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To Our Valued Subscribers:

All of us at American Recruiters hope that you and your families had a great Thanksgiving. It’s hard to believe that the jolly fat man in the red suit will be appearing shortly. Where has the time gone? As the close of 2019 is upon us, there’s still time for my American Recruiters team to source and secure you key talent to ensure a successful 2020 kick-start.

Many organizations believe, wrongly, that the end of the year is a dead time. Successful organizations know that there is no dead time and to get a jump on their competitors. If you have positions planned for Q1, it will take 2-3 months to fill them at this point. Reach out to us today!

Going forward, another way to be successful is through great Leadership. In a recent article penned by National Best Seller Lolly Daskal (The Leadership Gap) she gave the Four C’s of successful leaders. Here is a quick recap. Successful Leaders:

·     Are Confident in all aspects of their lives.

·     Are Clear when explaining the why and the what.

·     Are Committed to continuous Communication at all levels of the organization and

·     Are Consistent in their decision making.

Great traits for all of us to strive to achieve! One way to practice these traits is to keep current on the industry. American Recruiters Global Foodservice News is a great tool for you and your team. Please pass it along to those who may not be subscribers or better yet have them subscribe!! I have to sign-off now. It’s time to get my red suit dry cleaned and get back to sourcing exceptional talent for my superb clients!

Craig Wilson

President

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Middleby Acquires Brava Home Inc.

The Redwood City, Calif.-based company is well-known for its advanced residential cooking technology paired with a chef-powered service. Brava offers proprietary cooking-by-light technology which provides users a fast, flexible, space saving and eco-friendly appliance for their kitchen counter. The patented light technology cooks food up to four times faster, requires no preheat and allows the preparation of multiple products in the same oven cavity, providing significant time savings and convenience.  Additionally, the Brava technology allows for an intuitive, recipe driven and chef supported control that simplifies the cooking experience and ensures the perfect end product for even the least experienced users. “We are excited about the growth potential of Brava as consumers discover the benefits of light-cooking technology.  The cloud-based, smart-control on the Brava oven resonates with customers of all ages due to its simplicity and ability to turn any user into a chef,” said Middleby CEO Tim FitzGerald.  “As Middleby continues to focus on the most progressive technologies, we are addressing a growing market of consumers who are versed in technology and a digital experience.  We believe Brava will bring many opportunities to both our residential and commercial businesses, as we extend the technology and capabilities to other Middleby brands.”  “We are excited to join forces with forward-thinking and industry-leading Middleby. Our partnership provides tremendous opportunity for us to evolve our cooking solutions, delight our customers and accelerate our reach. We further look forward to collaborating and innovating with the strong portfolio of existing Middleby brands.” said John Pleasants, CEO of Brava. Source: The Middleby Corporation.

Former McDonald’s Worker is Hailed as Hero after Revealing His Secret

A former McDonald’s employee revealed on social media that he didn’t give customers the proper amount of McNuggets. Fortunately, this man was a generous rule-breaker and his customers’ lives were made better due to his actions. I worked at McDonald’s for two and a half years and I put 11 nuggets in almost every 10-piece I made Cody Bondarchuk, from Canada, posted about hi actions on Twitter, revealing, “I worked at McDonald’s for two and a half years and I put 11 nuggets in almost every 10-piece I made.” Social media users embraced his revelation and his Tweet earned over 899,000 likes and was retweeted over 79,000 times. He later tweeted an update, revealing, “The location was mostly drive-thru so not that I can remember, but I’d like to imagine they went home, saw the extra nug, and smiled a little.” The New York Post reports that Bondarchuk worked at McDonald’s from 2007 to 2009. One curious social media user asked, “Is there a statute of limitations on grand-theft-nuggets?” Bondarchuk replied, “I hope so because I calculated it and I would owe Ronald about $1,600.” “I got 12 in my 10-pc last week. It’s amazing how much of a gift that feels like,” posted another user. “It honestly never occurred to me that this might be intentional.” Other users simply called him a hero. It turns out, Bondarchuk wasn’t the only worker to be generous with the nuggets, with another user revealing, “If it wasn’t a bad rush everyone would get five in their four-piece, seven-eight in their six-piece up to 15 in their 10pc and like 25 in their 20pc. Hopefully I made some people’s days better that way.”

Keeping Ready-to-Eat Meats Clean and Safe

Safe and clean has become a mantra in the ready-to-eat (R.-T.-E.) meat space. Preservatives are added to R.-T.-E. meats to maintain food safety and extend shelf life by retarding oxidation, but they also must meet consumer expectations. Clean ingredients have become a requirement to draw and hold the attention of label-conscious consumers. “Future of food,” a white paper published by the ingredient solutions manufacturer Kerry, Beloit, Wis., underscores the importance of clean label to many consumers. The research, which included a survey of 2,100 ingredient and nutrition-conscious consumers, showed that “clean label is the foundation and a building block in consumers’ overall expectations from food and beverage.” Consumers are looking beyond clean label as they filter unacceptable ingredients, according to the white paper. They now are more attentive to the added nutrition and functional benefit of ingredients. “The findings from this research study is case-in-point of how consumers are constantly evolving in their needs and expectations from food and beverages,” said Soumya Nair, director of marketing insights at Kerry. “Clean label, once a differentiator and trend, is now a table-stake and an expectation from consumers.

While the gravity of clean label and its subsequent attributes differ by the food or beverage in focus, its importance among consumers has only been compounding over the years.” Ready-to-eat meat processors have several ingredients perceived as clean to consider. Propionic acid, acetic acid and citric acid all fall into the organic acid category. Propionic acid is considered the most effective of the acids while vinegar, a natural source of acetic acid, is being used by processors as a label-friendly, natural antimicrobial. Buffered vinegar is where a great deal of innovation has been taking place; it is an ingredient people understand and don’t view as a chemical preservative. Suppliers offer liquid and dry formats of buffered vinegar, even no-sodium and organic options, making it easy to add to brines, marinades, spice blends or it can be directly applied to meat. Corbion, which has U.S. offices in Lenexa, Kas., recently introduced organic vinegars under its Verdad product line. The three new vinegar products are formulated for organic and non-G.M.O. processed meats. Verdad PC300 Organic Vinegar is buffered with potassium carbonate, a common treatment, and contributes no sodium to the finished product, according to Corbion. Verdad SB300 Organic Vinegar is buffered with baking soda. Verdad OV300 Organic Vinegar delivers a low-cost solution that contributes no sodium to the end application. Target applications for the ingredients include turkey breast, chicken cuts or strips, ham, cooked and fresh sausages, beef or pork pot roast, roast beef and enhanced beef or pork. “Vinegar-based solutions leverage natural fermentation processes to help the industry answer the growing demand for products with simpler labeling,” said David Charest, vice-president — meat industry for Corbion. “Our new organic solutions respond to a dimension of the clean label market that just keeps growing.” Rosemary and green tea extracts often are combined with buffered vinegar for a multi-prong approach to extending shelf life by addressing color retention and food safety with one ingredient. Some suppliers offer natural, clean label pathogen protection ingredients made from fruit and spice extracts. They often are described as true “uncured” ingredient solutions, as they are free of celery-based ingredients, which are inherent sources of natural nitrates, and chemical nitrites. Such ingredient systems create several hurdles for pathogen control, including polyphenol and flavonoid antioxidants, as well as dried vinegar. Blends of essential oils and oleoresins also have been shown to exert food safety benefits. As the market for snacks featuring blends and combinations of meat and other primary ingredients continues to proliferate, it is important for manufacturers to understand the challenges of creating a safe product that meets consumer expectations. — Source: Food Business News.

Keeping Applications ‘Clean’

The definition of clean label may vary from consumer to consumer, as well as from food company to food company and from retailer to retailer. Among the range of definitions, certain characteristics remain constant: products void of artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. Ingredient suppliers responding to this trend continue to offer innovations in natural alternatives, energy that was evident in many exhibitor booths at IFT18, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition held July 15-18 in Chicago. A move by US Foods Holding Corp., Rosemont, Ill., was a recent example of clean label focus. The company on July 9 said its entire line of Metro Deli, Rykoff Sexton, Chef’s Line and Stock Yards Exclusive Brand products will be created following a new Unpronounceable list initiative, which aims to remove hard-to-pronounce ingredients from the ingredient list of products. Artificial flavors and colors are among more than 80 ingredients on the Unpronounceable list as are the preservatives BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone). Likewise, Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, a business unit of Amazon Inc., has a list of unacceptable ingredients, which include artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Removing BHA, BHT and TBHQ from products was a focus at IFT18 for DuPont Nutrition & Health, now a part of DowDuPont Specialty Products Division. DuPont Nutrition & Health promoted its new Guardian Toco 30P, a tocopherol-based powdered antioxidant. The ingredient has demonstrated efficiency in low-moisture foods like cereal and nutrition bars. Guardian Toco 30P contains mixed tocopherols, which are more effective as antioxidants than a-tocopherol alone, according to DuPont Nutrition & Health. The powder mix may be blended with other dry ingredients in applications, said Y Joy Zhong, Ph.D., senior application scientist — food production for DuPont Nutrition & Health and based in New Century, Kas. Guardian Toco 30P has a low sensory impact and no color impact, according to the company. It is purely for food applications, not pharmaceuticals. Kemin Industries, Des Moines, Iowa, recently added Fortium RVC, a rosemary and ascorbic acid blend, to its antioxidant portfolio. It has been shown to work in bakery and snack applications. “This new blend of our rosemary and ascorbic acid is a great complement to our proprietary oil-soluble green tea extract and more traditional options, such as mixed tocopherols and synthetics,” said Courtney Schwartz, principal marketing communications manager for Kemin Food Technologies. “Fortium RVC helps fill the gap between efficacy and clean label as manufacturers continue to respond to consumer demand for consumer-friendly labels.”

Rising demand for naturally sourced food colors, which goes along with increasing consumer awareness of clean label products, is driving the food colors category, according to a report from MarketsandMarkets, Pune, India, released in July. The report projects the global food colors market, estimated at $3.88 billion in 2018, to experience a compound annual growth rate of 5.7% to reach $5.12 billion by 2023. Naturally sourced blue may be obtained from blue-green algae called spirulina (Arthrospira platensis). Elena Leeb, who works in research and development for the GNT Group, was a panelist in an IFT18 symposium on spirulina. She provided insight into the quality and functionality of spirulina as a naturally sourced color solution. Potential applications include confections, baked foods, decorative sugars and coatings. Huito, a South American fruit, is another natural source for blue color. Archer Daniels Midland Co., Chicago, sampled a “purple power-up drink” that contained huito at IFT18. Blue color from huito is acid-stable, meaning it may work in low pH beverages like sports drinks. The color from huito falls under Food and Drug Administration fruit juice regulations and may be labeled as fruit juice on ingredient lists, or it also may be labeled as huito. Recent innovation in natural flavors has centered around vanilla. Solvay, Princeton, N.J., introduced Rhovanil US Nat to the U.S. market at IFT18. The ingredient meets U.S. natural flavor regulations and has been shown to work as a one-for-one drop-in replacement for synthetic vanillin. Potential applications include chocolate, confectionery, bakery and beverages. Solvay at IFT18 featured Rhovanil in waffles and cookies. Prova, which has a U.S. office in Danvers, Mass., featured vanilla alternatives with other natural flavors that have been shown to work as full or partial replacements of vanilla extracts. – Source: Food Business News.

Organic Growth a Constant in Clean Label

Clean label concerns may ebb and flow. Perhaps a sharp consumer focus may switch from avoiding azodicarbonamide to avoiding aspartame. Yet one category keeps riding a constant wave of sales growth. U.S. organic food sales reached $45.2 billion in 2017, a 6.4% increase from 2016, according to the Organic Trade Association, Washington. U.S. organic food sales have more than doubled from $20.4 billion in 2008. About 31% of U.S. respondents said they were consuming organic foods or beverages daily or weekly in a 2018 organic and natural report from The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash. Another 14% said they were consuming such products monthly. The percentages compared to 2008 percentages of 19% for daily or weekly and 8% for monthly. Pak Group North America, Pasadena, Calif., has taken note of the organic growth and expanded its organic ingredient portfolio through its North American brand, Bellarise. This year the company launched Bellarise BellaSponge Organic, a dough conditioner. Other ingredients in the portfolio include BellaSoft organic bread softeners and Bellarise organic gluten replacers. “By earning organic certification for our continually expanding lineup of custom Bellarise dough conditioners and softeners, we opened a door for industrial and commercial bakeries to take clean label even further and bake breads that resonate with the U.S. market’s evolving set of values and preferences for organic foods,” said Cam Suárez-Bitár, marketing and public relations manager for Pak Group North America. “As millennials and Generation Z take a more prominent role in driving the U.S. consumer economy, the role of organic foods will only increase over time. So it made sense for us to develop premium organic dough conditioning and softening systems that help our customers bake top quality organic breads, snacks, rolls and buns.”

