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Updated: 21 hours 27 min ago

Schnippers tests real china and silverware

Fri, 2017-01-20 23:37

Schnippers Quality Kitchen, a five-unit limited-service chain in New York City, has done away with much of the paper and plastic in two of its restaurants.

Instead, Schnippers is serving its burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs and salads on china at the two locations, and is giving guests proper silverware with which to eat it.

“We sort of felt that disposable tableware for dining in just wasn’t doing our food justice,” said Jonathan Schnipper, who runs the restaurant with his brother Andrew.

The brothers also founded Hale and Hearty Soups, a fast-casual chain in New York City that has 29 units. They sold the chain in 2006, three years before opening Schnippers, which the founders see as a new generation of fast casual.

“Because of the food that we’re doing and the effort that we put into it, and the level of ingredients, we’re doing everything a full-service restaurant would do except have a waiter or waitress,” Andrew Schnipper said.

“Our burgers come from a local supplier called Pat LaFrieda, and we put every ounce of quality and love and attention into our burgers as fine-dining establishments do,” Jonathan Schnipper said. “And we just felt like taking a burger like that and putting it in a paper boat was just sort of downplaying the experience that we wanted our customers to get.”

Photo: Schnippers

Schnippers customers have always ordered and paid at the counter, and had food delivered at the table, using buzzers with radio frequency signals, similar to Panera Bread, to let the kitchen know where customers are sitting.

“It works very well with today’s customer,” Andrew Schnipper said, noting that it saves customers the cost of a tip, and that the food is casual enough that it doesn’t require a server. “We feel that by giving them the full-service experience without some of the downsides of full service, people will perceive us as an inexpensive restaurant as opposed to an expensive fast-food restaurant.”

The average check at Schnippers is $13 to $14, and the menu is fairly extensive. 

Jonathan (left) and Andrew (right) Schnipper. Photo: Schnippers

Although about half of the 800 or so meals sold in each restaurant per day includes a hamburger — the most popular is a simple cheeseburger with lettuce, pickle and onion — the chain also serves grilled and fried chicken sandwiches, fish and chips, grilled cheese, deli sandwiches, sloppy Joes, mac and cheese, hot dogs, milkshakes and cookies. 

About 60 percent of meals are sold at lunch, the brothers said.

They said the expense of the upgraded tableware is minimal so far, with the initial cost of buying china and silverware largely offset by not having to buy a continual supply of paper and plastic. They did install dishwashing machines, however, and their hired dishwashers are working longer hours.

Photo: Schnippers

Jonathan Schnipper said breakage was the largest issue, but the plates and bowls are sturdy enough that they’re not seeing much chipping.

So far, customer feedback has been good. 

“We got a lot of positive comments from customers, so it seems to be going over well,” Andrew Schnipper said.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Starbucks expands benefits for new parents

Fri, 2017-01-20 23:20

Starbucks Corp. is expanding benefits for new parents, including paid leave for birth mothers and unpaid leave for fathers, spouses and foster or adoptive parents.

The new policy was announced Wednesday. It includes all non-birth parents, including same-sex spouses, foster, and adoptive parents.

The Seattle-based coffeehouse operator said that effective Oct. 1, store-employee birth mothers would be eligible for six weeks of 100-percent paid leave, compared with the current benefit of 67 percent of average pay and 12 weeks of unpaid leave. To be eligible, employees must work a minimum of 20 hours a week.

In addition, Starbucks will offer store-employee fathers, spouses, foster parents and adoptive parents the option of 12 weeks of unpaid leave, effective on the same date. 

District managers and others considered “non-store employees,” who are birth mothers, will be eligible for up to 18 weeks of 100-percent paid leave, an increase from six weeks at 67 percent pay, which currently eligible birth mothers receive now. Non-store employees who are not birth mothers, such as fathers, spouses or foster or adoptive parents, will be eligible to take 12 weeks of paid leave at 100-percent pay. Those 12 weeks are currently unpaid.

“While we have made substantial investments in our partners, we want to continue to do more,” said Kevin Johnson, Starbucks president and chief operating officer, on the company’s benefits website.

“This is one of many steps we are actively taking to evolve our benefits and create a partner experience that lives up to our aspirations,” said Johnson, who will become CEO in April, after Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz steps down from the CEO role.

In July 2016, Starbucks unveiled other investments in employee benefits that took effect last October. 

Starbucks workers and store managers at U.S. company units received a 5-percent pay increase last October. The company also modified its health insurance coverage benefits program to offer employees more options.

As of Oct. 2, 2016, Starbucks had 7,880 company-owned units in the United States.

Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Houlihan’s remodels emphasize individuality

Fri, 2017-01-20 22:56

HRI Inc. is updating its Houlihan’s brand with two recent remodels, and is eyeing growth for its J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steakhouse concept, CEO Mike Archer said this week.

Archer, who partnered with private-equity firm York Capital Management to buy the 90-unit Kansas City, Mo.-based company in late 2015, said both brands occupy strong positions in their segments.

Houlihan's CEO Mike Archer. Photo: Houlihan's

“We really stopped to take a hard look at where we fit into the competitive environment and where our role was in casual dining,” Archer told Nation’s Restaurant News Wednesday. “My family and I have been customers of Houlihan’s for more than nine years. I appreciate how they’ve evolved to position themselves in the posh-casual segment.”

Archer, the former president of DineEquity’s Applebee’s division before it moved to California, said Houlihan’s “posh casual” positioning can compete with local independents. Recent renovations of restaurants in Dallas and Leawood, Kan., are aimed at solidifying that position.

“As we’ve taken a look at the business over the course of the past year, one of the things we’ve really focused in on is the idea that the consumer is really looking for an experience more than ever before,” he said. “At one time, restaurants were rewarded for being consistent and predictable and feeling the same.”

That worked when he led concepts like Morton’s, Archer said, but consumer demands have shifted.

“Today, I believe guests want unique and authentic experiences,” he said. “So our challenge is to make this less of a cookie-cutter brand and really have a local emphasis.”

The recent remodels of a 10-year-old Dallas unit and a 30-year-old restaurant in Leawood, Kan., reflect the individualized identities the company wants to spread throughout the 71-unit brand. Both remodeled units are in the company-owned portfolio of 32 restaurants. The remainder are franchised. 

