Welcome to my world

Hot restaurants like Chipotle can provide non-commercial inspiration.

By Peter Romeo, Vice President, 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, Vice President, Content
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