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Chili’s names new marketing chief

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 22:12

Brinker International Inc. has named Steve Provost as chief marketing and innovation officer of Chili's Grill & Bar, the company said Wednesday.

Provost most recently served as president of Brinker’s Maggiano’s Little Italy division and succeeds Krista Gibson in the role.

He will lead Chili’s consumer insights, culinary innovation and marketing teams.

"In looking for the right leader for our Chili's culinary and marketing teams, we were fortunate to reach within Brinker's talented senior leadership team," said Kelli Valade, Chili’s president, in a statement. 

"I've had the pleasure of working alongside Steve for the past eight years,” Valade said. “His tenure as a BrinkerHead, coupled with his thorough understanding, experience and love of marketing, made it an easy decision for him to lead our Chili's marketing and innovation efforts." 

Provost joined the Brinker family in 2009 as senior vice president of marketing for Maggiano's and later that year was named brand president. Prior to Brinker, Provost held various leadership positions at Quiznos, KFC, Long John Silver’s and A&W. 

As Provost transitions into his Chili’s role, the company said Maggiano’s will be led by Genifer Gray, who has been promoted to chief operations officer, and Larry Konecny, who has been promoted to chief concept officer.

Gray and Konecny have held various leadership positions within Maggiano’s over the past 15 years and they most recently oversaw the development and launch of the brand’s menu.

Brinker has 1,606 Chili’s and 52 Maggiano’s restaurants. 

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless 

Starbucks plans to give even more jobs to veterans

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 20:10

Starbucks Corp. is doubling down on its commitment to hire veterans, vowing on Wednesday to hire 25,000 military veterans and their spouses by 2025. 

The goal, an expansion of a plan set in motion three years ago to hire 10,000 veterans by 2018 — a goal it has already reached. Overall, Starbucks wants to hire 240,000 people globally, including 68,000 in the U.S., by 2021, as part of the company’s expansion plans.

The military hiring plans come amid protests from conservative groups over the company’s hiring plans.

Those protests, including threats of a boycott, have come since January, when the Seattle-based coffee giant pledged to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide.

“They are extraordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things,” Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder and CEO, said at the company’s annual meeting on Wednesday. “They have skills, leadership, integrity, and not an ounce of entitlement. Every one of them who have worn the green apron on their own merit have done a great job. They have made us a better company.”

In addition to veterans, Starbucks is said it has also reached its goal of hiring 10,000 “Opportunity Youth” by 2018, and that it plans to hire 100,000 of these youth by 2020. Opportunity youth are young people, often African American or Latino, who are not in school or are unemployed.

And the company said it plans to work with several groups to continue hiring 10,000 refugees globally. The company is working with the United Nation’s Refugee Agency to scale up its hiring of refugees.

Earlier this week, the conservative, free-market think tank National Center for Public Policy Research raised concerns about what it says is Starbucks’ “liberal political stances and attacks on President Donald Trump.” The think tank vowed to question Schultz about this agenda at the meeting.

“Coffee has no political allegiance, but Starbucks under Schultz’s leadership has been unwavering in its support of liberal causes to the detriment of its brand and shareholder value,” National Center General Counsel Justin Danhof said in a statement earlier this week. 

There have been some concerns that Starbucks’ political stance is taking a toll on the company’s sales. The YouGov Brand Index said the chain’s “Buzz score” fell by two-thirds since the Jan. 29 announcement. Meanwhile, the data firm Sense360 said that visits to Starbucks fell by 9.3 percent in February when compared with the period before Christmas. 

“There is zero, absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there is any dilution of the Starbucks brand, reputation or core business as a result of being compassionate,” Schultz said in response to a question from Danhof.

Schultz noted that someone who invested $1,000 in 1992, at Starbucks initial-public offering, would have $180,000 today.

The company said it doesn’t plan to slow down. Starbucks announced plans to open 12,000 new locations globally by 2021. That includes another 3,400 in the U.S., including 100 Military Family Stores to support military families in the U.S.

The new stores would increase Starbucks’ unit count by 50 percent. The chain has 26,000 locations globally. 

The annual meeting was Schultz’s last as the company’s CEO. Schultz is moving into an executive chairman role in April

His replacement, Kevin Johnson, highlighted Starbucks’ plans to boost sales inside the company’s stores. 

“I know I have venti shoes to fill,” Johnson joked, referring to what Starbucks calls its largest size beverages.