“There will not be another restaurant to be remodeled to look like those,” Archer said. “Each restaurant will have its own personality and look and feel to it.”

Houlihan’s debuted in 1972, Archer said, so restaurant sites offer some unique locations as the company expanded over 45 years. The brand will play to location and architectural strengths as it renovates others.

Photo: Houlihan's

The menu remains the same across all Houlihan’s locations, with three to four seasonal versions each year, he said.

“We have the core menu and a specials card,” Archer said, with offerings that include items that appeal to diners looking for high-protein, low-calorie or low-sugar items. 

“We have a number of things that meet the customer’s view of ‘better for you,’ and not just one single definition,” he said.

Houlihan’s has also worked on the flavor profiles of dishes, Archer said, producing newer items like black bean dip with harissa chili pepper paste, and a recent addition of half a pan-roasted, skin-on chicken breast with spiralized sweet-potato linguini and a poblano cream sauce.

Staff has been retrained to help customers navigate the changes, he added.

“We’re focusing our culture on being more guest-centric,” Archer said. “We did an exercise with all of our general managers where we had them write — collectively, as a group — their definition of the perfect guest experience. We gave them certain writing prompts, such as, ‘When I drive into the parking lot,’ or, ‘When I walk up to the door.’” 

The exercise resulted in a new approach to how the team approaches customers.

“It was fascinating to watch this group of seasoned general managers struggle with the experience from a sensory perspective,” Archer said. “They got into the groove after they got less into the function and more into the purpose of why we do things. We are spending a lot of time in communicating why we do things.”

Archer said he sees Houlihan’s competition less as other polished-casual chains and more as local upper-scale independent restaurants.

“We’re working on retraining our staff so they can be more ‘guides through the journey’ of these new flavors,” he said. 

Photo: Houlihan's

Houlihan’s has also overhauled bar offerings by introducing new craft cocktails and local beers, as well as touches such as ice cubes infused with Aperol.

“It’s all starting to come together,” Archer said. “It’s been a year. Our menu is coming together with new flavors. We’ve done the two remodels and plan to continue that. We’re putting more control in the hands of our general managers.”

Archer added that he foresaw growth as slow and measured in existing markets. 

“Our expansion and growth plans are really focused around Houlihan’s and J. Gilbert’s,” he said.

HRI also owns the Bristol Seafood Grill and Devin’s Seafood Grill brands.

He said the five J. Gilbert’s units are doing “exceptionally well,” with an average check of $55 to $60. Houlihan’s check average is about $18, he said.

“J. Gilbert’s is a great experience of prime steaks at a lower price point,” Archer said, adding that expansion would be focused on medium-sized cities like Kansas City, Mo.; Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

“We’re working on a couple of leases now, and I would expect the first to open late this year or early next year,” Archer said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Uncle Maddio’s redesign targets loyal customer base

Fri, 2017-01-20 21:57

Uncle Maddio’s Pizza has redesigned its menu boards, integrated its loyalty program and embraced a variety of third-party delivery options as the Atlanta-based fast-casual chain looks to expand beyond its current 42 units. 

The new menu boards have been changed from a text-heavy listing of Uncle Maddio’s crusts, sauces and 47 toppings to a more intuitive and visually appealing three-step process showing customers how to select those items in order, according to Jenelle Brown, the chain’s vice president of operations and training.

“Our goal was to adjust the ordering and decision-making process for the guest, knowing that fast casual is still an emerging concept and our brand is still emerging in a lot of markets,” said Brown, adding that the previous format “could be a bit overwhelming for the first-time guest.”

Uncle Maddio’s CEO Matt Andrew said the move was a preliminary step in introducing digital menu boards, a process he hopes to start with new locations in the second quarter of 2017, with moves to retrofit existing locations, all but one of which are franchised, in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

Uncle Maddio’s also revamped its Maddio’s Rewards loyalty program in October, integrating its typical buy 10, get one program with text and email marketing that program members can opt into.

Brown said generally text messages are offers such as a Maddio Meal, which is a small pizza, side salad and drink priced at $8.99.

“We’ll blast that out in a text message,” she said. “It’s a great lunch driver — a value driven, portion-right-sized lunch.”

Email blasts allow the operators to leverage food photography and promote timely specials such as holiday gift cards and Super Bowl specials.

Brown said Uncle Maddio’s loyalty program was a key to the chain’s success, noting that she reviewed a two-week trend report from one location and found that 67 percent of sales were from Maddio Rewards members.

“It makes a material difference, partly because you can continue to engage them, and so they’re reminded more frequently to come back,” Brown said, adding that loyalty program members visited more often and spent more per visit. “So we’ve gone out to actively find ways to make that program more robust and find ways to stay in the consideration set by utilizing those platforms.” 

That includes giving a free pizza to all members when they join. 

“It’s a pretty heavy incentive, but we find that it’s got great return,” she said.

Loyalty program members also get “surprise and delight” rewards such as free pizza on birthdays and anniversaries, and “pop-up” incentives such as a two-point Tuesday in which orders are worth double points.

Since the rollout of the new program in October, Uncle Maddio’s has seen about a 35-percent increase in number of enrollments, Brown said. Meanwhile, the email club has more than doubled.

Based on the personal information users provide when they enroll, “We also can see the demographics of people who respond well to different types of communication. … It allows us a level of business intelligence about who our consumer is that in return we can target in specific ways,” she said. 

The chain has also seen “tremendous success” with third-party delivery services, Brown said, including major players UberEats, DoorDash and Grubhub, as well as local ones such as Grub South in Huntsville, Ala.

Andrew said Uncle Maddio’s has an advantage over the wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza chains, such as Blaze Pizza, MOD Pizza and PizzaRev because that style of pizza doesn’t hold up as well when delivered, compared with Uncle Maddio’s New York style pies.

“Neapolitan pizza is not designed, nor will ever be designed, to be delivered. Everybody who’s been in that business for 200 years knows that,” CEO Andrew said. “It’s meant to be eaten right then and there. So, one of the key advantages we have about our brand is that we’re very favorable to delivery.”

Brown added that the chain’s ability to get a pizza out of the oven within eight minutes from the time it’s ordered allows them to deliver it within the 30 minutes that consumers expect, and that their individual-sized pizzas allow customers ordering for just one person to use Uncle Maddio’s. 

Third-party delivery makes it easier for franchisees, who don’t have to set up their own delivery system, “and they’re all incremental sales,” she said.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

With new ownership, waffle sandwich chain Bruxie gets ready to grow

Fri, 2017-01-20 18:22

The fast-casual Bruxie waffle sandwich chain is preparing for growth with a new prototype design and a new positioning as the home of the original fried chicken and waffle sandwich.

Bruxie was founded in 2010 and got an early boost in 2013 with a minority investment from private-equity firm L Catterton. In September 2016, however, L Catterton became the majority owner after a new round of financing. The chain now has seven locations, mostly in Southern California.

With the deal, co-founder Dean Simon stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Anthony Smith, the former president and partner in the casual-dining chain Paul Martin’s American Grill. Simon remains an investor. 

Co-founder Kelly Mullarney remains involved in day-to-day operations as chef. In a statement, Mullarney said, “The experience and wisdom that comes with our new management team are integral to taking this brand to the next level.” 

In addition, Scott Miller, the former vice president of finance for the bacon-infused burger concept Slater’s 50/50, was named Bruxie’s chief financial officer.

A 2013 Breakout Brand by Nation’s Restaurant News, Bruxie has also reworked the menu to focus the concept more specifically on what has been the top-selling sandwich: fried chicken and waffles.

The move is an attempt to solidify Bruxie’s position within the increasingly competitive world of chicken sandwiches.

Bruxie is unique with a wide-open canvas, said Smith.

“There were the burger wars and the pizza wars. Fried chicken is another staple that we all eat,” he said. “Most Americans don’t fry chicken at home anymore. You go out to eat fried chicken, and that’s where the opportunity lies. We serve it on a waffle. No one else is doing that out there.”

Bruxie's signature fried chicken and waffle sandwich. Photo: Bruxie

The concept’s tagline is now “The original fried chicken and waffle sandwich.” Previously, Bruxie used “Gourmet waffle sandwiches.”

Bruxie, which moved its corporate headquarters from Anaheim, Calif. to nearby Santa Ana, is also remodeling an existing unit in Irvine, Calif., which will serve as a new prototype for future locations.

The new design “screams chicken and waffles,” said Smith. “It’s a little more sophisticated. It’s comfortable and engaging for customers, and we’ve opened the kitchen up.” 

The chain is also scheduled to open its first international location in South Korea in April, the first in a 10-unit franchised deal over the next five years. The franchise partner is Bold 4 Ltd.

Franchising in the U.S. may come down the road, but not for two to three years, said Smith.

Corporate growth is planned, but the focus now is on getting the new prototype open, also scheduled for April. With that will also come the roll out of delivery service, online ordering and digital menu boards.

The Irvine restaurant will also serve craft beers and wine on tap, pending approvals. The first Bruxie location to serve alcohol opened last year in Las Vegas, and Smith said the addition of beer and wine could help broaden daypart appeal.

“We’ve predominantly been a lunch-driven business, but we think the new design will increase dinner business,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

What is a quick and easy baked item that will still convey that homemade feel?

Fri, 2017-01-20 16:31

The “scoop and bake” ease of a proprietary cookie dough batter works well in quick service operations where time is of the essence. Large batches of cookies can be baked up in the morning for the day’s service, or smaller batches can be baked in minutes throughout the day to offer that warm, fresh from the oven sensation. Traditional flavors such as chocolate chip or oatmeal are usually perceived as more healthful and an inexpensive indulgence. Cookies also travel well for drive-thru or to-go orders.

NRA petitions Supreme Court to hear tip-pooling case

Thu, 2017-01-19 23:45

The National Restaurant Association on Thursday petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to existing laws that prevent cooks and dishwashers from sharing in tip pools.

The case, dubbed National Restaurant Association et al. v. U.S. Department of Labor et al., is brought in partnership with the state restaurant associations in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

The case stems from an ongoing court battle within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over tip sharing. Despite divided opinions in the courts, the Department of Labor prohibits tip pooling with workers who don’t customarily or regularly receive tips, like cooks, dishwashers, chefs and janitors.

The NRA, however, sees the regulation as discriminatory.

“The Department of Labor has completely overstepped its regulatory authority and is unfairly discriminating against those restaurant employees who work in the back of the house,” said Angelo Amador, the NRA’s senior vice president and regulatory counsel. “The law here is clear: Employees who earn above minimum wage should be able to share their tips with fellow employees, no matter where they work. The Department of Labor cannot continue to trample on the rights of restaurant workers.” 

Whether or not the Supreme Court will agree to take up the case remains to be seen. Amador said a response is expected in about 30 days.

Amador hopes the high court will clarify what has been a contentious and complicated regulation at a time when labor costs are rapidly escalating for restaurant operators across the country.

In states where the minimum wage is reaching $15 per hour, the disparity in pay rates between servers who can accept tips and kitchen staff who cannot has grown ever wider.

The legal battle began in Oregon after a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2010, in Cumbie v. Woody Woo Inc., upheld a restaurant’s right to run a tip pool that included kitchen workers in some circumstances, in part because Oregon is one of seven states that do not allow a tip credit.

The Department of Labor responded by expanding regulations that prohibited tip sharing with workers outside the chain of service, even when employers pay the full minimum wage and don’t take a tip credit.

That regulation was supported in February 2016 by a Ninth Circuit court decision. Later in the year, however, a petition for rehearing went before a 10-judge panel with mixed opinions on the issue, which the NRA hopes will open the door for Supreme Court consideration. (LINK: http://www.nrn.com/news/operators-deal-tip-pool-ruling

Amador said tip sharing is another regulatory issue that could benefit from winds of change in Washington, D.C.

The incoming Trump administration is expected to appoint a new Supreme Court justice in short order, he said.

“We would rather have a judge that is more business friendly than we have right now,” Amador said.

The petition is also one of the first moves by the newly created Restaurant Law Center, an advocacy group established by the NRA to defend the restaurant industry from government overregulation on a federal, state and local level. The center is expected to take on issues such as the federal overtime rule, whether franchisors can be considered joint employers with franchisees, interchange fees and music licensing. 

“As well-funded special interest groups continue to use the courts to enact policy, it is imperative that the second-largest private-sector employer in the country have our voice be heard,” said Jay Stieber, the Restaurant Law Center’s chairman, in a statement.

Amador, who also serves as the Law Center’s executive director, added: “This creates a funding mechanism that will make it easier to move faster on cases like this.” 

Correction: Jan. 20, 2017  This story has been updated to clarify that this case is about tip pooling, a method of sharing tips. 

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

NRA petitions Supreme Court to hear tip-sharing case

Thu, 2017-01-19 23:45

The National Restaurant Association on Thursday petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to existing laws that prevent cooks and dishwashers from sharing in tips.

The case, dubbed National Restaurant Association et al. v. U.S. Department of Labor et al., is brought in partnership with the state restaurant associations in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

The case stems from an ongoing court battle within the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over tip sharing. Despite divided opinions in the courts, the Department of Labor prohibits tip sharing with workers who don’t customarily or regularly receive tips, like cooks, dishwashers, chefs and janitors.

The NRA, however, sees the regulation as discriminatory.

“The Department of Labor has completely overstepped its regulatory authority and is unfairly discriminating against those restaurant employees who work in the back of the house,” said Angelo Amador, the NRA’s senior vice president and regulatory counsel. “The law here is clear: Employees who earn above minimum wage should be able to share their tips with fellow employees, no matter where they work. The Department of Labor cannot continue to trample on the rights of restaurant workers.” 

Whether or not the Supreme Court will agree to take up the case remains to be seen. Amador said a response is expected in about 30 days.

Amador hopes the high court will clarify what has been a contentious and complicated regulation at a time when labor costs are rapidly escalating for restaurant operators across the country.

In states where the minimum wage is reaching $15 per hour, the disparity in pay rates between servers who can accept tips and kitchen staff who cannot has grown ever wider.

The legal battle began in Oregon after a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2010, in Cumbie v. Woody Woo Inc., upheld a restaurant’s right to run a tip pool that included kitchen workers in some circumstances, in part because Oregon is one of seven states that do not allow a tip credit.

The Department of Labor responded by expanding regulations that prohibited tip sharing with workers outside the chain of service, even when employers pay the full minimum wage and don’t take a tip credit.

That regulation was supported in February 2016 by a Ninth Circuit court decision. Later in the year, however, a petition for rehearing went before a 10-judge panel with mixed opinions on the issue, which the NRA hopes will open the door for Supreme Court consideration. (LINK: http://www.nrn.com/news/operators-deal-tip-pool-ruling

Amador said tip sharing is another regulatory issue that could benefit from winds of change in Washington, D.C.

The incoming Trump administration is expected to appoint a new Supreme Court justice in short order, he said.

“We would rather have a judge that is more business friendly than we have right now,” Amador said.

The petition is also one of the first moves by the newly created Restaurant Law Center, an advocacy group established by the NRA to defend the restaurant industry from government overregulation on a federal, state and local level. The center is expected to take on issues such as the federal overtime rule, whether franchisors can be considered joint employers with franchisees, interchange fees and music licensing. 

“As well-funded special interest groups continue to use the courts to enact policy, it is imperative that the second-largest private-sector employer in the country have our voice be heard,” said Jay Stieber, the Restaurant Law Center’s chairman, in a statement.

Amador, who also serves as the Law Center’s executive director, added: “This creates a funding mechanism that will make it easier to move faster on cases like this.” 

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

How to create a guideline for EpiPen use

Thu, 2017-01-19 23:26

California has joined a growing number of states that allow restaurants and other businesses to take customer service to a new level: potentially saving a guest’s life.

The legislation in California, which went into effect on Jan. 1, allows businesses or other public entities to keep epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as EpiPens, on hand for emergency use. Thirty states across the country now have what are called “entity laws” allowing the practice, and similar bills have been proposed in six more states. 

The injectors deliver shots of epinephrine that can stop severe allergic reactions to foods, which is the stuff of nightmares for restaurant operators. 

While most people with severe allergies would likely carry the injectors with them when they eat out, there’s always a chance it could be left at home, or that a guest could be unaware of an allergy if exposed to new ingredients.

According to Food Allergy Research and Education, an estimated 15 million Americans have food allergies, and a severe reaction sends patients to the emergency room about every three minutes. Food allergies account for 30 percent of anaphylaxis, according to the Allergy & Asthma Network, and about 150 to 200 people die of food allergies every year. 

Most states allow, and some require, auto-injectors to be available in schools. Entity laws expand on that access with the goal of making the injectors more broadly available in public places.

Not surprisingly, drug maker Mylan, maker of the EpiPen, is a backer of entity laws. Mylan came under fire last year for price gouging after the EpiPen topped $600 for a two-pack, up from less than $100 a few years ago. Responding to critics, in December Mylan released a generic version of the same medication, priced at $300 for a two pack.

The injectors are getting even more affordable: In January, CVS Pharmacies unveiled a separate generic called Adrenaclick priced at $110 per two-pack.

So should restaurants keep an auto-injector on the premises in case of emergency?

The decision is best discussed with legal counsel and your insurance company’s risk management specialist, said attorney Nancy Stagg, a partner with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LP in San Diego. State laws may vary.

“Obviously, you could save someone’s life by having it,” Stagg said. “It’s not just for your customers, but your employees eat at the worksite too. Years ago, we didn’t think anyone could use defibrillators, but now lots of people are trained to use them in public places.”

If a restaurant operator chooses to stock an EpiPen or generic, there are clear rules about compliance that offer civil liability protections, Stagg said.

In California, for example, “lay rescuers” who administer the injection to someone who appears to be experiencing a severe allergic reaction are protected from liability, so long as the injection is given in good faith and not for compensation.

However, the rescuer must also have complied with specific certification and training requirements, which must be updated every two years. The Adrenaclick, however, has a different set of instructions than the EpiPen, so businesses should make sure training is specific to the product.

Here are steps restaurants in California should take if keeping an auto-injector on premises:

  • Create a written plan for the use and upkeep of the auto-injector. Make sure the plan is readily available on site.
  • The plan should includes the name and contact number for the authorized healthcare provider who prescribed the injector and the names of designated employees that have been trained to administer the injections.
  • The designated employees must be recertified every two years, and restaurants should document the process. 
  • The plan should also include specific information on where and how the injector should be stored, as well as the procedure for inspecting the injector’s expiration date, and the process for disposal of expired injectors. 
  • Records related to the injector plan should be kept for three years. 
  • If the injector is used, the restaurant must also call 911. “It’s hard to imagine that people wouldn’t, but you can’t use the injector and then let the person walk out if they say they want to go to the hospital on their own,” Stagg said.
  • If the injector is used, the restaurant operator must also report it to authorities. Check with local legal counsel for guidance on where the reports must go.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

Papa Murphy’s targets busy moms in new ads

Thu, 2017-01-19 22:16

Papa Murphy’s Holdings Inc. hopes moms can pull the chain out of its sales slump.

The Vancouver, Wash.-based take-and-bake pizza concept, working to reverse a deep slide in same-store sales, is planning its first nationwide television campaign starting next week. The media move is a key milestone for the 1,600-unit chain that views itself as the next big national pizza player.

“Getting to national TV has been a dream of this brand for years and years,” said Brandon Solano, Papa Murphy’s chief marketing officer. “There are several markets where we’re on TV. But there are many markets where we’re not on TV.”

The campaign is titled “Papa Murphy’s Law,” and it targets the brand’s core customer of busy parents. The ads will start running on Monday.

Parenting is difficult and chaotic, the ads express, and Papa Murphy’s pizza brings simplicity and order because it enables parents to provide a home-cooked meal without the mess and trouble of making it from scratch.

“Moms have changed,” Solano said. “In the past, they really strove for perfection. There was a lot of judgment if you weren’t perfect and your kids were not perfect. But with the changing dynamics of parenthood and motherhood, being perfect is not a requirement. Parents are engaging with kids, spending time with them, and celebrating the imperfection of parenthood.”

The ad features real families, using humor to depict life with children. It plays off the Murphy’s Law adage that states that what can go wrong, will go wrong.

“Moms have a chaotic and crazy life with kids,” Solano said. “If they come in with Papa Murphy’s, they get a wholesome meal. There’s convenience and control for them. If you start with wholesome, at least chaos won’t reign at dinnertime.”

The first set of ads will feature a $9 all-meat pizza and run for three weeks on national cable TV. The company has also bought a set of ads on national cable TV featuring another topic that will run for another three weeks.

The television ads are the centerpiece of an integrated campaign that features social media and radio. Papa Murphy’s featured a post on Jan. 11, the birthday of Edward Murphy, who is the engineer who came up with Murphy’s Law.

Yet the TV ads are also a test, of sorts, to see if a national campaign can work to build awareness of the concept and lift sales.

Papa Murphy’s struggles became acute in the fourth quarter — the chain recently said that its fourth quarter same-store sales fell 7.8 percent. The company’s stock, trading at nearly $13 per share last May, fell below $5 per share in October, and has stayed there ever since. 

The chain’s CEO, Ken Calwell, resigned just before the end of the year, replaced in the interim by chairman, Jean Birch. 

In October, after reporting a net loss in the third quarter, Papa Murphy’s amended its credit agreement in order to provide enough financial flexibility to run a national ad campaign.

“I would say that, with success, we would advertise increasingly more nationally,” Solano said.

“We have every reason to believe this is going to work,” he added. “But we want to see it working before we commit to doing more.” 

Papa Murphy’s is different from just about any other restaurant chain in that consumers cook the food themselves. This gives the company high quality scores on many consumer rankings. And, Solano said, it gives the chain a loyal customer base.

“We have the highest loyalty in the industry,” he said. “When consumers try it, they get it.”

The problem is getting consumers to the point where they get it, and that makes the awareness campaign particularly important. Solano said that Papa Murphy’s is the top pizza player in a number of markets, including Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis.

The chain hopes the ads will help build awareness in other markets where it has less of a presence. 

“Any time you’re going to build a brand, before you get trial, you have to build awareness,” Solano said. “This is an awareness campaign explaining what’s different about Papa Murphy’s. This is a different way to make pizza.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at jonathan.maze@penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

The IPO market slowly makes comeback

Thu, 2017-01-19 21:57

This post is part of the On the Margin blog.

Last month, the fast-casual health food chain Freshii filed for an initial-public offering in Canada.

This week, Reuters reported that CEC Entertainment Inc. is readying its own initial public offering in the U.S., for the second half of the year.

The IPO market, it seems, is making a comeback.

Equity investors couldn’t get enough of the restaurant business from 2013 through 2015. Several companies had their IPOs in that period, some of which were remarkably small. Investors, hoping to find the next Chipotle Mexican Grill, gave these companies outsized valuations.

Non-public restaurant valuations went up at the same time, and sellers of restaurant companies upped their own asking prices, sensing the market had shifted.

But the overall IPO market slowed and restaurant companies opted against going public in 2016. The market for such companies turned sour after many newly public companies failed to meet lofty expectations and chains such as Papa Murphy’s Holdings Inc. and Noodles and Co. crashed.

One classic example: The sandwich chain Jimmy John’s was about to start promoting its offering with investors when it backed out in the fall of 2015. Last year, the sandwich chain was sold to Roark Capital.

Yet the overall IPO market is expected to improve this year — popularity of the Snapchat IPO, for instance, is anticipated and is generating heavy competitions among the major stock exchanges.

And after a relatively weak 2016, restaurant stocks in recent weeks have been on a comeback, thanks to the so-called Trump rally. An improving stock market is the best way to lure companies to the public markets.

Freshii’s filing in Canada last year was the first sign of a thaw in the restaurant IPO market — even if the Toronto-based chain is selling stock to investors in Canada, rather than the U.S.

The company recently said it plans to sell 10.9 million shares of stock at an expected range of $8.50 to $10 in Canadian dollars, or $6.39 to $7.52 U.S. — which would raise about $82 million if the stock sells at the top end of range. 

Irving, Tex.-based CEC would be a much bigger offering, however. It would also be a relatively quick return to the public markets for the operator of pizza and games concept Chuck E. Cheese. (Apollo Global Management took Chuck E. Cheese private in 2014 in a $1.3 billion deal.) 

The company could pursue a sale if it received the right offer, the Reuters report suggests. It’s not uncommon for companies to use a filing as something of an auction.

CEC has worked to improve its food and its operations in recent years with good results. Revenues in the first nine months of 2016 increased 3 percent, according to SEC documents. Net income quadrupled in that period, to $6.5 million.

Paving the way for a CEC offering this year has been Dave & Buster’s Entertainment Inc., which has thrived — the company’s same-store sales increased 5.9 percent in the quarter that ended Oct. 30, for instance. Dave & Buster’s stock is up 60 percent over the past year.

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

Contact Jonathan Maze at jonathan.maze@penton.com

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze

Pizza Hut pledges to fill 11,000 jobs

Thu, 2017-01-19 14:00

Pizza Hut pledged Thursday to fill 11,000 job openings, including many as it gears up for its busiest sales day, on Feb. 5, Super Bowl Sunday.

The Plano, Texas-based division of Yum! Brands Inc. said the positions will be at corporate and franchised locations for everything from pizza makers and delivery drivers to store managers.

Kelly McCulloch, senior director of human resources at Pizza Hut Photo: Pizza Hut

Kelly McCulloch, Pizza Hut senior director of human resources, told Nation’s Restaurant News Wednesday that “as we head into one of the busiest weekends of the year, we wanted to make sure we had enough team members there to help us deliver a great experience for our customers.”

She said the 11,000 jobs were a combination of existing openings and planned positions, but prospective employees could apply for them all.

Pizza Hut has 120,000 employees across its 6,300 domestic locations, McCulloch said.

“The biggest component for preparing for something like this is to make sure our franchise partners out there are up to speed and prepared for what we hope will be an influx for the application process online, and even walking through the door,” McCulloch said.

More than 5,900 of Pizza Hut’s U.S. restaurants, or 94 percent, are operated by franchisees, she noted. The company has a centralized application website that candidates can use.

“They can apply at the central location and then that information is routed to the location that is nearest location to them,” McCulloch said. “Our metro areas tend to have the biggest hiring needs. Typically, that’s where most of our restaurants are located.”

Pizza Hut has participated in the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative, a coalition of employers spearheaded by Starbucks Corp. in 2015, but McCulloch said this is the first time that Pizza Hut has announced an initiative on its own.

“This initiative is unique to us,” McCulloch said. “As a brand, we have a high number we are going after.”

McCulloch said some of the hiring is aimed at growth for the brand ahead as well.

“There’s no real deadline for this,” she said.

Among incentives, McCulloch noted, is Pizza Hut’s “Life Unboxed EDU” program, which was launched in 2015. That program offers employees at company-owned restaurants and participating franchisees — and their families — 50 percent off tuition to attend career-boosting educational courses at the online Excelsior College. 

“All of our team members as well as their families can participate in that program,” she said. “Offering it to the family members sets us apart.”

Pizza Hut has more than 15,600 restaurants in 97 countries.

Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Restaurants: All politics is local

Wed, 2017-01-18 22:55

Joe Kefauver is managing partner of Align Public Strategies, 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.

Most of us are familiar with the famous quip from legendary former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill, “All politics is local.” For many employers, never has it had more meaning than right now. I have been ringing the bell, banging the drum and shouting from the rooftops for years to the restaurant industry and other entry-level employers that threats to the business model are increasingly unfolding at the local level of government.  The forums in which minimum wage increases, restrictive scheduling, paid leave and wage theft are mostly being debated are at city halls across the country, not Congress or even in many state capitols. On these core issues, the industry has been forced to spend exponentially more time and effort of late focused on the Minneapolis' of the world and not St. Paul,  the Albuquerques and not Sante Fe, the Seattle’s and not Olympia.

However, the key to being successful at the local level of government — to protecting our brands, business models and reputations — is significantly different than at the state or federal level. As an industry we have become adept at leveraging our collective political resources (PACs), our lobbying strength, and demonstrating our grassroots reach to achieve desired outcomes at higher levels of government. But at the local level, the game is much different. It is far less about money and lobbying, although they still have a role (albeit significantly diminished). 

To be successful locally, you have to be relevant in your community. You have to be a respected community partner in order to have the reputational credibility to successfully advocate for your issues. And that doesn't come from lobbyists and consultants — it comes from rolling up our sleeves and using the resources of our companies and industries to help cities, mayors and other stakeholders address local problems and challenges. It’s about sweat equity, not check writing. And wouldn’t you know it, even Uber, one of the biggest disruptors of our time and a political bad boy if there ever was one, has finally gotten the joke. 

Lately, Uber has been the national poster child for how to antagonize local governments. But just this week, they announced a new technology platform called Movement where Uber drivers in a given metropolitan area will share real-time information with transit planning agencies, researchers and ultimately the public regarding traffic patterns and vehicle speeds across cities. Basically, the company is helping local government agencies and elected officials do their job. Brilliant! As the spouse of a longtime, community transit planner who has worked directly for two mayors, I can tell you, detailed traffic information is extremely costly and labor intensive to collect. Now Uber is offering it up every day for free. For free! And the key is they aren’t focused on building relationships with elected officials who come and go (especially at the local level) but building partnerships with cities that are sustainable. Just brilliant.

Ironically, they may be stealing a page from the restaurant playbook. The industry, through the leadership of the NRA and many of their state allies, has been moving swiftly in this direction and in many communities, the industry is partnering with mayors and city councils on workforce development programs, workforce re-entry programs for veterans, homeless people and past-offender constituencies. They’re also leading summer jobs programs and the list goes on. "Helping cities solve problems" is and should continue to be a significant theme in all our outreach efforts going forward.  It will take years, but ultimately, when we walk through the door, we want mayors to see their local workforce development, recycling or hunger partners coming into their office — not the "minimum wage guys.” For those of us that have worked in government, we know all too well that animosity as a result of the wage fight — whether past or present — is the “gift that keeps on giving,”  and we need to seriously address it.

If you want to change your relationship with local government, put away your checkbook, lean in and grab a shovel. Step into a classroom to mentor. Start programs that add value to your community. No industry is better poised to do that than ours and thankfully we are underway with that process. But it will take years. And it will take real effort. Being successful at the local level is not about fly-ins and fundraisers. It’s about being engaged in a way that is meaningful to the community — on their terms — and believe it or not, it actually plays to what we do best everyday in our restaurants  —putting personal skin in the game and connecting with our community. When that becomes part of our political culture, we will then become the types of neighbors that cities want to protect.

McDonald’s looks to the Big Mac for sales growth

Wed, 2017-01-18 22:09

McDonald’s Corp. is going big with the Big Mac this year.

The Oak Brook, Ill.-based burger giant this week introduced two new sizes of its signature Big Mac — a rare line extension for the chain’s signature sandwich.

Meanwhile, McDonald’s said on Twitter that it plans to reveal a surprise next Thursday. It’s uncertain what that surprise will be, but it appears to be related to the chain’s Big Mac promotion.

From way up here, those numbers kinda look like… an awesome surprise that’ll be unveiled soon. Who’s got a guess?pic.twitter.com/WYwNE3PoWH

— McDonald's (@McDonalds) January 17, 2017

The bigger Grand Mac includes two patties totaling a third of a pound of beef. It costs around $5 and has nearly 900 calories. The sandwich weighs about 11 ounces in total and is roughly larger than a softball.

The smaller Mac Jr. is designed for customers who want an easy-to-hold version of the Big Mac. It costs about $3, has one patty and is 480 calories. Both sandwiches have lettuce, onions, pickles, Big Mac sauce and a sesame seed bun.

The new Big Mac sizes signal a return to new-product news for McDonald’s after an 18-month hiatus — its last new product LTO was the Third Pound Burgers in 2015. Last year, the chain focused much of its marketing on all-day breakfast and value deals, while leaving much of the innovation up to different regions.

The offer also signals a major change in thinking at McDonald’s headquarters. Outside of a brief foray into a Mac Snack Wrap that ended in 2010, McDonald’s has largely avoided any extensions of the Big Mac in the U.S. — despite news from competitors like Burger King, which is using its Whopper as a new product format.

Last year McDonald’s tested Big Macs featuring sauce laced with Sriracha in Ohio.

McDonald’s hopes the Big Mac promotion can be a shot in the arm early this year as it seeks to regain some momentum it has lost in recent months. Same-store sales in the U.S. slowed to 1.3 percent in the third quarter, and some analysts expect that number to turn negative in the fourth quarter as the chain laps a strong fourth quarter of 2015.

Mark Kalinowski, analyst with Instinet, said in a note Wednesday morning that he expects McDonald’s same-store sales to fall 1.2 percent, based on a survey with franchisees. He also expects same-store sales to fall 1.9 percent in the first quarter of this year, in which the chain also runs up against difficult comparisons from the same period in 2016. 

But one operator told Kalinowski that the Big Mac promotion “should be a winner,” and expects the chain’s $1 coffee promotion to generate traffic. 

Investor expectations appear to be increasing when it comes to McDonald’s. The company’s stock has risen more than 10 percent since early November. 

McDonald’s has signaled a willingness to do more to promote its core menu items in the past two years, and the Big Mac is central to that core. It is arguably the most well known sandwich in the restaurant industry, one so prevalent across the world that the magazine The Economist uses it as an index to measure the strength of different countries’ currencies.

Franchisee Jim Delligatti, eager to get McDonald’s to develop a bigger sandwich, started serving the Big Mac in 1967. Sales took off. McDonald’s expanded the sandwich nationwide, and it has remained on the menu ever since.

Contact Jonathan Maze at jonathan.maze@penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Report: Chuck E. Cheese’s parent in IPO talks

Wed, 2017-01-18 19:57

According to a Reuters report, CEC Entertainment Inc., parent to the Chuck E. Cheese’s and Peter Piper Pizza child-oriented chains, is in talks for an initial public offering in the last half of this year. 

Irving, Texas-based CEC, which was taken private in 2014 through a $1.3 billion deal with Apollo Global Management LLC, has talked with banks but not yet hired underwriters, Reuters reported Tuesday. Sources said the IPO could value the company at more than $1 billion.

A CEC Entertainment spokeswoman said Wednesday that she had nothing to add to the reports.

Chuck E. Cheese’s has been expanding its menu items geared toward adults and increased value offerings in order to build frequency, said Thomas Leverton, CEC CEO, in an interview last June. 

“We’ve spent a lot of time working on mom and dad and that veto [vote],” Leverton said. “Your average kid who comes to Chuck E. wants to come 11 times a year; they come three times a year. The difference between that and the 11 times a year they want to come is the mom and dad veto.” 

Chuck E. Cheese’s is also modernizing by phasing out game tokens for computer-chip tap-to-play cards at its popular arcade-style games. 

CEC Entertainment owns the similar entertainment and dining brand Peter Piper Pizza, the 147-unit company it acquired in October 2014 from ACON Investments LLC.

In Securities and Exchange Commission filings for the third quarter ended Oct. 2, CEC Entertainment reported revenues or $223.7 million, up from $217 million in the prior-year quarter. The company narrowed its net loss to $2.4 million from $3.2 million in the same quarter last year.

As of Oct. 2, CEC had 742 units, 557 company-owned and the remaining 185 franchised, in 47 states and 12 other countries and territories.

Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Schlotzsky’s rolls out shrimp and brisket

Tue, 2017-01-17 23:56

Schlotzsky’s has added shrimp and brisket to its permanent menu.

The fast-casual chain started testing shrimp last spring, in response to customer requests for a seafood option.

The Shrimp Original sandwich mixes seasoned and steamed shrimp with cream cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, chipotle pesto, cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, black olives, red onions, lettuce, tomatoes, mustard and Schlotzsky’s signature sauce, and is served on sourdough bread.

“It did probably double or triple what we expected it to do [in terms of sales],” Schlotzsky’s president Kelly Roddy said.

Then the chain also included shrimp in a new line of mac-and-cheese entrées called “Macs,” a new formulation of the pasta first introduced in March 2015.

The shrimp tested well both in the sandwich and in the mac-and-cheese, Roddy said, "and then we immediately tested it on the flatbread."

Meanwhile, the brisket played on Schlotzsky’s heritage as a company based in Austin, Texas, Roddy said.

“Brisket is one of the things that people actually seek out when they come to Austin, so why not bring that to Schlotzsky’s everywhere?” he said. “This is high-quality brisket, just like you’d get at Franklin’s in Austin, that you’d stand in line for an hour for,” he said, referring to Franklin Barbecue, which has a cult following.

The Shrimp Original sandwich. Photo: Schlotzsky's

The brisket, which is braised by one of Schlotzsky’s protein vendors, began a test in the summer, and then rolled out as a Mac limited-time offer in October.

Brisket is also available through February on a Spicy Brisket Flatbread with pesto, jalapeño chips, Swiss cheese, hot sauce, blue cheese dressing and basil, as well as on an Italian Shrimp & Brisket Flatbread with Italian dressing, cream sauce, balsamic glaze, mozzarella, roasted red peppers and barbecue sauce. 

The Shrimp Original will be brought back for Lent, which begins on March 1, as will the Shrimply the Best Mac and a new flatbread. Shrimp will also be available in salads this summer, Roddy said.

The Smokey Brisketeer Mac. Photo: Schlotzsky's

“It’s going to be a regular part of our menu from now on,” he added.

So is brisket, he said, which will be featured in a new line of sandwiches starting later in February.

Schlotzsky’s is a subsidiary of Focus Brands Inc., based in Atlanta, and has 362 units.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Ruby Tuesday debuts revamped Garden Bar systemwide

Tue, 2017-01-17 21:26

Ruby Tuesday Inc. debuted its new Garden Bar systemwide Tuesday, after testing it in several markets last year.

The Maryville, Tenn.-based casual-dining operator said the Garden Bar now features 55 ingredients, which is nearly double the number of items previously offered. 

The Garden Bar offers more than a dozen new fruits and vegetables, premium cheeses, toppings and eight dressings that are made in house, the company said.

“Our Garden Bar adds a level of complexity that our competitors do not have,” Lane Cardwell, Ruby Tuesday interim CEO, told analysts earlier in January. “Because the Garden Bar is not something that can be easily replicated, it remains a unique feature to us and our category, and a key competitive differentiator for our brand.”

Last year, Ruby Tuesday tested the upgraded Garden Bar in Atlanta, Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis.

“Our fresh, new Garden Bar is our core strategy to enhance our food offering and reconnect with our target of women and families,” Cardwell said, adding that “approximately half of our guests utilized the Garden Bar when they dine with us, either as an add-on or as a main course.”

Of those Garden Bar users, 80 percent visited specifically for that offering, he said.

The new Garden Bar is priced at $8.99 for lunch and $9.99 for dinner. It can also be added to any entrée for $3.99, or substituted as a side starting at $1.49. 

“Ruby Tuesday has always been known for its Endless Garden Bar. More guests order the Garden Bar than any other item on the menu, and it’s a big reason why people come to dine with us,” said David Skena, chief marketing officer for Ruby Tuesday, in a statement.

As of Nov. 29, Ruby Tuesday owned or franchised 613 Ruby Tuesday restaurants in 42 states, 14 countries and Guam.

Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

MillerPulse: Same-store sales plunge in December

Tue, 2017-01-17 19:47

Restaurant industry same-store sales fell 2.4 percent in December, according to the latest MillerPulse index, as consumers ended the year eating at home or at independent restaurants. 

The performance was the worst in at least six years for the index, which measures restaurant chain same-store sales.

The decline was spread among both casual-dining restaurants and limited-service concepts. Same-store sales fell 0.8 percent at quick-service restaurants, and declined 4 percent at casual-dining concepts.

That was the worst performance for casual dining in at least five years, and the eighth decline in nine months for the beleaguered segment.

The difficult December seems to indicate that the industry will face a challenging first quarter of 2017, as consumers are clearly reducing their use of restaurant chains.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any relief in the first quarter,” said Larry Miller, co-founder of the MillerPulse index. “You could have a better year in total in 2017, but I don’t think the first quarter is going to feel that way.” 

The biggest problem in December — as it was for all of 2016 — was traffic.

Consumers opted for choices besides chains, such as prepared food from convenience or grocery stores, or small, upstart concepts not captured by the index. Or they simply ate at home more often.

Same-store traffic fell 4.1 percent overall, the worst performance since the index first reported traffic results in 2010.

Quick-service traffic fell 2.9 percent, while casual-dining traffic fell 5.3 percent.

Restaurants recorded only one month of positive traffic in 2016 — February, which happened to include an extra day thanks to Leap Year.

Otherwise, traffic has fallen, or was flat, for 21 of the past 23 months.

Some restaurant executives have suggested in recent weeks that weather was a problem in December, as cold temperatures moved across much of the U.S. and as rain hit California.

“It was definitely colder,” Miller said. “But that’s not the whole story.”

Some of it might have been a calendar shift, as holidays landed on weekend days that might have otherwise provided restaurants with a lot of traffic.

But even that doesn’t explain why restaurant sales weakened as much as they did in December.

One contributing factor might have been auto sales, which hit a new high in December. 

When consumers buy new cars, they usually do so with debt, and thus have to fit new car payments into their budgets. That might have reduced the amount of money left over for eating out. 

“It was a huge month for auto sales,” Miller said. “People are putting money down for a new vehicle. That hurts the pocketbook a little bit. That’s not necessarily something temporary, either. The payments don’t go away. People take a while to normalize the payment.”

Another problem? Christmas just isn’t what it used to be. Holiday-season sales continued to shift to online retailers in 2016, reducing traffic at traditional brick-and-mortars. Amazon had its best season in years, while traditional retailers like Sears and Macy’s closed dozens of stores. Meanwhile, clothing retailer The Limited filed for bankruptcy protection. 

“I’m sure that’s another factor,” Miller said of retail shopping trends. “It’s so efficient to shop online now. You can compare prices. Online retailers have cost advantages. They don’t have to be paying mall rent.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at jonathan.maze@penton.com

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Must-see videos: Fans star in ‘The Taco Bell Clip Show'

Tue, 2017-01-17 18:30

Chik-fil-A will open its first West Coast restaurants right outside of Las Vegas. The Taco Bell Clip Show is the chain's effort to highlight all of the ways customers show the brand love. Dunkin' Donuts is brewed for all the moments that make hockey unlike any other sport. Smoothie King offers over 20 meal replacement smoothies under 400 calories. Subway's Steak and Cheese Footlong sandwich is made with lean steak that’s free of artificial preservatives and flavors and is covered in cheese. 

Chick-fil-A takes a road trip out West

Dunkin' Donuts is the official coffee of the NHL

Smoothie King launches healthful smoothie challenge

Subway offers $6 Steak and Cheese Footlong

Fans star in ‘The Taco Bell Clip Show'