Archive for November, 2013

Restaurants Face Shortened Holiday Shopping Season

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Retailers, including restaurants, expect to grow sales during the shopping season this year, but with six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared with 2012, foodservice operators are planning to manage through a more hectic holiday.

New research from the National Restaurant Association estimated that 46 million Americans would dine out around shopping trips on Nov. 28 and 29, as annual deals for “Black Friday” would spread this year to Thanksgiving Day, when several major retailers like Walmart and Macy’s plan to open at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively.

Of the respondents to the NRA’s survey who plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day, 39 percent plan to visit a restaurant while doing so, while 60 percent of potential Black Friday shoppers intend to visit a restaurant, the data found.

“More customers will visit restaurants during post-Thanksgiving shopping trips, providing a boost to restaurants located in or near shopping malls and centers,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s Research and Knowledge Group.

In addition, Thanksgiving Day’s online spending is expected to grow 21 percent, reflecting the decision of many retailers and malls to turn the holiday into another milestone shopping day this year. That’s according to a recent “Adobe Digital Index” report from software giant Adobe, which analyzes billions of visits to retail websites to predict spending patterns.

Adobe’s report noted that aggressive offers and deals at many major shopping centers before Thanksgiving would cause further holiday creep.

Preparing for the rush

Restaurant brands, particularly ones reliant on foot traffic at malls and other high-volume shopping centers, recognize the challenges presented by a shopping season with only 27 days between Thanksgiving on Nov. 28 and Christmas Day. But leaders for those chains, such as soft-pretzel specialist Auntie Anne’s or Cinnabon, said their priority would be to focus on what they can control.

“Approximately 25 percent of our sales occur in the last two months of the year, so that’s what we’ll be measuring,” said Bill Dunn, president and chief operating officer of Lancaster, Pa.-based Auntie Anne’s. “Shopping hours are getting longer and longer. Three years ago the holiday season started at midnight on Black Friday, last year it was 10 o’clock on Thanksgiving, and this year it will be 8 o’clock.”

With the advent of Thanksgiving as a nationwide shopping day, Auntie Anne’s franchisees expect to add labor hours to staff up for the busy season, Dunn said.

“But the most important thing is to make sure that we’re hiring A-plus players that will enhance the guest experience,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re quick and efficient based on the pace of how things are moving in our malls and shopping centers.”

Bill Gellert, a franchisee with four Cinnabon locations in major malls in the New York metro area, might not like shopping hours starting earlier on Thanksgiving Day — “I’m not a fan of it, but I have to strike when people are there,” he said — but he did recognize one benefit of a shorter shopping season.

“It takes some of the lull out of what you typically see in this period,” he said. “Where e-commerce has increased, you get big peaks of sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, with a quiet period until people get panicked closer to Christmas Eve and go for the next round of deals. This should even some of that out.”

Gellert, whose four Cinnabon units are located in New York City’s Penn Station and major malls on Long Island, said one benefit of the timing of Christmas this year is that the holiday falls on a Wednesday, “which is about perfect.”

“We’re likely to get four days of a huge push Dec. 21-24,” he said. “One way the calendar will help us is that Monday and Tuesday should be very strong days. It should alleviate some of the lost and traded-out shopping days.”

The “wild card,” Gellert added, is the weather, because if a big snowstorm in the Northeast depresses traffic on a holiday season with six fewer shopping days, it could be very hard to make up those lost sales.

“If you lose any shopping days, that hurts us as restaurants because we’re an impulse purchase,” he said. “…. Two years ago we had a mild winter, and we had an amazing Christmas season.”

Auntie Anne’s COO Dunn agreed that any positive calendar shift could be undone by a day of severe winter weather.

“When does that bad weather fall during the week?” he said. “If it’s on a weekend, that’s very concerning, but if it’s during the middle of the week, not so much.”

He added that Auntie Anne’s corporate staff will be working extra hours this holiday season as well to be on call, supporting franchisee partners on a special helpline for operations challenges. The chain has more than 1,400 locations worldwide.

Creative rewards

Even restaurant chains not necessarily located in high-foot-traffic malls have found ways to capitalize on heightened holiday shopping. Lakewood, Colo.-based Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, for instance, is promoting a Black Friday catering special for businesses to feed their workers for $1 per person at breakfast or $4 per person at lunch on their busiest day of the year.

The company’s Einstein Bros. Bagel’s and Noah’s New York Bagels chains will open as early as 12 a.m. on Black Friday in some locations to offer the catering special, which requires a minimum order of 30 people. The Bagel and Shmear Nosh Box of 24 bagels and four tubs of signature shmear will sell for $24, and a 96-ounce box of coffee will sell for $10.