The company said it plans to start testing a new line of lunch items, salads and sandwiches, called Starbucks Mercato. The items will be made fresh daily, with the night’s leftovers going to local food banks. Johnson said the company plans to test the products at more than 100 locations in Chicago in mid-April, with plans to expand into other markets. 

Those plans follow the chain’s launch of Sous Vide Egg Bites. “I can tell you they are a hit, when you can find them,” Johnson said. “We’re adding capacity to not only catch up, but keep up, with consumer demand.” He also announced plans to create more gluten-free choices, such as a gluten-free Smoked Canadian Bacon Breakfast Sandwich.

Johnson said Starbucks has already deployed measures to improve the customer experience and reduce congestion inside its stores. For instance, the company has dedicated staff at busy stores to handle mobile orders.

Meanwhile, the chain said it plans to integrate its mobile order and pay platform with Amazon’s Alexa and Ford vehicles later this year. It is expanding its My Starbucks barista program, which enables voice command on the mobile app.

This April, the company plans to enable people to give one another Starbucks gift cards over Apple’s iMessage app. It also enables people to give one another gift cards through Microsoft Outlook.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze

Pie Five closes 9 restaurants amid lawsuit

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 19:30

Pie Five Pizza Co. has closed nine restaurants in Chicago and Minnesota amid a lawsuit from a franchisee who claims the company provided misleading information about the chain’s sales and profitability.

Seven of the closures are in Chicago and two are in Minnesota. The locations are company-owned units, and they represent about 10 percent of the brand’s 87 locations.

But the closures aren’t slowing Pie Five’s growth. A spokeswoman for the company said the chain plans to open 40 new locations this year.

“We made the very difficult but operationally necessary decision to focus development on our growing markets,” the spokeswoman said. “It was truly in the best interest of the brand, our franchisees, shareholders and other team members.” 

Pie Five is facing the biggest sales challenge in its brief history. Same-store sales in the second quarter ended Dec. 25 fell 17.4 percent, and declined 19 percent on a two-year basis.

Meanwhile, a franchisee of seven locations in Indiana, Illinois and Iowa has sued the Dallas-based chain over disclosures regarding sales and profits. 

Carl Dissette, who operates a pair of suburban Chicago locations, among others, claims that the company’s Pie Five locations are losing money, and that its parent, Rave Restaurant Group Inc., is in “financial distress.” 

In the lawsuit, filed in December, in a federal court in Illinois, Dissette claimed that Pie Five misrepresented the financial performance of its restaurants in financial disclosure documents. 

The lawsuit also claimed that the disclosures did not calculate royalties franchisees pay, nor did it reveal geographic differences in sales or the difficulty in generating sales in new markets.

In addition, the lawsuit said the company inflated sales at a location in suburban Chicago through the use of 3,000 unlimited buy-one, get-one coupons. It then sold that location to Dissette, who said he bought the unit based on stated sales.

The lawsuit said the promotions were done “to inflate net sales without regard to profitability, making this restaurant appear more attractive than it was.” 

Dissette also claimed that Pie Five entered into a “commercially unreasonable vendor relationship” with Performance Food Group, collecting a 2.5-percent rebate on food PFG sells to franchisees. The lawsuit said PFG “does not provide below market pricing or even fair market pricing” to franchisees.

Pie Five would not comment on the lawsuit, but the company has moved to dismiss the case.

In its response, Pie Five disputed Dissette’s allegations, noting that many of the company’s documents contradict them. The company called Dissette “an experienced franchisee who knows the risks in operating a restaurant franchise.”

“Apparently unhappy with the results he has achieved, Dissette and his wholly-owned corporations … have filed suit against Pie Five Pizza Company,” the company stated in a response. 

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Chipotle launches kids’ video series

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 19:14

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. has released an original video series to help educate families and kids ages 7 to 10 about where their food comes from and how it is prepared, the company said Wednesday.

The Denver-based fast-casual operator said the unbranded series, called “RAD Lands,” is available for download exclusively on iTunes. It was created in partnership with CAA Marketing and The Magic Store, which created the Emmy-nominated series “Yo Gabba Gabba!”

The series features such celebrity chefs, musicians and YouTube personalities, including Amanda Freitag, Michael Voltaggio, Duff Goldman, the Neon Trees, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips and rapper Biz Markie. Segments also include instruction on preparing snacks and meals. 

“Chipotle is ensuring that better food is accessible to everyone,” Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle chief marketing and development officer, said in statement. “We created ‘RAD Lands’ to educate young eaters and their parents about food in an entertaining and engaging way.

“We don't advertise to kids, so the show is completely unbranded. We hope that it sparks conversation and curiosity among families, ideally leading to smarter and more informed choices about food.”

“RAD Lands” episodes feature an animated segment called "The Cultivators" that follows a small rebel squad’s journey to help save the galaxy’s plants and animals.

Season one is available exclusively on iTunes in the United States and Canada for $4.99. Alternatively, families can download the first episode for free, and the remaining five episodes for $1.99 each. 

As part of the “RAD Lands” launch and to support school lunches, Chipotle will donate $100,000 to the Chef Ann Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with schools nationwide to provide the tools and resources they need to serve healthful and nutritious meals to students. 

To enhance the program’s reach to educators and students, Chipotle has partnered with Discovery Education, a leading provider of digital education content for K-12 classrooms, for RAD Lands In School. That online program for elementary students will launch later this spring, pairing “RAD Lands” episodes with lesson plans and activities.

To see more about “RAD Lands,” visit

Chipotle, which was founded in 1993, has more than 2,200 restaurants. 

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Lack of skilled immigrant labor could cause higher food prices

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 19:08

In this ongoing in-depth investigation, NRN looks at how the current political environment could affect immigration and what it means for restaurant operators.

American agriculture has long depended on immigrant labor — particularly labor by undocumented workers.

A 2014 study commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation put the percentage of undocumented farm laborers at between 50 percent and 70 percent of the total workforce. 

Illustration: NRN/Anna Kang

President Donald Trump has vowed to crack down on illegal immigration. Shortly after his election in November, he told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he planned to deport millions of undocumented immigrants immediately.

“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, where a lot of these people, probably 2 million, it could be even 3 million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said.

He then said that once that initial group was eliminated and “the border is secure,” immigration officers would make a “determination” about the remaining undocumented workers.

The current admiration’s rhetoric on illegal immigration and reports on crackdowns on undocumented workers have brought jitters not only to immigrant workers, but to their employers.

It’s unclear exactly what a crackdown on labor would do to produce pricing, particularly considering other trade-related and taxation issues that are up in the air. Those potential initiatives include mentions by the Trump administration of a tax of up to 20 percent on imports from Mexico to pay for the proposed border wall, and a new corporate tax structure proposed by Congress that would give tax breaks to exporters and remove tax exemptions from importers. The border adjustment tax would basically change how goods are taxed, taxing them where they’re consumed rather than where they’re produced.

Several companies have come out in support of a border adjustment tax of some kind, according to the American Made Coalition. The group lists MillerCoors and Blue, Diamond Growers among the list of supporters. 

“While our global competitors continue to improve their tax codes by cutting rates and encouraging investment and job creation, our tax code remains frozen in place. The result is lost investment, fewer jobs, and lower wages,” the American Made Coalition states in its press materials.

Although the idea behind the tax is to encourage domestic production, the National Retail Federation opposes it, saying in a statement on Feb. 28 that the costs on “everyday necessities like food, gas, clothing and prescription medicine” for the average American household would go up by $1,700 in the first year. 

American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall also expressed concerns about the tax. 

“We’re still studying that tax reform, and we’re hoping some common sense comes to that area. We want to make sure it doesn’t roll over into a trade situation and cause a trade war that would not be good for anyone in agriculture,” Duvall told agriculture publication AgFax.

How exactly such shifts in import and corporate taxes would affect restaurants depends, of course, on what kind of food they serve, according to Wade Winters, vice president for supply chain at Consolidated Concepts, a cost reduction firm based in Waltham, Mass.

“Any restaurants that use large quantities of avocados will be greatly affected by the border tax since the U.S. gets a large percentage of their avocados from Mexico,” Winters said in an email. 

“Restaurants may choose to implement a change to the pricing on their menus to adjust for the higher costs, but this is always a difficult decision. Competition is already tight so nobody wants to increase prices and lose market share. So the reality is that most restaurants will absorb these cost increases, and find other ways to offset the higher costs.”

DeWayne Dove, vice president of purchasing for purchasing cooperative SpenDifference, said other items that would be affected by a tax on imports from Mexico would include Brussels sprouts, strawberries, tomatoes, “wet vegetables” such as broccoli and cilantro, peppers and squash. 

“The earliest experts say [such a tax] could occur, based on the need to work itself through the legislature and then be executed, is the end of 2017,” Dove said.

With the more than $115 billion in agricultural imports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, possibly being squeezed (of which $9.5 billion are fresh fruit and vegetables from Mexico), laborers in the United States become even more important, and past crackdowns on undocumented workers have not gone well. 

After Georgia passed HB 87 in 2011, economists and marketing professors at the University of Georgia surveyed farmers and calculated that the state’s farming sector lost $140 million due to labor shortages that meant crops weren’t harvested. Add to that other segments affected, such as distributors and retailers, and the figure was estimated to be as high as $400 million.

“The potential impacts to the supply chain of zealous enforcement are real,” said Joe Kefauver, managing partner of public affairs firm Align Public Strategies.

“The White House may want to look at what happened in Georgia and other southern agricultural states. … [A] significant portion of their crops went un-harvested and literally died in the fields, greatly impacting both price and availability of products,” Kefauver said.

“Those jobs were not back-filled by non-immigrants as anticipated by state lawmakers, and, in fact, were not filled at all.”

Those jobs couldn’t have been back-filled, according to Kathy Means, vice president of industry relations at the Produce Marketing Association, noting that farm workers are skilled laborers performing jobs that native-born Americans don’t want.

In a speech on Feb. 28, Trump advocated implementing a merit-based immigration system focused on skilled workers. Experts say farm workers would fit into that category.

“It does take a special person to get out and work in the fields in the hot sun, stooping, lifting. It’s just hard work,” said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. He added that you have to know what you’re doing to harvest properly.

“You have to know when that peach or tomato or pepper is ripe. Someone who is not skilled with that sense of touch, they’re going to be picking product that’s not ripe, and consumers will not appreciate it.”

Since farm workers are paid by the amount that they pick, he said, it’s not uncommon for skilled workers to earn $15 to $18 per hour. Unskilled workers would earn less, he said, making the job undesirable to locals.

Produce isn’t the only food likely to be affected by a labor shortage.

The National Milk Producers Federation said half of the workers on U.S. dairy farms are immigrants, and, according to a report released in September 2015, losing them would increase retail milk prices by 90 percent and cost the U.S. economy $32.1 billion in economic output. However, it should be noted the survey does not distinguish between undocumented and documented immigrant workers. 

Illustration: NRN/Anna Kang

Means of the Produce Marketing Association said her industry is used to adjusting to changes in everything from weather to labor to economic policy.

“We deal with everything from freezes to hurricanes to port strikes. … It’s not that [the current situation] is situation-normal, it’s that the produce industry is highly adaptable,” she said.

But it’s a global industry, and disruptions in long-established networks might not just devastate individual farmers and packing lines, but pricing as well.

“It’s an inter-tangled web,” said David Anderson, a livestock and dairy economist at Texas A&M University.

He noted that the United States imports about one million head of calves from Mexico, which go to ranches, and then to feedlots, and then to packing plants, from which they could then be exported back to Mexico or other countries that buy beef from the United States. 

“We’ve got both sides of that, benefiting from importing feeder cattle, which helps us keep up our processing capacity, and then we export the [finished] beef back,” Anderson said.

None of these factors takes into consideration the possibility of retaliatory tariffs by other countries, he said.

“I think in the food context, that’s really important,” he said.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Americans’ beef consumption drops 19%

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 17:00

Americans reduced their beef consumption by 19 percent between 2005 and 2014, which was the equivalent of avoiding the annual tailpipe emissions from about 39 million cars, according to a report on Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the report analyzed the carbon-footprint impact of the production of certain foods. The NRDC has long argued that beef in particular contributes more climate-warming pollution than other foods in the American diet.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, however, challenged the NRDC’s connection between consumption and the carbon-footprint impact, saying the reduction in per capita consumption more likely reflects population growth.

Per capita consumption of beef has declined, according to independent market research firm CattleFax, reaching a low of 54 pounds per person on average in 2015, down from an average of 65 pounds per person in 2005.

But that’s more likely tied to cycles of supply and demand, said Duane Lenz, general manager of CattleFax.

“You can’t eat what you don’t have,” he said.

Graph: Food consumption trends tied to greenhouse gas reductions, courtesy of Natural Resources Defense Council.

Following years of drought in the West, herd sizes contracted, but are now in a rebuilding phase, he said. As a result, beef consumption will likely increase. 

“We are projecting that, by 2018, average consumption will be back up to 57.5 pounds per person,” Lenz said.

Still, beef production has remained relatively steady during that period, said Sara Place, the Cattlemen’s Association’s senior director of sustainable beef production research. 

Global demand for U.S. beef has grown, and a growing amount of meat produced domestically is exported.

That doesn’t mean the industry isn’t concerned about its impact on the environment, Place said. 

The carbon-footprint impact of beef production has decreased by 6 percent, she said. Beef production contributed total emissions of 135.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. By 2014, that dropped to 127.5 million metric tons. 

“We’ve made some tremendous progress,” Place said. “But there’s work to do. I’ve been hired because the industry is curious about sustainability and getting better over time.”

The NRDC report did not offer a reason for the decline in beef consumption. 

According to the NRDC’s report, beef comprised about 34 percent of total diet-related per capita climate-warming pollution in 2014.

Producing a kilogram of beef emits 26 kilograms of carbon dioxide, the NRDC said.

Meat and dairy production requires large amounts of corn- and soy-intensive animal feed. Dairy cows emit large amounts of methane gas, and the use of fertilizers and manure deposits release nitrous oxide, a climate pollutant more powerful than carbon dioxide, the environmental advocacy group contends.

Overall, Americans shrunk their diet-related carbon footprint by 10 percent during that nine-year period. In addition to beef, Americans ate less milk, pork, shellfish and high-fructose corn syrup.

 At the same time, Americans ate more carbon-intensive foods like cheese, yogurt and butter, the report said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

Starbucks to create 240K jobs - Wed, 2017-03-22 15:49
The chain is on target to create more than 240,000 jobs globally —  68,000 in the U.S. — by opening 12,000 stores globally and 3,400 new stores in the U.S. by 2021. Jobs were just one of the many topics Starbucks execs addressed during today's shareholders meeting, however.

NRA voices support for Republican health care proposal

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 15:16

The National Restaurant Association voiced its support for the Republican plan to reform the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday, calling it an “important first step” in reducing employers’ health care costs.

“Costly compliance issues, a shrinking risk pool and higher healthcare costs have made the current structure of ACA untenable for restaurants,” Cicely Simpson, executive vice president of policy and government for the association, wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan. “We support passage of the American Health Care Act as a way to move us forward in reforming the employer mandate and encourage members of Congress to support this bill through Congress.”

The Republicans’ American Health Care Act, or AHCA, would repeal the tax penalty on large employers that do not provide coverage, and would make the repeal retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016. The bill would also repeal tax credits for low-wage, small employers with 25 of fewer employees that credit up to 50 percent of the employer’s premium contribution. 

Details of the changes the Republicans’ plan would make to the ACA can be found on the Kaiser Family Foundation website.

The AHCA has run into difficulties in Congress, among Democrats who strongly oppose it and from some Republicans.

But employers, eager to ease regulations increased under the Affordable Care Act, have been pushing to get the law passed. And earlier this week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce lent its backing to the reform proposal. The National Retail Federation also supports the AHCA.

Restaurants have been a vocal opponent of the ACA, particularly the employer coverage mandate and the definition of full-time work as 30 hours per week.

The industry is one of the largest private employers, with nearly 15 million workers. Many of the jobs it provides are low-wage, low-skill and often part time. Health insurance requirements have driven up costs for operators, complicating efforts to keep prices down. 

“Restaurant operators who can provide health insurance benefits to their employees often find these benefits to be critical tools in recruiting and retaining employees,” Simpson wrote. “However, since the enactment of the ACA and the law’s employer mandate, restaurants have spent hundreds of additional administrative hours managing and delivering these benefits. The added time, money and resources have not improved the quality of health insurance benefits restaurants offer their employees.”

Simpson wrote that the percentage of restaurant employees covered by health insurance increased from 59 percent in 2010 to 76 percent in 2015. But she said that much of the coverage had come from sources other than the restaurants themselves. The percentage of workers covered through an employment-based plan fell from 67 percent in 2010 to 59 percent in 2015.

In addition, health care costs have risen “much faster than restaurant sales in recent years.” 

Between 2006 and 2016, employer contributions for health insurance rose 51 percent, Simpson said, quoting Kaiser Family Foundation statistics. At the same time, average sales per restaurant increased 33 percent.

“This indicates that health insurance costs are taking up a larger share of the restaurant dollar,” Simpson said.

While the association is backing the AHCA, it made clear that it wants further steps taken down the line. 

“Once this initial phase is complete, we look forward to working with you on additional fixes that are needed, including repealing the 30-hour rule, streamlining the employer insurance reporting requirements and repealing the seasonal worker definition,” Simpson wrote.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Moe's franchisee: 'Don't take no for an answer' - Wed, 2017-03-22 14:49
Jennifer Wade has been a Moe's Southwest Grill franchisee since 2002. The single mom now owns three locations and is the only female franchisee on the Moe's Franchise Advisory Council, in which she serves as president.

How to improve local store marketing

Nation's Restaurant News - Wed, 2017-03-22 14:17

Maria Topken is director of client leadership for Sunrise Advertising in Cincinnati. She has previously served as marketing director at Long John Silver’s, and has worked with Wendy’s and Steak ’n Shake. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

As a savvy franchise owner, you understand the importance of Local Store Marketing, or LSM.

There have likely been many times when you've implemented local marketing plans that were solid hits. But there probably were strikeouts, too.

In today’s world of tight margins, leaner marketing budgets and increased competition, the need to improve your LSM batting average is imperative to overall success. That’s true whether you have one unit or manage a down-trending location in a large national chain.

So, how can you improve your LSM success rate?

First, an LSM program should never interfere with your operations. The last thing you want is to negatively affect the customer’s experience. When developing ideas and objectives, be sure to get your operations team involved. They are best suited to know if the marketing program could affect speed of service or any other element of customer satisfaction. Also, involving them in the process helps ensure that they will be all in, which is important to success.

Next, establish clear goals and objectives. Are you looking to gain trial? Increase frequency? Fight off new or enhanced competition? The goal will help determine your strategy. For example:

  • Gain trial: Consider giving your employees five coupons each for a new product. Ask them to give the coupons to family and friends. Your employees look like heroes, and you have implemented a quick and easy way to get trial.
  • Increase frequency: Loyalty-focused plans that reward customers for their business typically result in increased traffic. Just remember that the rewards should be relevant and timely.
  • A competitive attack plan: Thwart the new guy’s opening by focusing on your customers’ experience. Invest in a few extra hours of labor a day in the dining room. Put your best face forward and make customers feel special as you refill their drink, take their trash or just ask, “How’s your day going?”

You'll note that these suggestions are rather simple. This is important: If you can’t explain the program succinctly to your target audience, the chances of success are slim. Life is complicated: Don’t make it hard for me to be your customer.

In addition to being clear and simple, it's critical that you consider your trade area and those who live in it. Is your customer base mostly families? Create a program that caters to convenience for time-starved moms, or sponsor the Little League team. One day, these young ballplayers may be your customers, or even part of your team.

Do you have a lot of Millennial customers? They look for places to hang out, so Wi-Fi and snacks make for a win, because Millennials are clockless eaters. Three square meals a day isn’t really in their vocabulary.

Don't be discouraged if your marketing budget is small. There are creative ways around that. For example, we recommended to one of our restaurant clients that they become the “Unofficial Pizza Provider” for a local radio station. We approached a popular radio station in the market and made a deal for our client's pizza to be available for all station events in exchange for the station mentioning the restaurant location when promoting the event on air. The restaurant was able to get numerous radio mentions for free, while boosting food-in-mouth opportunities at the events.

Be sure to connect with your guests through social media, not only to keep them posted on what’s happening at your restaurant, but also to engage and reward by asking them to share what they like best about your establishment. Randomly choose a winner to dine with you so you can learn even more. Customers will respond to brands they like.

Social media can also amplify your efforts. For example, you can invite people to sign up to win tickets to a VIP event. In addition to generating awareness and traffic, this will get you email addresses that you can use at a later time. At a minimum, post pictures while the event is taking place, and consider posting live for better engagement. Provide relevant hashtags and Snapchat filters. Ask people to write reviews on Facebook, which gives you an opportunity to engage and also gain consumer insight. You might want to partner with a local radio station and ask them to promote your LSM on the station's social channels, as well as on air.

Speaking of partnering, consider teaming up with another brand in the community. But ask yourself: What do our brands have in common? Do we have the same values? The same target audience? Do we complement each other?

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, pass, and pass quickly! 

Lastly, don’t be shy about asking for support from the corporate office. They may have a tool kit with existing marketing tools that can be used or customized to meet your needs. Don’t recreate the wheel if you don't need to. Ask your corporate partner to review your program with an eye toward making suggestions on how it can be more effective.

Local Store Marketing programs start with a strategy and require focused discipline. Start small, understand what’s working and what’s not, and apply that insight to your next program.

Done correctly, LSM will not only grow sales, but can also create brand influencers who can turn LSM into a long-running success story.

Maria Topken is director of client leadership at Sunrise Advertising in Cincinnati. Before joining Sunrise in May 2015, she was SVP/partner, client leadership, at Empower MediaMarketing. She also served for four years as marketing director at Long John Silver’s, where she oversaw communications for more than 500 restaurants. Topken has additionally worked with Wendy’s and Steak ‘n Shake. Her work for Wendy's included serving as the strategic lead for more than a third of Wendy’s local markets, collaborating with more than 50 franchise groups. Contact her at

3 ways to reach Millennials - Wed, 2017-03-22 12:00
Are you capitalizing on the fact that Millennials check their phones up to 43 times a day, and nearly half think brands should offer loyalty programs and allow mobile payments through mobile? If not, now is the time to reel them in and foster loyalty that lasts.

10 Homemade Veggie Fries That Will Put Your Fast Food Favorite to Shame

Topix - Wed, 2017-03-22 10:32

As much as we love French fries, the greasy favorite can get a little boring from time to time. So much so that sometimes it feels like we're really only in it for the crispiness and the Enter veggie fries.

Categories: Today's Food News

Freshii is trying to lure franchisees of rival fast-food chains to switch

Topix - Wed, 2017-03-22 08:15

With an open letter to Subway franchisees, Freshii founder Matthew Corrin takes a second run at a tactic that previously brought a $10 million lawsuit Freshii Inc. founder Matthew Corrin has a penchant for using open letters as a marketing tool to promote his health-conscious restaurant chain. His latest, released today, is aimed squarely at Subway Restaurants.

Categories: Today's Food News

Hot for homemade tots - Tue, 21 Mar 2017 PST

Topix - Wed, 2017-03-22 04:02

Don't want - or have time - to make your own? We got you. Here are six spots to get tots in Spokane.

Categories: Today's Food News

Three cheers for the Korean chicken at Chur Chur Chi-Mac in Cerritos

Topix - Tue, 2017-03-21 23:45

Korean-style fried chicken comes to us with a sizable backstory, which - in the ever-changing world of culinary trends - is a rarity, for many dishes seem to simply fall into the zeitgeist, a bit like Athena emerging from the head of Zeus. According to the Korea Herald, the dish was born in the late '60s at the Myeongdong Yeongyang Center in Seoul, with a whole chicken grilled in an electric oven.

Categories: Today's Food News

CKE picks Andy Puzder’s successor

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-03-21 20:32

CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, has named Jason Marker as CEO, succeeding Andy Puzder, the company said Tuesday.

Marker most recently was president of Kentucky Fried Chicken U.S., and his successor there, KFC chief marketing officer Kevin Hochman, was named earlier Tuesday. Marker is expected to start as CEO in April, Franklin, Tenn.-based CKE said in a statement.

Puzder was President Donald Trump’s nominee as U.S. Secretary of Labor, but he withdrew his name after opposition to his appointment grew.

“Jason has tremendous experience in franchising, in the QSR sector, and in positioning and growing iconic brands,” said Puzder, who served as CKE’s CEO since 2000.

“I expressed my desire to have CKE plan for succession approximately a year ago, and I could not be more pleased to have Jason Marker selected to be the company’s next leader,” Puzder said in a statement. “He is an outstanding executive who will continue to build the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. brands both internationally and domestically.”

Marker said: “It is a privilege to lead an organization that has pioneered the quick-service restaurant space for more than 75 years.” 

Before becoming KFC president in 2013, Marker served at KFC and Yum! Brands International in various marketing leadership roles, including general manager for KFC U.S., chief marketing officer for KFC U.S., vice president of global marketing for KFC, and chief marketing officer for KFC and Pizza Hut South Pacific. 

Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have more than 3,800 franchised and company-operated restaurants in 44 states and 41 foreign countries and U.S. territories. 

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Should franchisees get a seat on McDonald's board?

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-03-21 19:50

This post is part of the On the Margin blog.

Franchisees are running an increasing number of the country’s restaurants. So should they have a say in running the actual companies? 

It’s a question shareholders at McDonald’s Corp. could get a chance to decide, after the Securities and Exchange Commission last week said the company had to let shareholders decide on a proposal to let franchisees pick a board member. McDonald’s has appealed the decision.

The proposal came from shareholder Segal Marco Advisors, a firm that works with large investors like pension plans. The proposal, which few expect to be approved, would nevertheless have big implications for a restaurant business increasingly operated by franchisees. 

“Any time McDonald’s moves, it creates precedent,” said John Gordon, a restaurant consultant who has long advocated for franchisee board representation.

Under the proposal, franchisees would get a special class of stock and would vote on a person to represent them on McDonald’s board of directors. It’s a proposal unique to corporate governance in the U.S., said Maureen O’Brien, vice president and director of corporate governance at Segal Marco. 

“McDonald’s doesn’t have much franchise experience on its board,” O’Brien said. “We really think, given it comprises such a huge part of the success of the company, there needs to be somebody on the board who is familiar with the challenges and issues that franchisees have.” 

McDonald’s, for its part, gives franchisees some say in many of the company’s initiatives. The company itself said in a statement that its franchisees have plenty of communication with the board and management. 

“The board has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of all shareholders,” the company said. “In selecting director candidates, the board seeks individuals who, among other things, display the independence of mind and strength of character to effectively represent the best interests of all shareholders. Existing robust lines of communication already exist between the board, management and franchisees, and all stakeholders are able to communicate directly with the board.”

Franchisees operate a growing percentage of the country’s restaurants, a long-term trend dating back at least two decades. As of 2015, according to Nation’s Restaurant News data, franchisees operated 76 percent of the restaurants in the 100 largest chains. That was up from 75 percent two years earlier.

Investors have pushed brands to sell company stores to franchisees. Applebee’s, IHOP, CKE Restaurants Inc., Yum Brands Inc., TGI Friday’s, The Wendy’s Co., Burger King and many others have all sold off company stores. McDonald’s is in the process of doing so, with plans to have 95 percent of the company’s restaurants franchisee owned by 2018.

Yet few companies go so far as to put franchisees on their boards.

Bojangles’ Inc., and Famous Dave’s of America Inc., both have operators who serve on the board. CKE Restaurants Inc., a private company, has had franchisees on its board for years — including its time as a publicly traded company a few years ago.

“They're great additions and have been meaningful contributors,” CKE's CEO, Andy Puzder, told me in 2015. “Plus, the franchisee community feels more involved and confident in how the company is run.”

Gordon believes that companies have feared giving up control, which has kept more of them from putting franchises on their boards. “There’s always this us-versus-them mentality,” he said. “There is a fundamental fear baked into the franchisor DNA that somehow they are going to lose control.”

Gordon believes that putting franchisees on the board could improve communications between brands and their operators. He also believes it would promote internal ownership of the company, while also giving the board a more long-term focus. 

“It could create a larger pool of committed shareholders over time, as opposed to mercenary ownership who might not be invested in the brand.”

O’Brien, for her part, acknowledged that McDonald’s and its franchisees do communicate regularly. But her firm’s proposal would elevate that line of communication, putting the operators on more of an equal footing with the company.

“McDonald’s has some experience, with directors from different countries, and it certainly has a diverse board,” O’Brien said. “It just seems like this is an obvious piece of experience that the company is missing.”

Few, however, ultimately see the proposal winning. Shareholders and franchisees are different constituents whose goals might not always coincide with one another. Concerns that shareholders’ own votes could be diluted under the proposal might keep them from giving it the go-ahead.

And there are other potential landmines in the idea of franchisee board membership. Richard Adams, a former franchisee turned consultant, believes there would be intense pressure on the franchisee who received that seat. 

“The political pressure on such franchisees would be unbearable,” he said. “If the franchisee doesn’t support the CEO’s direction it’s going to impact the way the franchisee is treated by McDonald’s employees in the field. 

“And, if the franchisee representative appears to be getting any perks from corporate they will become distrusted by their fellow franchisees. It’s an impossible position.”

Jonathan Maze, Nation’s Restaurant News senior financial editor, does not directly own stock or interest in a restaurant company.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze