Welcome to my world

Hot restaurants like Chipotle can provide non-commercial inspiration.

By 
Peter Romeo, Director of Digital Content

I may be new to non-commercial foodservice, but even I can see that steroid testing may be in order. You directors move too fast to be operating just on adrenaline and market pressures. Menu cycles, ever-shifting consumer tastes, new health concerns, profit pressures—no wonder I’m waiting to hear a Road Runner-esque “meep-meep” as you zip from change to change.

Then again, I’m coming to the sector after 30 years of covering streetside restaurants, where unreeling a limited-time offer every six weeks is considered breakneck. An arthritic snail would be tempted to sass,  “Whoa, dude, hop to it.”

We’ve laced up our Nikes with every intention of altering the brain food we deliver as you zig and zag through your changes. Recently, for instance, you’ve said loud and clear that coverage of developments in the commercial sector, where I live, would be savored like a plate of bacon.

So here are a few tidbits that you might find of interest:

Screw the pennies: Chipotle Mexican Grill put a match to tinder when its highest-volume restaurants decided to change their policy on, well, change. The chain is a victim of its own success at lunch. It could probably take in more midday sales if customers didn’t have to wait so long on lines stretching far down the block. More people moving through means more burritos sold.

The solution Chipotle decided to try was no longer counting out pennies when cashiers gave customers their change. The tab was rounded to the next highest nickel. Fewer coins, it hoped, would mean a speedier transaction.

Customers noticed—not the faster line times, but the unilateral decision to raise their bills in some instances by as much as two cents.

The chain has since altered the procedure. A heads-up about the rounding is now provided, and the total is always rounded downward, so the customer always benefits, albeit by no more than four cents.

Feeling the burn: It’s just a matter of time until steam is whistling out of restaurant customers’ ears in classic cartoon style. The heat is coming from a new generation of peppers that have caught the fancy of foodies from coast to coast. The variety currently delighting the dressed-in-black set is the Hatch chile, named for its origin, Hatch Valley, New Mexico, where it was developed by authorities at New Mexico State University.

The Hatch comes in a variety of heat levels, from moderate to palate-toasting. What makes its spread all the more noteworthy is how quickly it’s moving from trendy fine-dining establishments to mainstream feeders like the Red Robin burger chain or Pie Five, the new fast-casual spin-off of Pizza Inn. Mass-market brands like that would typically shy away from something so powerful, striving to find a lowest common taste denominator. Not this time. It speaks to the adventurous streak that even vanilla lovers are indulging with great relish.

Room service restaurant-style: If healthcare feeders harbor any guilt about “borrowing” the concept of room service from hotels, consider the incarnation that’s the basis for a new restaurant in Miami’s trendy South Beach area. Room Service Restaurant Lounge is touting itself as the closest thing to in-room dining that indulgent diners will find outside of a Ritz-Carlton. 

Guests are greeted by “bellmen,” not hosts or hostesses, and escorted to a “suite,” not a table. There, their drinks are fetched by “French Maidens,” who must be hard to find in South Beach. Orders are taken by “butlers,” and the meals are delivered on room service carts.

There’s no happy hour. But guests can still enjoy drink specials during a promotional period called Early Check-In.

Talk about needing a wake-up call. 

By Peter Romeo, Director of Digital Content
View More Articles By Peter Romeo

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
food safety manager paperwork

Food safety can be a lot to handle, requiring plenty of paperwork and diligence to ensure a kitchen complies with health regulations. It’s important to assess the structure of a food safety program —and to know what’s required, and what’s just good to have on hand.

In recent years, as Virginia Tech’s foodservice operations have expanded, so has its Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points strategy. The Blacksburg, Va., university doubled its food safety staff to two employees, in addition to a training project coordinator and a manager to teach basic food safety classes to...

Managing Your Business
shaking hands graphic

Anyone who has moseyed down the self-help section of the local bookstore, probably has picked up on the mantra that positive relationships are built on trust. Employer-employee bonds are no different, according to research published in the January-February issue of Harvard Business Review. The study reports that employees at high-trust companies experience 74% less stress, 106% more energy at work, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days and 76% more engagement. Here’s how operators can start putting those numbers on the board.

Putting in the effort

At the University of...

Ideas and Innovation
ticket stubs

Every week, our cooks pick an experimental kitchen project to expand their skills, culminating in a Friday contest where they cook a new dish that puts them out of their comfort zone. The winner of the weekly contest is awarded points and prizes. The cook with the most points at the end of the year receives a free ticket to an annual team gathering in Maine, where staffers bond and gain inspiration from coastal menus.

Managing Your Business
performance review anxiety

For all the most obvious reasons, managers and staff don’t always agree. But both sides can get behind retiring annual performance reviews, according to a January survey from software company Adobe, which quit the practice in 2012. There, 64% of surveyed workers and 62% of supervisors consider yearly evaluations outdated.

“My philosophy is if I have to wait a year to tell you where you stand, it’s a little too late,” says Al Ferrone, senior director of dining services at the University of California at Los Angeles. Ferrone and other operators are reforming the meetings to add real...

FSD Resources