Pak Group formed global partnerships with enzyme producers, which allowed the company to formulate organic Bellarise ingredients and test them in a variety of applications. “Finding the right producers involved a thorough vetting process by which we judge enzyme quality and dependability, thereby allowing bakers to focus more on baking and less on quality control and consistency challenges,” Mr. Suárez-Bitár said. Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., in June launched Novation Prima 309 and 609 functional native corn starches that are certified organic. The starches are designed to perform in organic products that undergo harsh processing conditions and require high freeze/thaw stability. Savory foods, alternative-dairy products and baby foods are examples. Ingredion featured the Novation Prima 609 organic starch in an organic sweet corn eloté soup at IFT18, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and exposition held July 15-18 in Chicago. “Consumer demand for clean label organic products, especially organic baby foods, continues to grow at a strong pace,” said Pat O’Brien, senior manager of marketing for the Wholesome springboard at Ingredion, Inc., North America. “With a large number of corn starches on the market derived from conventional sources, having certified organic, clean label functional corn starches available with Novation Prima 309 and 609 is a significant benefit for manufacturers and consumers. The starches perform even in cold temperatures and maintain stability throughout freeze/thaw cycles to create appealing flavors and textures, making the products an indispensable part of the product developer’s tool kit.” – Source: Food Business News.

Cleaning up Processed Meat Applications

Leading consumer packaged goods companies are continuing to reformulate food and beverage products with an eye toward appealing to consumer interest in foodstuffs that are perceived as “clean” or “authentic.” The trend is now emanating out of the center-of-the-store, shelf-stable product categories to processed meat items. A challenge many processed meat product formulators face is making the transition with a new formulation that maintains the sensory and food safety attributes of the previous applications. In May, the Kraft Heinz Co. gave its Oscar Mayer brand a clean label conversion. The entire line now has no added nitrates or nitrites, no artificial preservatives in the meat and no byproducts in any of the hot dogs. “Oscar Mayer is America’s most iconic hot dog brand, and, as the equity leader, we felt it was time to take a stand for the love of a better hot dog,” said Greg Guidotti, head of marketing at Oscar Mayer. The reformulation was more than a year in the making, Kraft Heinz said, as the company tested and tinkered with several recipes. “While it wasn’t an easy task, we’re excited to say that we did it,” Mr. Guidotti said. “Across every single one of our hot dogs … No added nitrates or nitrites. No artificial preservatives. No byproducts. And, all while delivering the same great taste. Oscar Mayer is the first national brand to do it across every single one of our hot dogs, and we did this without changing the price to our consumers. We’re excited that everyone will now have access to a better quality hot dog with the best quality ingredients.”

During a May 3 conference call with financial analysts to discuss The Kraft Heinz Co.’s second-quarter results, Georges El-Zoghbi, chief operating officer of the company’s U.S. commercial business, said product renovation is turning out to be a better investment than innovation. “ … We like the renovation a lot more than innovation because the payback is a lot faster,” he said. “In some areas, it’s almost immediate.” Mr. El-Zoghbi added that 18 months ago the company began reformulating some Oscar Mayer products and selling them under the Oscar Mayer Naturals brand. The business is now approaching $100 million in sales, he said, and management expects it to continue to grow. “We did similar things in mac and cheese last year when we removed artificial ingredients,” he said. “And we are very, very happy with the performance. We’re growing share in the mac and cheese category at the back of renovation and innovation … So, while we did not change our communication strategy, we had very, very good growth rate, both in terms of absolute and market share and faster payback on all of these.” Kraft Heinz’s Oscar Mayer overhaul follows a similar effort from Tyson Foods Inc. Last month, Tyson said it had removed all added nitrites and nitrates from its Ball Park brand beef hot dogs, in addition to eliminating byproducts and added fillers from its meat line. “Ball Park brand has always been about quality,” said Colleen Hall, director, Ball Park brand. “… We’re taking the lead by removing artificial nitrites and nitrates and replacing them with natural alternatives, so people can feel even better when choosing Ball Park beef hot dogs. Consumers want more transparency when it comes to what’s in the food they eat, and we want them to know we’re listening.” Natural alternatives include sea salt and celery powder. In response to consumer demand for simplified food ingredient labels, meat processors employ preservation techniques such as ingredient formulations to safeguard animal proteins from bacterial contamination. A blend of sea salt and celery powder can eliminate the need for synthetic curing agents. “The great taste of Ball Park brand hot dogs hasn’t changed,” Ms. Hall said. “We took special care to make sure everything consumers have come to love about our hot dogs stayed the same. We’re America’s No. 1 beef hot dog for a reason, and taste tops the list.” – Source: Food Business News.

The ‘Clean’ Trend is Shifting from the Label to Processing

The global scope of the clean label trend was on display on the opening day of Food Ingredients Europe, taking place Nov. 28 – Nov. 30 in Frankfurt. It is clear the trend has gone mainstream globally and is beginning to move into ingredient and finished product processing techniques. Processing techniques that may be perceived as “clean” include cold brewing, cold pressing, fermentation, high pressure processing and the use of super-heated steam. Such processes give consumers the perception that products manufactured using the techniques are more natural, according to several speakers who made presentations on the opening day of the tradeshow. “This is all about what we’ve seen before as consumers are looking for clean label, more natural products,” said Kyra Teeken, a market analyst with Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands. “They want to know about the processing as well.” Ms. Teeken said fermentation is a processing technique that is well known among consumers and up-and-coming techniques include cold brewing and cold pressing. She added that some processing techniques also may give products a premium positioning as well, referencing a non-alcoholic beverage sold under the Thomas and Evans brand that is essentially a distilled and filtered soft drink. “We are also seeing such products as cocoa and teas undergoing barrel aging,” Ms. Teeken said. Joost Blankestijn, a researcher with TNO Innovation, a contract research organization based in The Netherlands, said his organization is partnering with food manufacturers to research a variety of processing techniques. One technique TNO Innovation has worked with is super-heated steam, which involves heating steam much higher than normal steam so that it forms a dry gas.  Super-heated steam may be used for the finished frying of a variety of product applications, in order to produce products that are lower in fat, said Mr. Blankestijn. The technique may be used to also modify such ingredients as flour or starch to enhance their functionality. Earlier this year TNO Innovation introduced a research initiative to develop food ingredients using microbiologic fermentation strategies. With consumer demand for cleaner labels and natural foods with milder processing, there is renewed interest in the process of fermentation as a method of generating authentic, value-added ingredients to foods, according to the research group. “There are a lot of products made with the use of fermentation,” Mr. Blankestijn said. “The technique allows you to make all kinds of ingredients, including preservatives and sweeteners.” He said the end goal of the project is to develop a full line of clean label ingredients. – Source: Food Business News.

Former Long John Silver’s CEO Joins Smokey Bones

Smokey Bones appointed longtime restaurateur James O’Reilly as its new chief executive officer. O’Reilly joins Smokey Bones from Long John Silver’s, where he served as CEO for four years. He was selected by private equity firm Sun Capital Partners for his track record of leadership, brand building, and value creation. O’Reilly’s plans are to improve restaurant operations and the guest experience, invest in new technology and restaurant development, create greater brand and menu differentiation, and develop cultural initiatives aimed at making Smokey Bones one of the best places to work in South Florida and around the country. “The opportunity to join Smokey Bones and build a new leadership team was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” O’Reilly says. “Smokey Bones is an excellent brand with a proud history and strong restaurant teams. Together we will build one of the leading casual-dining brands in the USA.” O’Reilly has created success wherever he’s gone. While at Sonic Drive-In, he led significant sales improvements contributing to an all-time high system revenue of $4 billion. At Long John Silver’s, O’Reilly led brand and cultural improvements that resulted in the company being named a Best Place to Work in Kentucky by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, and he was named “Turnaround Man,” by the Louisville Courier Journal. He has also received numerous leadership awards, including being named a Marketer of the Next Generation by BrandWeek. With more than 20 years of restaurant experience, O’Reilly began his career in the international division of PepsiCo in Canada. He has held marketing and research and development leadership positions for YUM Brands in the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United Kingdom. He went on to become the CMO of KFC U.S. and senior vice president of U.S. marketing for YUM Brands. Later, O’Reilly became the CMO and chief brand officer of Sonic Drive-In before becoming the CEO of Long John Silver’s. Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill has 61 locations across 16 states. The chain is an affiliate of Boca Raton-based Sun Capital Partners, whose portfolio of restaurants also includes Boston Market, Friendly’s, Johnny Rockets, Bar Louie, and other restaurant brands. – Source: fsrmagazine.

Why Darden is Thriving in the ‘War for Talent’

There are two ways to look at any pain point, and that’s the case with Darden and labor. First, the rough side, which is a sounding-board subject for restaurants: Regulation by outside parties, perhaps not invested in the success of the business, are putting up costly roadblocks that make it difficult to create more and higher paying jobs. Add those barriers to the 3.5 percent unemployment rate in September—the 19th consecutive month at or below 4 percent and the lowest since May 1969—and it places an even stronger focus on the need to deliver elevated guest experience. Yet how do you do so with fewer employees? That’s where the other edge of this debate surfaces for Darden. CEO Gene Lee said last year labor was the No. 1 challenge facing restaurants. It also presented the greatest chance for differentiation in recent memory. Lee called it “the war for talent,” where brands that can hire, train, and retrain frontline employees to bring their concepts to life are going to win. While the work pool continued to shrink, Lee said, Darden put even more emphasis on hiring the “best possible people” and that its retention rates, despite the odds, were actually improving. “And I think part of that is because that we’re willing to make the appropriate pay decisions to keep our people and that’s what we’ve instructed our operations teams to do,” he said. “I firmly believe that to win in this environment, you’re going to have great team members.” Just glance at this data from industry insights platform TDn2K. It illustrates the matter to a tee. Brands that consistently outperformed their peers had same-store sales growth 4.4 percentage points higher than the rest of the field over the last two years. While the lagging restaurants experienced declining sales, year-over-year, leading chains achieved an impressive 3.3 percent growth in comps. TDn2K added that top performers in the study excelled at employee retention, especially of their management employees. Those same thriving restaurants reported management turnover rates 10 percentage points lower than their segment peers, on average. Retention rates at the non-management level were also better. This past quarter (Q1 2020), Lee spotlighted LongHorn’s performance. Team member turnover was 68 percent (it’s about 120 percent for casual dining as a segment). Management turnover was 13 percent (versus 36 percent). And this has been one of the pulsing problems with Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen since Darden bought the brand more than two years ago. Not surprisingly, Cheddar’s is Darden’s most challenged chain at the moment, with same-store sales of negative 5.4 percent in Q1—its ninth straight red period. The 165-unit family-dining brand didn’t have a certified trainer program and its staffing levels were below Darden norms at sale. They’ve worked on improving systems ever since, picking managing partners, adding tools like discount forecasting, and putting in best practices to staff busy times and get leaders on the floor when needed. Managing the shoulders to peak the peaks. It’s like Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor often likes to point out: Restaurants with better traffic tend to have more employees. It’s not always as complex as it seems. In job site Indeed’s Top 50 workplace list this year, which features Fortune 500 Index companies with at least 100 reviews, Darden came in at No. 44. The only restaurant brand higher was Starbucks (No. 33). That’s pretty good company. As far as Darden falling into the category of “top-performing” brands TDn2K referenced, there’s no debate. The company’s total sales, even with Cheddar’s integration challenges, increased 5.3 percent to $8.51 billion in 2019, year-over-year, driven by the addition of 39 net new restaurants and blended same-store sales of 2.5 percent. In the first quarter of fiscal 2020, 867-unit Olive Garden, which accounts for more than half of Darden’s net business, reported comps of 2.2 percent—its 20th consecutive period of growth. According to Knapp-Track (excluding Darden), the concept’s same-store sales gap versus casual-dining competitors was 340 basis points. On a two-year basis, Olive Garden’s total sales are up nearly 10 percent, which sails the industry benchmark by 840 basis points. LongHorn’s Q1 comps hiked 2.6 percent to give the 514-unit steakhouse 26 consecutive quarters of growth. On a two-year basis, the brand’s total sales are up 11 percent—outperforming that same benchmark by 940 basis points. An interesting note from a growth perspective: Darden operated just 480 total restaurants in 2000 (469 Olive Garden and 11 Bahama Breeze locations). By 2008, with the addition of LongHorn, The Capital Grille, and Seasons 52, the number was up to 1,020. Eddie V’s joined the comp in 2012, Yard House in 2013, and Cheddar’s in 2017. But in less than two decades, Olive Garden ballooned from 469 units to 867. LongHorn jumped from 305 to 514 in the past 11. Overall, Darden’s total portfolio grew 272 percent. Yet where does this labor conversation really begin?

The investment pays

There are some 185,000 employees at Darden, making it one of the 40 largest private employers in America. This past fiscal year, the company invested another $15 million in initiatives directly benefiting its workforce on top of the $20 million annual figure it made in 2018. Per calendar year, the company said, it spends more than $40 million on training for team members. Across all of its brands, hourly employees earn, on average, more than $16 per hour. And Darden pays employees on a weekly basis instead of bi-weekly. About half of Darden’s 6,300 restaurant managers are promoted from its hourly ranks, and 90 percent of its 1,785 general managers and managing partners (the most influential roles in the organization) are promoted from within. On the same token, 90 percent of Darden’s 213 director of operations, it said, who oversee six to 12 restaurants apiece, are internal promotions. “For some, a job at Darden is the start of a career with our company,” Lee wrote in a recent letter to shareholders. “For others, it enables them to further their education and eventually pursue a career elsewhere. Whatever the case, we know that the skills and experience we provide will help our team members not only grow and succeed within Darden, but wherever their career paths take them.” Darden’s restaurant labor was 32.6 percent of costs ($2,771.1 in millions) in the fiscal year that ended May 26. The 1.2 percent increase from last year came from inflation and a 0.2 percent hit from workplace reinvestment costs, partially offset by a 0.6 percent lift from pricing leverage, and a 0.8 percent impact from sales leverage and improved productivity. That’s really not a bad hike all things considering. Of Darden’s 185,000 workers, about 170,000 are hourly restaurant personnel (the remaining were management located in-store or in the field, or at its Orlando support center). The company said its executives average 15 years with Darden. GMs and managing partners 13 years. Darden’s benefits include access to dental and vision coverage, life insurance, critical illness and accident insurance, short-term disability insurance, and a number of discounts including dining in restaurants, wireless phone service, and computer loans. Also, workers who are 21 and older can begin contributing to a 401(k) plan. After a year of employment, Darden matches 401(k) contributions and employees are eligible to participate in the company’s Employee Stock Purchase Plan. Darden was recently named one of the “Best Employers for Diversity” by Forbes in 2019. Roughly 51 percent of the company’s restaurant team members are minorities and 55 percent are female.

More on training, and the GM benefit

Darden has a “Learning and Employee Development Team” that works in tandem with each concept’s training head. Along with operations execs, they develop materials that include a 10- to-12-week program for management trainees and continuing development courses for all levels of leadership. While it varies by brand, it includes leadership training, restaurant business management, and culinary skills. On average, new employees receive 40–80 hours of training through video and hands-on instruction. Darden said it weaves company values and expected behaviors throughout the curriculum to set itself apart, and “reinforce that how we treat our guests—and how we treat each other—is as important as the specifics of the job itself.” It also uses a “highly structured” program for new openings, including deploying training teams that drop down a week and half prior, and remain on-site for up to three weeks after. Darden boasts performance measurement and incentive compensation programs for management-level employees, it added. “We believe that our leadership position, strong results-oriented culture and various short-term and long-term incentive programs, including stock-based compensation, enhances our ability to attract and retain highly motivated restaurant managers,” the company said. There are a multitude of reasons why this is critical, from trying to weather cyclical turnover rates to making sure employees are engaged and able to deliver superior guest experience. It’s also a cost issue. According to TDn2K, the price of replacing a single restaurant GM is about $14,000. There are hard costs related to separation, replacement, and hiring. It also applies to the manager leaving as well as the new employee. Store wide, The National Restaurant Association estimates turnover costs $2,000 per employee. Let’s say it takes 100 people to staff an Olive Garden (it’s 60–120 hourly employees typically). If we go by the 120 percent average figure, that’s $240,000 per restaurant, or $208 million across the 867-unit chain yearly. Of course, that’s far from an exact science (not close really given the part-time considerations, etc., and Olive Garden is not at the top end of the metric) but it provides a hypothetical look into how massive of an issue this is, and how big of a boon it can provide if you drastically beat the average, like LongHorn has. In other terms, the investment on the back end is well worth it.

Other points to keep employees in the fold, per TDn2K:

Higher compensation

Improving poor work-life balance (based on data from GM Connect, a product created by Gallup in partnership with TDn2K, only 11 percent of GMs surveyed said their job allows them to spend enough quality time with family and friends).

Immediate promotion

The company, studying GM pay at 10-year intervals for the last few years, found that leaders are receiving less compensation today than they earned 10 years ago, once pay is adjusted for inflation. To that latter point, base salary for GMs in limited-service brands was 6 percent lower on average in 2018 than in 2008. For GMs in full-service concepts, it was a whopping 11 percent lower than a decade ago. And back on the regulation concern. Data shows mandated pressures on hourly employee labor costs. Minimum wage increases and the Affordable Care Act, for example, require financial resources be allocated to that segment of the population. Labor costs associated with managers, however, have moved at a slower pace. This conversation only gets more complicated as you stretch across Darden’s 1,785-unit footprint. The company is subject to federal and state minimum wage laws and other rules governing things like overtime, tip credits, working conditions, safety standards, and hiring and employment practices. Since 1995, Darden has had a “top rate alternative commitment” with the IRS. The requirements, which include increased educational and other efforts in each restaurant to increase the reporting compliance of employees with respect to cash tips, are applied systemwide. This, the company said, reduces the likelihood of potential employer-only FICA tax assessments related to cash tips that are unreported by employees at Darden’s covered units.

Benefits to separate

We all know by now that money isn’t the sole factor for employee happiness, although it’s probably still the headliner. A study from research and consulting firm Y-Pulse, which surveyed 1,400 restaurant workers aged 18–34, found that 80 percent of respondents said they were willing to pay more to visit ethically responsible companies. In 1999, Darden established a program called “Darden Dimes” to aid fellow employees. It provides short-term grants to workers experiencing financial need caused by unexpected emergencies or natural disasters. Participating team members donate as little as 10 cents from each paycheck to the fund, which grants more than $1.5 Million annually, the company said. This mirrors some other restaurant programs out there. Shake Shack, for example, has a HUG (Help Us Give) platform it launched in late fiscal 2017 that, similarly, provides employees a way to take care of each other through tax-deductible payroll and other one-time contributions. “With thousands of leadership positions across our restaurants, we provide a pathway and training for thousands of individuals across the country to advance from entry-level jobs into management roles,” Darden said. “In addition, our geographic footprint often puts us in a position to offer our restaurant team members jobs in their current roles when personal circumstances require relocation. This is one of the reasons Darden enjoys the lowest annual turnover rates for hourly team members in the industry.” The company’s Darden Restaurants Inc. Foundation focuses its philanthropic efforts on community programs where its employees and customers live, which goes a long way to unchaining its chains and connecting with loyal guests. Employees at Darden’s support center are eligible for 16 hours per calendar year of paid time for approved community service activities during scheduled work hours. Last year, the foundation awarded about $3.9 million in grants to national organizations as well as local nonprofits. Additionally, it grew its partnership with Feeding America thanks to a $2 million grant, marking a total of $7.8 million Darden has contributed over the past nine years. Darden’s Harvest program, established 2003, enables each restaurant to collect surplus food and prepare it for donation. Last year, Darden offered up about 7.5 million pounds of food, or 6.2 million meals. The company also supports the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation’s ProStart program (a national high school platform that introduces students to the restaurant industry) with $250,000 annually. That aids the Opportunity Youth-Restaurant Ready program, too, which encourages disconnected young people to pursue a path to employment. Lastly, Darden’s foundation provided $500,000 in 2019 to the American Red Cross’ Annual Disaster Giving Program.

Olive Garden is Putting on a Clinic in Restaurant Performance

Olive Garden has lived by this creed for the better part of a year: Give up traffic, but make decisions with the long-term health of the business in mind. And it boils down to the state of the industry, Darden CEO Gene Lee said during the company’s latest quarterly review. The luxury to plan ahead instead of reaching for the discounting panic switch when dining habits shift and costs rise. “There are times when you look at the business and you say, I’m OK with losing 10 or 15, 20 guests a week and being able to protect our business model,” he said. “I don’t think you can just have, let’s do everything we can to grow traffic, or let’s do everything we can to protect our business,” Lee added. “I think it has to be done in balance.” Olive Garden’s same-store sales lifted 2.2 percent in the first quarter of fiscal 2020—the brand’s 20th consecutive period of comps growth. Total sales upped 3.6 percent, with 1.4 percent added in from new restaurants (Olive Garden had 867 restaurants as of August 25 compared to 858 last year). It’s important to tack on that Olive Garden’s 2.2 percent top-line result builds off Q1 2018’s 5.3 percent, which marked the chain’s best performance since at least 2008. That came with positive comparable guest counts of 1.5 percent, year-over-year. While this paints an impressive two-year stack, and enviable to the category, Olive Garden has shifted course a bit in recent quarters. Traffic has been negative in three of the last five periods, with one (Q3 2019) just scratching positive territory. This is far from a sour narrative, however. Following Olive Garden’s blazing start to 2019, Darden ran 16 fewer weeks of incentives, primarily email, compared to the year-over-year quarter. And that included some weeks where Olive Garden pulsed multiple offers in fiscal 2018. In Lee’s words, “We really didn’t have any offers out there this year.” The logic was measured and straightforward—in typical Darden style. The demand environment was strong, so it marked a good opportunity to remove some incentives and save them for harder times. In the future, if Olive Garden needed them, it could add back in. The near-term result: Sales profitability jumped to the front while traffic moved to the back seat.

Here’s another way to look at it. Olive Garden’s same-store sales gap versus competitors in Q1 (2.2 percent) was 340 basis points, according to Knapp-Track, excluding Darden. Per the restaurant tracker, the industry’s total sales growth was flat this past quarter. Comps fell 1.2 percent and guest counts declined 3.3 percent. So, while Olive Garden’s sales didn’t jump off the chart, the distance from mainline competitors was its widest since Q1 2019, when the figure bumped 5.3 percent. That says as much about the industry’s overall dynamic (heavily marketed discounts, a pushe for off-premises to cover dropping guest counts) as it does Olive Garden. And also, Darden’s ability to survey the broad view instead of narrowing its focus to a quarter-to-quarter window. On a two-year basis, Olive Garden’s total sales are up nearly 10 percent, which sails the industry benchmark by 840 basis points. Lee’s notion of striking a balance between traffic growth and guarding profitability? Olive Garden is simply doing it better than most. (In Q1, segment profit margin increased 40 basis points by leveraging the same-restaurant sales growth and managing costs effectively, the company said). Additionally, half of Olive Garden’s negative traffic in the previous quarter was due just to catering delivery. Darden doesn’t give itself guest counts for that side of its business. If it adjusted methodology, the brand would have posted positive numbers, Lee said. How Olive Garden is besting industry norms is a three-pronged discussion: execution through simplification (a Darden staple that’s been four years in the making), everyday value, and convenience. And on the latter point, doing so by inspiring off-premises visits through four-wall experience, not by broadening reach via aggregator platforms. Lee said Olive Garden’s catering delivery metrics reflected the highest intent to recommend within the brand in Q1, “giving us confidence that our teams are delivering great experiences inside and outside the four walls of our restaurants.”

What Olive Garden did in regards to promotional activity in Q1 also provides a peek behind the company’s strategic curtain. It decided to separate its two strongest value promotions—the Buy One, Take One and Never Ending Pasta Bowl—to more evenly deliver the value messaging throughout the year. That change, along with associated media shifts and “weakening industry trends,” resulted in lower traffic than last year. But, again, “it was the right strategic decision for the long term,” Lee said. In August, Olive Garden removed the “never ending” limits on its Pasta Pass with the introduction of a Lifetime Pasta Pass. The company offered 24,000 of its buzzy deal for $100. But at time of purchase, the first 50 people could upgrade to the lifetime offer for an additional $400. This year, guests got nine weeks of unlimited pasta, one more than 2018. Also, throughout the promotion, which started September 23, customers who didn’t win a pass could order unlimited pasta, soup, and salad starting at $10.99. Splitting the Buy One, Take One and Never Ending deal helps Olive Garden spread the transactional wealth throughout the fiscal calendar and anchor its menu balance period to period. The time-tested approach of getting customers through the door with value, supported by marketing spend, and then letting them ladder up in-store to drive check. It lets Olive Garden build off the specific promotions, too, instead of just enjoying a wealth of burst traffic. For instance, Olive Garden recently added $5 take-home entrées to its everyday value lineup, which it pushed with national advertising to drive awareness. “It has been met with strong guest demand,” Lee said. “And it will be a catalyst to continue to grow the off-premises business.” The move was inspired by the strength of Olive Garden’s Buy One, Take One offer. Lee said the two shouldn’t cannibalize each other. In fact, if done right, they’ll do the opposite—provide support. “After you run the Buy One, Take One, that should be the springboard for $5 take-home for the rest of the year,” Lee said. “And you can reenergize the promotion each year. … It should be additive. It shouldn’t be dilutive at all.” Olive Garden pushed further into everyday value by launching a new weekday lunch menu with 21 options under $10, including guest favorites like Chicken Parmigiana and items from the Tastes of the Mediterranean menu like Chicken Margherita. Olive Garden introduced this to guests through integrated marketing, and produced stronger weekday lunch traffic and guest preference as a result, Lee said. Everyday value strength has been critical to Olive Garden’s ability to rely less on incentives. In Q4, the brand refreshed its 5 for $5 value drink platform and increased awareness on everyday deals through secondary TV advertising. Instead of LTOs, Olive Garden promoted options like its Lunch Duos at $6.99, everyday Early Dinner Duos at $8.99, and Cucina Mia! Starting at $9.99. Lee had this to say last quarter about the decision to go heavy on embedded value over pulsed, high-profile deals. “We’ve been saying for a while that the consumer didn’t want to be told what they had to do, what they had to buy to get that value,” Lee said. In other terms, a way to inspire repeat visits is to let guests control their value experience. And to create a menu they can count on and explore, trade up, and access to their own occasion needs. That’s why bringing a broad lunch menu with an affordable, set price structure has resonated so strongly with Olive Garden’s customers. – Source: fsrmagazine.

KFC Testing Plant-Based Chicken in Canada

KFC, a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., is launching a second one-day test of plant-based chicken. New meatless popcorn chicken and fried chicken sandwiches will be available at a Mississauga, Ont., location on Nov. 27. KFC tested Beyond Meat nuggets and boneless wings at an Atlanta store in August, becoming the first major U.S. fast-food chain to introduce a Beyond Chicken item. The product sold out in five hours. Feedback gathered during the one-day, one-restaurant test will determine KFC Canada’s plans to roll out plant-based fried chicken nationally in 2020, the company said. The items were developed by Lightlife, a brand best known for its refrigerated plant-based proteins. It is one of two major brands under Greenleaf, SPC, which also owns Whole Field Grain Meat Co.  Greenleaf is a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of Maple Leaf Foods Inc. “We’re proud to join forces with KFC to bring Canadians a plant-based chicken with incredible taste,” said Dan Curtin, president and chief executive officer of Greenleaf Foods. “With pioneering partners like KFC, we can make plant-based foods more broadly available to the growing number of consumers seeking the option on the go.” A&W also is gearing up to test Lightlife’s plant-based chicken in select Canadian locations, beginning in December. The brand’s plant-based burgers are available nationwide at Canadian chain Harvey’s. – Source: Food Business News.

Cracker Barrel Downsizes with Tiny Store Promotion in NYC

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. is celebrating its 50th anniversary by taking a tiny-sized store to the streets of New York before it launches its first sponsorship of a float in Thursday’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “As we celebrate our golden anniversary, this is a big moment for Cracker Barrel, and we wanted to do something extra special to mark our first ever-appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade by creating a miniature Cracker Barrel experience that recalls the unique atmosphere of hospitality enjoyed by guests,” said Jeff Sigel, Cracker Barrel’s vice president of marketing, in a statement. The Lebanon, Tenn.-based family-dining company has no locations in New York City, so it’s taking its 269-foot “Tiny Home Away from Home” in Foley Square on Nov. 27. The tiny store offers signature Cracker Barrel elements as the front porch with rocking chairs, a replica fireplace and a miniature retail store. The tiny store also features wood reclaimed from the first Cracker Barrel store, which opened on Sept. 19, 1969, in Lebanon. Cracker Barrel’s sponsorship of the parade’s “Home Sweet Home” float will highlight country music artist Tenille Townes, who will perform “Somebody’s Daughter.” Earlier this year, Cracker Barrel partnered with Townes and other female country artists to launch the “Five Decades, One Voice” program to celebrate, support and empower women in country music. Thanksgiving is Cracker Barrel’s busiest day of the year. Since 2010, the company said it has served about 3.8 million pounds of turkey, 49.6 million ounces of turkey gravy and 3 million pounds of sweet potatoes. The company and its affiliates operate 660 company-owned Cracker Barrel locations in 45 states and own the fast-casual Maple Street Biscuit Co. and Holler and Dash restaurants. – Source: NRN.

Innovating your Business Means Thinking Around the Box too

The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Innovation Summit keynoter David Robertson, MIT senior lecturer, consultant and student of innovation, explained the big power of little ideas and the concept of a “third way” of innovating that’s not inside the box, not outside the box, but around the box. It’s the credo behind his approach to innovation and one he detailed during the summit in Cleveland, Nov. 5- 6. A great example: Robertson used Lego to illustrate. In an attempt to expand the brand beyond its iconic building brick, Lego rolled out a series of what it considered “disruptive” innovations including a line of molded action figures, toys for babies, and a TV tie-in. All failed over the course of four years, sending the company to the edge of bankruptcy. Lego instead found success developing the Bionicle line of buildable characters. Each had a distinct backstory that was updated every year. The figures and stories became collectible and the company added Bionicle t-shirts, books, video games, and DVDs. The goods not only sold well on their own, they drove more sales of Bionicle Lego kits, complementing the brand rather than disrupting it. The lesson for foodservice operators: While companies often look for innovation inside the box (incremental innovations to the core product such as more flavors, colors, sizes, etc.) or outside the box (intentionally trying out disruptors that can succeed or fail spectacularly), Robertson cited Lego’s success as thinking around the box —  honoring the company’s core identity but expanding on it in ways customers respond to. Too many companies try to expand business by competing with other companies, copying whatever breakthrough leads the moment. A better approach, he says, is to build relationships with customers: Really learn about their likes, dislikes and motivations for buying your brand. “Date your customer, don’t fight your competitor,” he says. Robertson’s takeaways for foodservice companies:

Think about what you don’t want to change. Identify the product or service you want to innovate around. How can you take what the customer likes about you and make it “more”?

What’s your business promise and what ideas will further deliver on that promise?

Bring innovations to market, but test and tweak ideas in individual restaurants to see what works and what fails before rolling it out system wide. — Source: The National Restaurant Association.

El Torito Parent Acquires Upscale Mexican Brand with Investor Ties to Mastro’s

The parent company of El Torito and Chevys Fresh Mex has acquired casual dining concepts Sol Cocina and Solita Tacos & Margaritas, contemporary brands specializing in Baja California cuisine with six locations in California, Arizona and Colorado. Cypress, Calif.-based Xperience Restaurant Group said the two modern and upscale Mexican brands, founded in Southern California, are a “perfect fit” for the company as it looks for opportunities to grow. Terms of the sale, completed Friday, were not revealed. “They’re in that polished casual Mexican food [segment], which is really an area that we feel that we can have substantial opportunity to grow,” Randy Sharpe, CEO of Xperience, told Nation’s Restaurant News in an exclusive interview. Sharpe was named CEO of the company, formerly known as Real Mex Restaurants Inc., last fall when Z Capital Partners LLC Rebranded the company. The private equity firm purchased Real Mex’s assets after it filed for bankruptcy in August 2018. Over the past year, Sharpe, previously the senior vice president of operations at Romano’s Macaroni Grill, has prioritized refreshing existing legacy brands, while also scouting for a new chain to add to the portfolio. Eleven El Torito restaurants, so far, have been remodeled this year. In early 2019, sister brands Solita and Sol Cocina caught Sharpe’s attention. He said both concepts “present a unique growth opportunity” in the upscale casual category. While locations for new restaurants have not been set, company leaders expect to open at least one new Sol or Solita restaurant next year. Sol Cocina was founded 10 years ago in Newport Beach, Calif. by a group of investors that included Mike and Jeff Mastro, whose family launched the Mastro’s Steakhouse restaurants. It is a fine dining spin on Mexican food. No combo plates here. Starters and main dishes include Shrimp Taquitos, Shortribs Barbacoa, Shrimp Chile Relleno and Goat Cheese Enchiladas. Entree prices range from $15.75 to $32. The menu was created by chef and co-founder Deborah Schneider. She and her main business partners Matt Baumayr and Rich Howland have grown the concept to three other locations in Denver, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Playa Vista, Calif. In 2014, Schneider, a James Beard-nominated Mexican cookbook author, and her team launched a less formal version of Sol called Solita in Huntington Beach, Calif. The 150-seat restaurant features premium street tacos filled with meats and fish cooked on an oak-fired Santa Maria grill. Taco plates with three tacos and two sides range in price from $13.50 to $14.50. A second location later opened in Valencia, Calif. The taco bars make more than 20 house made salsas each day to a compliment a menu of contemporary chef-driven entrees such as oak roasted chicken, charro smoked pork ribs and chilaquiles. Margaritas, made with 100% blue agave tequila, are served in pint glasses and rimmed with either salt or sugar. Sharpe said each concept offers a different experience, making them the perfect vehicles to grow in tandem and not too far from each other. In California, the waterfront Sol Cocina in Newport Beach is about 15 miles from a Solita Tacos & Margaritas located at a Huntington Beach mall anchored by a Whole Foods Market.  Sales are up at both concepts, which coincidentally, use the same suppliers as Xperience. “It’s definitely a thriving business, which is something that was very exciting to us. It is not a business where you have to go in and turn it around,” Ned Algeo, Xperience chief financial officer, told NRN. Algeo said Schneider, Baumayr and Howland will “stick around to help us grow the brand.” With the acquisition, Xperience’s portfolio includes 62 restaurants including casual dining chains El Torito, El Torito Grill, Acapulco and Chevys and independent upscale casual brands Who Song & Larry’s in Vancouver, Wash., Sinigual in New York City and Las Brisas in Laguna Beach, Calif. As for its legacy brands, the company is not taking its eye off the ball. Over the last year, Sharpe said Xperience has made significant upgrades to El Torito with eleven makeovers. The company has also remodeled two Acapulcos, a Chevys location and Las Brisas. Five other restaurants will be refreshed by the end of the year. Other changes include bringing back elevated versions of classic dishes that had fallen off the menu at El Torito and El Torito Grill. The latter is a premium version of the company’s flagship El Torito brand, founded in 1954. In 2020, Xperience expects to renovate 15 to 18 more restaurants. Sharpe said traffic is up 10.5% and sales are up 15% at restaurants that have undergone a makeover. While he didn’t provide systemwide sales results, Sharpe said same-store sales are trending upward each month, year over year. “Our goal from day one has been to optimize our existing brands while simultaneously identifying attractive opportunities for growth,” Sharpe said in a statement. As the casual dining sector continues to evolve, Sharpe said Xperience has not ruled out identifying more brands to purchase that will help the company achieve long term growth. Like Solita and Sol Cocina, the next acquisition needs to be the right fit. “We are focused on an opportunity that would help our company’s strength,” Sharpe said. “We don’t simply think it needs to be Mexican.” Once the company completes refreshing aging restaurants, Xperience plans to grow its legacy brands starting with El Torito and Chevys, Sharpe said. Xperience also manages three Pink Taco restaurants under a separate agreement. Pink Taco, whose founder Harry Morton recently died, is also owned by Z Capital. – Source: NRN.

3 Fast Casuals that are Boosting their Ordering Technology

Consumers are getting, well, demanding in the on-demand economy. And restaurants are leveraging the latest technology to make ordering a seamless experience—so seamless, it can be done while playing a video game or having a conversation. Dallas-based fast-casual Wingstop announced Wednesday an ordering extension with Twitch, a popular online gaming platform and community. “This new ordering extension is a first-to-market program that recommends meals to viewers and encourages them to start their flavor journey while still remaining in the action of the stream,” said Christina Clarke, Wingstop’s head of marketing, in a statement. “Experience is a top priority for our brand.” To start ordering, Twitch viewers answer questions abut the size of their order based on the number of people present and their hunger level. A “Twitch streamer” provides order suggestions before directing customers to the Wingstop website to finish the order and confirm payment. Wingstop’s online ordering extension is available on select Twitch streams in the coming weeks. Chipotle Mexican Grill on Wednesday launched a skill via Amazon’s voice-controlled Alexa service that allows customers to reorder favorite meals for delivery or pickup. To use voice ordering, customers must be a member of the Newport Beach, Calif.-based fast casual’s rewards program. After linking a Chipotle profile through the Alexa app and enabling the appropriate skill, customers can say, “Alexa, tell Chipotle to reorder my favorite for delivery.” “We always strive to introduce additional access points in the Chipotle ordering experience and overall digital ecosystem,” said Nicole West, vice president of digital strategy and product management for Chipotle, in a statement. “With this new skill for Alexa, our customers can get their favorite Chipotle orders delivered straight to their door in the most convenient way possible—all they need to do is ask.” Chipotle has rolled out artificial intelligence-generated voice assistants to all 2,500 of its units, the company said. The voice automation offers the option to pay ahead and skip the line to go straight to digital pickup shelves or collect the order through a drive-thru “Chipotlane.” And Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill this week said it would become the first Mexican fast-casual brand to open an all-digital, kiosk-only location. The units are slated to open early next year in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville, Va., both near college campuses. They will include four self-order kiosks that will accept cash, Apple Pay, or, in the Pittsburgh location, a University of Pittsburgh payment system. – Source: Restaurant Business.

Wingstop Names New CMO

Wingstop has appointed a new CMO, the chain announced.

Christina Clarke, who had been serving as the Dallas-based fast casual’s interim chief marketing officer, will take over the role permanently. Clarke, who was a marketing executive with PepsiCo for a dozen years, joined Wingstop last year and helped create the brand’s recent “Where flavor gets its wings” marketing campaign. There’s been a fair amount of turnover in Wingstop’s CMO role in recent months. Flynn Dekker, who had been the chain’s marketing head since 2014, resigned in March of last year. About three months later, Maurice Cooper was named to the post. Cooper left the company in September. Despite the turnover, Wingstop posted a same-store sales increase of 12.3% for its Q3. – Source: Restaurant Business.

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