“Everyone knows Black Friday is the kickoff to holiday shopping and a time for customers to receive great deals on holiday items,” chief concept officer Glenn Lunde said in a statement, “but we think it is just as important to create a promotion that rewards the hard-working employees across the country who devote many hours on the job serving shoppers on one of the busiest shopping days of the year.”

Last In Concepts, a Baton Rouge, La.-based multiconcept operator of 10 casual-dining restaurants, also will seek to reward early shoppers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday with discounts on the company’s gift cards.

From 12 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Black Friday, shoppers who stop in to any of Last In Concepts’ restaurants like Walk-On’s or Schlittz & Giggles will receive 50 percent off their bill for gift cards. From 11 a.m. till closing, the discount on gift card purchases will be 25 percent.

For every $50 in gift cards purchased online on Cyber Monday, Last In Concepts will reward the purchaser with a $20 Holiday Bonus card to be used during January 2014.

“Our customers have told us they love giving out our gift cards as Christmas presents and as customer and employee incentives,” Brandon Landry, co-founder and owner of Last In Concepts, said in a statement. “Everyone appreciates the great deals we offer on Black Friday, and Cyber Monday shoppers like using the bonus cards as stocking stuffers or as a gift to themselves.”

Study: Americans Eating Less Seafood

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Seafood consumption in the United States continued its seven-year decline, according to the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood industry trade association, but the effect on restaurants might be limited.

Citing data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NFI reported that Americans on average ate 14.6 pounds of seafood in 2012, down from 16.5 pounds in 2006 — a drop of nearly 14 percent per person.

Most of that decline has occurred since the economic collapse of 2008, according to the NOAA data, which showed fairly stable per capita consumption from 2003 to 2007, ranging from 16.2 pounds to 16.6 pounds. It dropped to 16 pounds in 2008 and by 2011 was down to 15 pounds.

An NFI spokesman had no explanation of the decline.

“It’s definitely cost,” said James Wright, senior editor of Seafood Business, which reports on the industry for seafood buyers and sellers. “We’re in the land of the dollar meal. There’s not a lot of seafood that fits into that price scenario.”

One exception is pangasius, also known as swai, a mild-flavored white fish farm-raised in Southeast Asia. The fish only entered the top 10 list in 2009 and by 2011 passed crab consumption to be the sixth most widely eaten seafood in the country, behind Alaska pollock, which in that time has fallen in consumption by almost 20 percent, from 1.45 pounds to 1.17 pounds per person.

In 2012, Americans ate 0.73 pounds of pangasius per person, an increase of 105 percent since 2009. Much of that gain has come at the expense of catfish, which Wright said is substantially more costly than pangasius. Catfish consumption has fallen by 40 percent in the past five years to half a pound per person.

Consumption of tilapia, another farm-raised seafood, but one with better name recognition, rose 22 percent over the past five years. In 2012, tilapia passed Alaska pollock to be the fourth most consumed seafood.

Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon remain the most popular seafood.

“As a chef, to see the numbers showing a steady decline in seafood consumption is disconcerting,” said Bryce Shuman, executive chef of Betony restaurant in New York. “The ocean offers such a wide variety of precious delicacies, and it would be a shame to see them overlooked by the public.”

But much of that consumption decline seems to be at home, as many restaurants report an increase in the popularity of seafood.

“I actually see a huge increase in both fish and vegetable consumption in the restaurant world,” said David Santos, chef of Louro in New York City. “However, I think that people are eating far less fish at home and that is the cause for the drop-off. Meats tend to be more forgiving and easier to cook than fish. So in these days of cost-effective living, people are definitely more prone to buying that pork loin or that chicken than say, that wonderful local wild striped bass. People know how to cook chicken or pork and beef.”

He said he thinks consumers’ fear of ruining a fish has contributed to the increase in fish sales at Louro. “When our guests come in and see something fun and inventive with fish that they know that can’t do at home, they gravitate to it.”

Ian MacGregor, chief executive of The Lobster Place, a seafood market in New York City, and its attached restaurant, Cull & Pistol, said business is great. “We don’t see any trends of decreased seafood consumption. Business is very good for us.”

He did note that prices of many popular seafood items are on the rise. For example, the northern European farm-raised salmon that he buys is about a third more expensive than it was last year. Shrimp, lobster, cod and scallop prices have also increased.

“But as a percentage of all the seafood consumed in the United States, these things are just a drop in the bucket,” he observed, noting that less expensive varieties of farm-raised salmon, as well as tilapia and “the stuff they’re making fish sticks out of,” make up the bulk of the domestic seafood market.