagaimo as much as she did, the Japanese revolution would be complete.

Read more:

Sales improve for many restaurants in 3Q

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Strong reports from large players like Starbucks Corp. and DineEquity Inc. capped off another busy week of third-quarter earnings, which showcased improved sales at many restaurant companies.

The past week also saw latest results from Einstein Noah Restaurant Group Inc., O’Charley’s Inc., Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., Papa John’s International Inc., Denny’s Corp., McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc., Morton’s Inc. and Texas Roadhouse Inc.

A breakdown of third-quarter sales by segment:

Casual dining

Positive sales trends were reported by Texas Roadhouse and DineEquity, whose Applebee’s chain posted its first positive same-store sales result in more than two years with a 3.3-percent increase. The improvement at Applebee’s led the company, which also owns the IHOP chain, to raise its outlook for the year.

Texas Roadhouse cited increased customer traffic as it reported that third-quarter same-store sales rose 4.3 percent at corporate restaurants and 4.4 percent at franchised branches.

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc. said same-store sale rose 0.9 percent at corporate restaurants and 3.5 percent at franchised branches, compared with double-digit decreases in the year-ago quarter. However, the company said it expected fourth-quarter sales to fall as national advertising trails off.

O’Charley’s flagship brand continues to struggle to get its same-store sales in positive territory, posting a 2.2-percent decline. The company highlighted an uptick in traffic at the brand, as well as positive sales trends at Ninety Nine Restaurants and Stoney River Legendary Steaks brand. Same-stores sales at those concepts rose 1.2 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively.

Family-dining chain Denny’s saw same-store sales in the third quarter decrease 0.7 percent at corporate locations and 1.2 percent at franchised restaurants. However, the company highlighted a 2.3-percent rise in guest counts, which it said was the strongest performance in that metric since 2005.

Quick service

Starbucks executives said the company was “firing on all cylinders” after reporting third-quarter results that included an 8-percent jump in same-store sales at domestic branches, reflecting a 5-percent increase in traffic and a 2-percent uptick in check average.

Papa John’s reported a 1.6-percent decline in same-store sales at domestic corporate stores and 0.3-percent dip at franchised branches. The pizza company said the results reflected increased traffic but smaller average checks, as discounting pressure in the pizza segment remains high.

Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, the parent of several bagel-focused bakery-café chains, said systemwide same-store sales and transactions rose for the first time this year in the third quarter. Same-store sales grew 3.5 percent at franchised and licensed locations in the third quarter, which offset a 0.2-percent decrease in same-store sales at corporate locations.


Morton’s cited improved business travel and convention business as it reported a 3.2-percent increase in same-store sales at its steakhouse concept.

McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants, meanwhile, said same-store sales declined 4.6 percent for the third quarter, which it blamed on the difficult economy and the impact of the Gulf oil spill on seafood consumption.

Read more: