The Franchise Owner's most trusted news source

Log In / Register | May 23, 2017

Retail Roundup—CVS overhauls beauty, Ralph Lauren names new president

Store Front Talk Back - Fri, 2017-05-19 18:03
CVS gave its beauty department a makeover, Ralph Lauren named a new president, Target announced an urban location in Denver, plus more need-to-know news from the world of retail.

Working Lunch: Cities push for menu labeling enforcement

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:33

This week, Align Public Strategies discusses why New York City will not wait for delayed federal requirements on menu labeling, and the mayor’s call to action for other cities to follow. Distractions in Washington, D.C., are getting worse, which means the legislative agenda is sidelined. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump and Congress appear to be heading toward a possible agreement on parental paid leave.  

Align Public Strategies is a full-service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation's Restaurant News or Restaurant Hospitality.

Future of Food: Diners will expect an influx of ‘new’

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

According to a study by the National Restaurant Association, 76 percent of consumers are open to trying new dishes, with 56 percent open to doing so occasionally and 20 percent saying they “really enjoy trying new dishes.”

That’s a lot of sisig and nkatenkwan.

Sisig is a Filipino dish of braised, sizzling pork, and nkatenkwan is a chicken-and-peanut stew from Ghana, in West Africa. They represent cuisines that we don’t often see in the U.S., but that may become more popular as adventurous consumers seek new flavors — and prove to their Instagram followers that they tried something before any of their friends.

Many trend watchers have cited Philippine cuisine, driven by chefs like James Beard Award nominee Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint, a Filipino restaurant in Washington, D.C., as well as celebrity chef and Filipino-American Dale Talde. The cuisine is rich, acidic and increasingly trendy among younger diners in California, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

African food has been on the NRA’s “What’s Hot” list for the past couple of years. Based on a survey of chefs who are members of the American Culinary Federation, the robust cuisines of countries such as Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia and South Africa are still rarely seen outside of ethnic enclaves, although the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., maintains three restaurants offering African-influenced dishes.

Nonetheless, the rich, spicy stews of sub-Saharan Africa and the cured meats of South Africa, as well as many gluten-free starches made from ancient grains, could well find a place with diners looking for the next cool thing.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Future of Food: The dawn of the Internet of Things

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Once upon a time, it was crucial for a restaurant manager to be on site during all business hours to make sure operations ran smoothly.

No more.

Now, with a smartphone and a decent Wi-Fi connection, managers can handle from afar everything from the temperature of freezer units to lighting in the dining room.

It’s the Internet of Things in restaurants, and it’s only the beginning.

For example, oven sensors can send data to a cloud where the information can be analyzed to reveal, say, a temperature issue or a need for maintenance. 

Operators can even receive alerts about equipment issues that could compromise food safety. 

But it’s not only about connecting equipment. A growing number of digital scheduling tools can send alerts about workers’ overtime or mandated breaks. 

Reservation management systems help identify important guests, their preferred dishes and whether they’re allergic to nuts.

Fast-casual chains like Panera Bread are using table-
tracking technology to help food runners find customers quickly in the restaurant to deliver their meals. 

And suppliers are increasingly using smart kitchen equipment monitors to know when to deliver ingredients like cooking oil for the fryer.

As kitchens get even more connected and data-gathering tools become more sophisticated, there will be a world of opportunity in freeing humans from mundane tasks so they can focus more on pleasing guests.

Contact Lisa Jennings at

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

Future of Food: Meat steps up its game

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

It used to be that only socially conscious chefs of a certain political bent used and promoted meat not treated with antibiotics.

Now everyone does it.

That’s mostly due to consumer demand, aided by the fact that, as of this year, the Food and Drug Administration has largely banned the routine use of “medically important” antibiotics, or those used to treat humans, on animals.

But if even giant chains like Chick-fil-A and Subway are selling antibiotic-free chicken, what are operators supposed to do to distinguish themselves?

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s moved to set themselves apart in 2015 with all-natural beef — free-range, grass-fed and not treated with hormones, antibiotics or steroids — and extended the offering earlier this year to chicken, which is never treated with hormones.

Some independent operators are going further. Southern California chainlets The Crack Shack and Two Birds have used Jidori chicken the minute they opened. The brand, widely used in fine-dining restaurants in the area, touts the small farms and humane treatment of its free-range, all-natural chicken, while chefs love its robust taste and finer texture.

Others are seeking out specific breeds, such as Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, which gets all of its chicken from a farm in Arkansas that’s a cross between Naked Neck and Delaware breeds.

Le Coq Rico in New York offers five different breeds to allow customers to explore the birds’ “genetic diversity and terroir,” said chef-owner Antoine Westermann.

Meanwhile, Perdue Farms, the country’s fourth-largest chicken producer, has set up a test farm to explore slow-growth chickens that it hopes will be healthier and tastier than what’s already on the market.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Future of Food: Trucks drive without a person at the wheel

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Some of the biggest tech companies, and a few traditional automakers, are working to bring self-driving vehicles to the road.

But these vehicles could also come to the back of your restaurant, in the form of a truck without a driver.

To be sure, driverless trucks are many years away. But a number of companies, such as the Uber-owned Otto and the California-based startup Embark, are bringing automated technology to trucks and commercial vehicles for use inside manufacturing plants. 

Theoretically, self-driving technology in manufacturing could reduce labor costs, improve efficiency, and provide manufacturers with more information and data. 

Early tests appear to focus on helping truck drivers — not replacing them — by self-driving trucks on Interstate highways. Human drivers take the wheel in cities. The system would enable trucking companies to handle more loads per day.

Otto, which Uber acquired last year, has tested this technology in Colorado and Ohio.  

Embark unveiled its self-driving truck technology in February, after the state of Nevada said it would let the company test its truck on public roads. Embark’s truck uses radars, cameras and depth sensors to perceive the world around it. The system also uses artificial intelligence to “learn from its own experience.”

Could self-driving vehicles be of use by food distributors and other restaurant vendors one day? Sure. Otto predicts that the market for self-driving trucks could equal the market for self-driving passenger cars, expected to be over $80 billion by 2030. 

So, get ready. The driverless truck could be heading your way soon. 

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Future of Food: Consumers yell their orders

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

In the near future, hungry consumers might be able to yell at any of their belongings and food will eventually appear.

Until then, there’s Alexa.

Alexa is the digital assistant in Amazon’s Echo, similar to Google Assistant in Google Home devices. These digital assistants are being embedded into consumer’s lives, with more applications on the way.

Amazon partners say they will offer Alexa in alarm clocks, Ford Fusion and F-150 and Volkswagen cars, light switches, refrigerators, Roombas, televisions, washers and dryers.

For more than a year, Domino’s Pizza has offered ordering capabilities through Alexa, launching it before the Super Bowl in 2016. The chain expanded that to Google Home in December. Pizza Hut also adopted hands-free voice ordering through Alexa in December, and Wingstop did the same in January.

Restaurant brands have also adopted ordering through social platforms like Facebook Messenger and Twitter.

And social gift giving got a boost this spring when Starbucks debuted a program that lets customers send gift cards through the Apple operating system’s iMessage texting platform, paid for with Apple Pay.

Tech-savvy restaurant companies are making sure their food is convenient for the customer, not just at their fingertips but also within shouting distance.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Future of Food: Couch service will be key

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

The future of food isn’t inside a restaurant — it’s inside your home.

Restaurants and third-party delivery services are racing to get food directly to consumers. They’re delivering this food in many different ways — with contract drivers, employees and even via drone or wheeled robot. 

As it is, only a tiny percentage of restaurant orders are delivered. According to a study in November by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, only 4 percent of food sold by restaurants is delivered. Most delivery is through traditional channels, notably pizza chains, such as Domino’s.

But many restaurants are betting that delivery will grow. In recent years, investors have pumped money into delivery startups such as Postmates, Grubhub and UberEats.

Numerous restaurant chains are heading in this direction. McDonald’s, which operates its own delivery services in China, plans to roll out delivery through UberEats in the U.S. this year. 

Meanwhile, Panera Bread plans to roll out delivery using its own drivers. 

And casual-dining chains, such as Outback Steakhouse operator Bloomin’ Brands Inc., see delivery as the biggest potential sales driver for the struggling segment.

Some companies are even ditching delivery drivers. Domino’s has tested delivery robots and drones in some international markets. Postmates has also tested robots.

The potential of delivery remains to be seen. Consumers tend to be fickle and may not want to spend the extra money. 

On the other hand, consumers like their food to go. Noah Glass, founder of online ordering company Olo, said that 60 percent of food purchased inside a restaurant is consumed outside the restaurant. 

“Consumers are increasingly turning to restaurants to outsource the kitchen,” Glass said.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Future of Food: Meat raised in a lab

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

In the future, meat might be a thing of the past.

Picture beef without cows, pork without pigs, or chicken without, well, chickens.

Universities and startups are investing in ways to grow meat in laboratories, a growing field known as cellular agriculture.

Scientists at Maastricht University in The Netherlands have created cultured beef by painlessly harvesting muscle cells from living cows. The cells are fed and nurtured so they multiply and create muscle tissue, the main component in the meat we eat.

New York City-based New Harvest, a non-profit institute, has funded research in cultured beef, chicken, turkey, pork and lobster. And Tufts University has started the first doctoral program in cellular agriculture in the United States.

According to Uma Valeti, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Memphis Meats, which has produced lab versions of chicken, meatballs and duck, demand for meat is growing so quickly that there are not enough resources to meet it.

“We need to completely change the way meat gets to the plate,” he said.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that demand for meat will rise more than two-thirds in the next 40 years, and the resources and space devoted to raising animals to produce meat will become scarcer. 

Mark Post, a researcher at Maastricht University, has created hamburger meat in the lab, but said it will be years before we see such products sold in restaurants or supermarkets.

Still, lab-grown meat is on the horizon.

“We really believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity, and an incredible business opportunity — to transform a giant global industry while contributing to solving some of the most urgent sustainability issues of our time,” Valeti said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless


Future of Food: The robots are coming

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

The future of food is technology, and the rise of robots is already here.

From coast to coast, robots are tossing salads, pouring cappuccinos and even handing customers McDonald’s orders at the drive-thru. Want a preview of what’s to come? At Tian Waike Restaurant in Kunshan, China, a fleet of robots cooks and serves food to customers — with some actual humans watching over.

Robots have the potential to radically change how food is prepared and presented to customers, and a consequence of this may be lost jobs. The restaurant industry employs 10 percent of all Americans, accounting for nearly 15 million jobs, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In the meantime, these automated machines will likely create heightened expectations of accuracy and efficiency in the restaurant industry. For instance, a robot built by Moley Robotics will be able to execute 2,000 different recipes when it goes on the market this year. And Momentum Machines’ fully autonomous robot can produce 400 made-to-order burgers per hour.

Let’s not forget the restaurant Eatsa, which makes it possible for customers to order and pay for healthful dishes like quinoa bowls without any human interaction, or HMSHost’s Pepper robot, at Oakland International Airport, which can greet guests, offer menu recommendations and give directions.

We can’t say decisively what a future with robots looks like, but, as with every other technology that has swept through the restaurant industry, we are sure to be in for major disruption.

Contact Marcella Veneziale at

Future of Food: You will really know your customers

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Consumer demand is one driver of the proliferation of restaurant apps. But for restaurant operators, the benefit is unlocking access to a treasure trove of customer data.

For proof of how essential these technologies are to restaurants today, look no further than McDonald’s. In March, the company announced plans to double down on kiosks, delivery and curbside service, all powered by the latest digital innovations.

“Technology is disrupting everything around us,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook told analysts at the time. “The question for McDonald’s: Do we want to be disrupted, or do we want to be the disruptor?”

For instance, curbside service would allow customers to order on McDonald’s app, which would use geofencing technology to alert the restaurant when the customer is in the restaurant vicinity. An employee would then deliver the order directly to the customer’s vehicle.

Smaller players are also tapping into the power of tech. Papa Gino’s, a 150-unit pizza chain based in Dedham, Mass., has invested heavily in digital capabilities to boost business. The operator hired Los Angeles-based Bridg to target existing customer data.

Providers like Bridg can target all of a restaurant’s customers, even those who don’t use apps or opt in to emails.

By breaking down what customers order and how much they spend, operators like Papa Gino’s can tailor marketing to the individual customer.

“It enabled us to engage with our customer base on a very direct, one-to-one basis, leveraging our transactional database to be able to tailor very, very specific messages to get people and reach them in high impact media,” Papa Gino’s senior vice president of brand strategy Peter Cronin told NRN in January.

Contact Marcella Veneziale at


Future of Food: Kiosks will take your order

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Will restaurant workers who take customers’ orders one day become obsolete?

Probably not, but the industry is moving toward a future in which more guests place orders on computer screens inside restaurants.

Some of the world’s biggest restaurant chains are moving in that direction. McDonald’s, the largest of the bunch, has been adding kiosks in international markets for years.

McDonald’s wants to expand its “Experience of the Future” model, which includes kiosks, in most of its 14,000 domestic locations by 2020. And its competitor Wendy’s plans to add kiosks in 1,000 locations by the end of the year.

The efforts follow fast-casual operator Panera Bread, which added kiosks at its 900 company-owned locations in its “Panera 2.0” model, which includes online ordering and other features.

Smaller chains are also following suit. Fast-casual BurgerFi has tested kiosks at one of its 91 restaurants. And seven-unit Eatsa, the San Francisco-based healthful-food concept, doesn’t have employees to take orders at all — just kiosks. 

Kiosks have entered the debate over rising minimum wages. Many see them as a natural result of higher labor costs. In theory, kiosks can result in chains employing fewer workers.

But efforts so far appear to be mostly at the top line. Restaurants see kiosks as a way to improve service, with faster ordering and fewer mistakes. Consumers are more relaxed at kiosks and tend to order more items. 

McDonald’s executives said its restaurants with kiosks generate sales growth of 4 percent to 8 percent. 

At Panera Bread, same-store sales at company-owned restaurants, where kiosks are prevalent, increased 4.2 percent in 2016. At franchised locations, which have been slower to add the technology, same-store sales rose 0.7 percent. 

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Future of Food: Local will get more local

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

The bar for local produce is rising. A continued embrace of urban farming is leading to an uptick in volume of leafy greens available in even the densest metropolis. 

Restaurants can offer local produce 52 weeks per year, sourcing food that uses 95 percent less water than traditional farming methods. 

Urban farming consists of four subsectors, which are continuing to build supply for restaurants. Hydroponic plants are grown with little or no soil, areoponic plants are grown in closed loop systems with roots exposed to a nutrient-rich mist, aquaponic plants are raised alongside fish in a symbiotic relationship, and greenhouse plants are raised in enclosed facilities with regulated conditions such as carbon dioxide levels and humidity. 

The wildcards of weather and global warming are also removed from the equation, as are pesticides and herbicides.

Infinite Harvest, based in Lakewood, Colo., subscribes to the popular vertical stacking method. If laid out flat, the growing surface would amount to approximately an acre of farmland, yet it produces about 25 acres worth of food per year. Other operations, such as the 70,000-square-foot AeroFarms in Newark, N.J., and the soon-to-come 14-acre Tender Greens facility in Northern California, are a bit larger.

The move toward futuristic farming is considered by many to be a necessary advancement.

Tobias Peggs, co-founder and CEO of New York’s Square Roots, projects that by the year 2050 the planet will host approximately 9 billion people and that 70 percent of the population will inhabit cities.  

Urban farming, with its year-round growing season, minimal environmental footprint, and ability to maximize production in small spaces, could be the key to feeding the upcoming influx of

Contact Dan Orlando at

Follow him on Twitter: @DanAMX

Future of Food: Insects for dinner

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Crickets and grasshoppers are coming to a menu near you.

In fact, this sustainable protein source is already available in many American restaurants as chefs are incorporating insects into their dishes. Take a peek inside the tortillas at The Black Ant in New York City, where grasshoppers, or chapulines, are a focal point of the modern Mexican menu, showing up in tacos, grasshopper croquettes and pastry chef Jesus Perea’s platano y chapulin banana cake and ice cream.

Mario Hernandez, chef and partner at The Black Ant, grew up in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where grasshoppers aren’t so shocking on the menu. Other insect-forward items include black ant guacamole with black ant salt, and a black ant salt-rimmed jalapeño cocktail.

At the moment, sophisticated Mexican restaurants are leading the charge in bringing ingredients like insects to the mainstream. Flora Street Cafe, the latest restaurant by Stephan Pyles, the godfather of elevated Southwest cuisine, uses crispy crickets as a signature garnish.

But bugs on the menu reached a pop culture milestone this year when grasshoppers sold out on Major League Baseball’s Opening Day at Seattle’s Safeco Field.

A 4-ounce snack bowl of chili-lime grasshoppers, Poquitos’ Oaxacan chapulines, is part of a partnership with local Mexican restaurant Poquitos. About 13 pounds of grasshoppers sold that day, selling at $4 per bowl, according to management company Centerplate.

The stadium has already sold more grasshoppers than the restaurant sells in a year, after just three games.

Contact Tara Fitzpatrick at

Follow her on Twitter: @tara_fitzie

Future of Food: Food flies to you

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Drone delivery isn’t on the horizon — it’s here.

Over the past year, Domino’s Pizza has delivered pies by drone in New Zealand; Chipotle Mexican Grill has tested burritos from the sky in Blacksburg, Va.; and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt has landed fro-yo by drone in Holland, Mich.

“We are moving closer and closer to widespread store-to-door drone delivery,” said Matthew Sweeny, CEO of Flirtey, the drone-service company that partnered with Domino’s Australian licensee for the New Zealand tests last August.

“We are thrilled with the results of our trials,” Don Meij, CEO and managing director of Australian-based Domino’s Pizza Enterprises said in a statement. “We invested in this partnership and technology because we believe drone delivery will be an essential component of our pizza deliveries.”

But drone delivery is much more than flying pies.

Oklahoma City-based Orange Leaf tested its first drone delivery last October, at Hope College in Michigan, where franchisee Jeremy Latchaw owns a drone dealership. After proving the deliveries could be done safely and within Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, Orange Leaf has offered drone appointment delivery for events and parties, said Geoff Goodman, president of the 265-unit chain.

Orange Leaf president Geoff Goodman and franchise store owner Jeremy Latchaw with a drone for the brand's frozen yogurt delivery. 

" data-credit="" data-noderef="workspace://SpacesStore/5899ac9f-c59a-4090-befd-70fa52ee480f" />

Speed is key, said Meij of Domino’s.

“Drones offer the promise of safer, faster deliveries to an expanded delivery area, meaning more customers can expect to receive a freshly made order within our ultimate target of 10 minutes,” he said. “This is the future.”

A poll of Domino’s customers showed that 70 percent would accept pizza delivered by drone, according to Reno, Nev.-based Flirtey, which has also made FAA-approved drone delivery tests for 7-Eleven.

Chipotle has also experimented with drones in a partnership with Project Wing, a unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc.

For drone deliveries, the sky may not be the limit.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Future of Food: The other, other white meats

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Justin Cucci, executive chef of Edible Beats restaurant group, uses elk in a burger at Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, his Denver eatery.

He’s among the growing number of chefs that are making use of the many meats besides chicken, beef and pork that typically populate restaurant menus.

The Brothel Burger makes elk meat seductive with Korean barbecue flavor, miso-candied bacon, ponzu onions and pickled veggies. The newest concept in the Edible Beats group, El Five, opening in early May, will feature rabbit paella.

Ophelia’s in Denver serves elk burgers. (Rachel Adams Photography)

According to the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture, 5,000 farms sold 853,000 rabbits nationally. Rabbits are filed under the “specialty livestock” category, and are becoming specialties on menus, too, with rabbit mentions seeming to multiply by the minute.

At Passatempo Taverna, chef Aaron Mooney’s restaurant in Walla Walla, Wash., rabbit pops up in a rustic hunter’s stew. And executive sous chef Larry Feldmeier of Chicago’s Sixteen created a dish called white rabbit with Castelmagno gnudi and nettle, a dish with a fine-foraged feel. Rabbit sausage is made in house with lean white rabbits from California, lard, and a kick of nutmeg and black pepper. It’s served on the pillowy gnudi with a light sauce of cooked (and safe to eat) stinging nettles.

Rattlesnake meat is also stirring up trouble — in a good way — at Zoup!, the 99-unit soup chain. Rattlesnake sausage stew has performed better than expected, according to Zoup! CEO Eric Ersher. The chain also began offering bison chili this year.

Contact Tara Fitzpatrick at
Follow her on Twitter: @tara_fitzie

Future of Food: Less food will go to waste

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Food waste is a growing concern among Americans, and for good reason: More than 30 percent of all food produced in the U.S. is never eaten, according to the USDA. Restaurants have long been careful about waste because it can raise their cost of goods. But now that more consumers are seeing the value of conservation for its own sake, restaurants are leveraging these practices to benefit their reputation. We only see this less wasteful trend growing.

Millennial-friendly salad chain Sweetgreen has been doing that since it debuted in Washington, D.C., in 2007, with found wood from old barns for its tables. Sweetgreen upped its game in 2015 with the wastED salad. The chain teamed up with the wastED project by celebrity chef Dan Barber, who set up a three-week pop-up by that name. Barber sold items priced at $15 a plate made from such detritus as stale bread, fish bones and the fibrous parts of vegetables left behind in juicers.

21 Greenpoint in Brooklyn, N.Y., serves misshapen vegetables with carrot-top pesto. (Photo by Brittany Ross)

The Sweetgreen salad had broccoli leaf, romaine heart, carrot ribbon and arugula mix, roasted kale stems, broccoli stalks, cabbage cores, shaved Parmesan, spicy sunflower seeds, croutons and pesto vinaigrette, priced at $8.60.

Other operators have made a whole business out of waste, such as Misfit Juicery, based in Washington, D.C., which repurposes misshapen fruit and vegetables into cold-pressed juice.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., Sean Telo, chef of 21 Greenpoint, has also used misshapen vegetables for a waste-conscious crudités plate dressed in carrot-top pesto. He also runs a Sunday dinner special that uses up the week’s leftovers in a five-course tasting menu priced at $21.

With waste continuing to be top of mind, expect to see more creative uses of things that otherwise would end up in landfills.

Contact Bret Thorn at
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Future of Food: There will be no secret sauce

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

The days of undisclosed ingredients will soon be over.

Restaurants are increasingly accepting the fact that many of their guests have allergies and need to know exactly what they’re eating. For many, it could be a matter of life and death.

An estimated 15 million Americans live with food allergies or intolerances, according to Allergy Eats, a website to help the food-allergic find restaurants.

For restaurants, it will be about disclosure of ingredients, but also better training for staff.

These signs appear in all Vitality Bowls restaurants. (Photo courtesy of Vitality Bowls)

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., for example, makes food-allergy-conscious guests feel welcome by encouraging customization. Team members are trained to follow a set of step-by-step guidelines once notified of a food allergy, including using a special allergen kit that includes specific tools to handle those orders safely.

As a result, Red Robin in 2017 is among the top 10 allergy friendly restaurant chains listed by Allergy Eats.

Likewise, the DineSafe app helps guests with allergies find safe spots to eat. Restaurants can use the app to post nutritional information along with potential allergens, and guests can search for meals that fit their dietary preferences.

A growing number of guests are showing up in dining rooms armed with gluten sensors and other high-tech ways to test for potential hazards.

And some restaurants are opting to keep epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as EpiPens, on hand in case of severe allergic reactions.

Some in the food world see a future where consumers will be able to map their microbiome, or their gut bacteria, in a way that will help them choose foods to meet specific health needs — and avoid ingredients with potential negative effect.

The world of allergy awareness will only become more complex. But restaurants that meet the needs of food-allergy-conscious customers will win the devotion of a very loyal audience.

Contact Lisa Jennings at
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

Future of Food: Food safety tools will be souped up

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

Mystery still clouds the cause of the foodborne illness outbreaks that tarnished Chipotle Mexican Grill’s reputation and led to a steep decline in same-store sales.

The Centers for Disease Control failed to find a source of Chipotle’s E. coli outbreaks, but the Denver-based fast-casual operator dramatically altered its approach to food safety and spent more than $10 million to improve food safety.

In the future, restaurants will have a wide variety of new technologies at their disposal:

Polymerase chain-reaction (PCR) testing can identify major pathogens like E. coli, listeria, salmonella and other parasites and bacteria by detecting the organism’s DNA. The PCR tests can detect as few as one bacterial organism per sample in as little as eight hours.

Enzyme-Linked Fluorescent Assay, or ELFA, can reveal pathogens by detecting their proteins in samples. This technology is currently the cheapest and most widely used in the food industry.

Shelf-life Verification maximizes product stability and applies it to competitive pricing. Microorganism Strain Identification by Pulse-Field Gel Electrophoresis aids identification of spoilage organisms. Through strain identification, DNA is abstracted, multiplied and mapped to isolate certain strands or unique variances that could cause problems in stability. 

Molecular pathogen detection is fully automated testing that offers accuracy, speed and efficiency for the identification of listeria, salmonella, E. coli and other organisms often linked to food contamination outbreaks.

Chromatography, both gas and ion, are systems that separate compounds within food and detect their amounts.

Contact Ron Ruggless at
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Future of Food: The market for cover crops grows

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-05-19 16:15

“Farm to table” has a romantic ring to it, but what does it really mean?

After all, any food at a restaurant, except perhaps for a bit of wild seafood and some foraged plants, is from a farm.

Farms have traditionally grown lots of plants, rotating crops that take nutrients out of the soil with those that replenish it. That includes cover crops like clover and vetch that keep the topsoil in place, but aren’t typically sold for food.

But now, as chefs become increasingly involved with the farms they’re buying from, they’re purchasing cover crops and using them on the menu.

Dan Barber photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Global Green USA

Dan Barber, chef-owner of Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., is on a quest for great local grain. To encourage farmers to develop the nutrient-rich soil necessary for that grain, he’s buying some of their cover crops, too.

That includes clover, which Barber said tastes like sweeter, more complex pea shoots when sautéed.

Tillage radishes grow deep into the ground, help break up compacted soil and taste similar to daikon. And milky oats produce a milky fluid when simmered and puréed. Barber uses them in a vinaigrette.

“So it’s not the ingredient; it’s the system. And it’s not the dish, it’s the meal,” he said.

Barber only buys a small portion of the cover crops, as some of it has to be used to contribute to the biomass of the soil. But even so, he helps to create a market for those crops, he said.

That encourages farmers who engage in the rotational farming practices that are necessary for great grains — and a sustainable environment.

Contact Bret Thorn at
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary