NRA predicts job and tech growth in 2023

The foodservice industry is expected to generate $997 billion in sales and 500,000 new jobs by the end of 2023, according to the National Restaurant Association.

The forecast was unveiled as part of the NRA’s 2023 State of the Restaurant Industry report, an annual publication that combines national survey data from restaurant owners, operators, chefs, and consumers to find the key trends and factors affecting the industry.

“The restaurant and foodservice industry is fueling the American economy,” said Michelle Korsmo, president and chief executive officer of the NRA. “Our hiring rate and wage increases are outpacing the overall private sector, and this year our industry will contribute nearly $1 trillion to the economy.”

While the foodservice sector added nearly 3 million jobs between December 2020 and December 2022, employment levels are still yet to reach pre-pandemic numbers. However, the NRA expects to see 150,000 jobs added to the industry annually through 2030, and 87% of restaurant operators said they are likely to hire qualified applicants in the next 6 to 12 months.

Most operators do expect employment recruitment and retention to continue to be challenging, though, and 58% expect to see more technology and automation used to fill the gaps in labor shortages.

Investments in technology mark one of the report’s key trends for 2023 as operators report their technology usage continues to be mainstream and lags behind cutting-edge advancements in other markets. For instance, food manufacturers like Nestle SA have invested in artificial intelligence for product development and R&D, paralleling rising consumer interest in computer-generated food concepts and recipes. More than 40% of operators are planning to invest in technology solutions this year as a result, particularly those that increase productivity across ordering and payment operations.

The NRA also predicts that 2023 is the year that operators fully settle into a post-pandemic environment, continuing some operational trends that arose over the past three years. Examples include the growth in outdoor dining locations, with 9 out of 10 operators saying they will continue outdoor services, and expanded delivery options for remote dining.

In the quick-service and fast-casual segments, 40% of operators expect drive-thrus will become common additions in 2023. Investments in drive-thru capabilities already have begun among some larger chains, including the launch of Jack in the Box Inc.’s off-premises restaurant prototype and Starbucks Corp.’s $450 million plan to improve pickup, delivery only, and drive-thru-only locations in the United States.

Many consumers will continue to seek out on-premises dining opportunities, and 84% said restaurant dining is a better use of their leisure time than cooking and cleaning up at home. Owners and operators can capitalize on this demand by offering experiences not easily replicated at home or by operating as “third place” for socialization outside of work and home.

The NRA also predicts costs will continue to remain an issue, with 92% of operators citing costs as a significant issue. Some of these difficulties can be offset by streamlined menu offerings, creating new meal occasions using off-hours or slow-day deals, and appealing to health and nutrition trends.

Restauranteurs also may pair the broad growth in consumer interest in the physical and mental health benefits of food with younger generations’ demand for sustainable foods, similar to Chick-fil-A’s recent test launch of its cauliflower sandwich.

“As the restaurant industry adapts to a new normal, operators’ ability to be flexible and diversify their operations is essential to thriving,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the NRA. “With profitability under pressure, operators are launching new business models within the industry, re-engineering current concepts, and allocating more space to off-premises business in order to satisfy customers in 2023.” – Source: Food Business News.



USDA Proposes new rule for ‘Product of USA’ label

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new rule for “Product of USA” label claims on March 6. The rule would require that animals be born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States in order for meat, poultry, and egg products to bear the “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim.

“American consumers expect that when they buy a meat product at the grocery store, the claims they see on the label mean what they say,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions. Our action today affirms USDA’s commitment to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.”

While the “Product of USA” label claim would not require pre-approval from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service under the new rule, the claim would need documentation on file for the agency to verify. The label also would remain voluntary.

An added component of the proposed rule is the opportunity for other voluntary US-origin claims on meat, poultry, and egg products. All claims would need to detail the preparation and processing steps in the United States.

The USDA said its rulemaking had been supported by petitions, data, and thousands of comments from stakeholders.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for American consumers and producers,” said Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. “Once this proposed rule is finalized, American consumers will no longer be misled by a ‘Product of USA’ label that is allowed to be applied to foreign products. American cattle ranchers will no longer be disadvantaged in the marketplace against lower quality foreign beef that falsely bears the ‘Product of USA’ label. The USDA’s ruling is a major step in the right direction, and I applaud Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for taking the necessary actions to fix this label.”

Mr. Rounds’ support for the USDA’s new rule comes after years of work pushing for further regulatory oversight on US-origin claims. Since 2019, Mr. Rounds has introduced legislation, met with Mr. Vilsack, and backed a bill that would limit “Product of USA” label claims.

Several stakeholders long have been advocating for more clarity on “Product of USA” claims. In 2019, the US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) petitioned the USDA to review and strengthen the current rule.

“In our 2019 petition for rulemaking to FSIS, USCA called out the practice of applying ‘Product of the USA’ and ‘Made in the USA’ labeling claims on beef products that the food safety agency itself admitted could have come from other countries,” said Justin Tupper, president of the USCA. “USCA is pleased to see that the proposed rule finally closes this loophole by accurately defining what these voluntary origin claims mean — something we have been working to clarify since the repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling in 2015. If it says ‘Made in the USA,’ it should be from cattle with only known USA soil.”

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) expressed indignation at the time it has taken to strengthen US-origin product labeling regulations.

“With American cattle herds at a 60-year low, it is regrettable for consumers and cattle producers that it has taken eight years to stop the mislabeling of foreign beef,” said Brett Kenzy, president of R-CALF USA. “Public sentiment has rallied to force the USDA to stop the lie; now America needs Congress to compel the truth by enacting The American Beef Labeling Act.”

The USDA began its review of the rule in 2021. The agency is encouraging a 60-day commenting period for any stakeholders — domestic and international — to provide additional feedback on the proposed rule. – Source: Food Business News.


We always aim to get people talking: Kitschy merch continues to drive buzz for food brands


Branded merchandise has become a staple of the modern marketing playbook for food brands and restaurant chains.

Case in point: When Panera wanted to promote its new toasted baguette sandwich line, it chose to launch a Fendi Baguette-inspired handbag, tied to New York Fashion Week. Called “the BAGuette,” the bright green spoof bag is embossed with the letter P, a twist on the Fendi logo design.

On Feb. 7, the day the baguette bag was teased by Panera, the $40 accessory took TikTok by storm. The launch day resulted in hundreds of likes and comments from people wanting to get their hands on the purse. The handbag also generated fashion coverage for Panera, with Glamour magazine calling it this season’s sought-after “it bag.” The bag has since sold out and is already being listed on the secondhand market, with eBay listings currently for over $200.

These kitschy merch drops have been embraced by brands across the food and beverage industry for years, ranging from fast-casual restaurants like Panera to grocery chains like H-E-B and Aldi, to up-and-coming startups like Liquid Death. But, now they are starting to happen on a more regular cadence, with companies baking in multiple collaborations a year, especially to promote new product launches.

While the goals for each particular campaign might vary, there are a few overarching reasons why more brands are pursuing these types of merch drops, according to executives. For one, merch releases often help generate social media impressions and press coverage. Secondly, having big fans wearing a brand’s apparel creates a walking billboard effect on the company’s behalf. And finally, on-trend merch such as Panera’s bag can appeal to different types of customers, even those who may not visit the chain often.

Panera’s new wearable baguette is somewhat reminiscent of KFC’s own version of the handbag design. The “Wrapuette,” as it’s called, debuted in April 2022 through a waitlist. KFC’s Y2K-inspired bag was crafted from Italian leather and retailed for about $249, with sales proceeds going to the KFC Foundation.

In November, Fruit of the Loom unveiled a holiday-themed merch collaboration with dessert chain Milk Bar. According to the company, the limited-edition collection is part of Fruit of the Loom’s long-term strategy to modernize and reach younger audiences.

The collection’s items, ranging from $80 to $85, featured seasonal, dessert-inspired apparel. One popular bundle was the peppermint park pie, paired with a Fruit of the Loom tie-dye hoodie. The bundles were available to shop on Milk Bar’s website and at select Milk Bar locations nationwide.

Katie Over, manager of brand communications at Fruit of the Loom, said the idea of pairing cozy loungewear with baked goods showcased both brands’ ethos. The collaboration was a result of the apparel brand connecting with Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi, and having her create recipes inspired by Fruit of the Loom’s fabrics and colors. Over explained that with so much crossover interest between the food and fashion worlds in recent years, “these two worlds colliding made for such a fun and unique collaboration,” she said.

“We always aim to get people talking about our brand and want to show up in an unexpected way,” Over told Modern Retail. This collaboration with Milk Bar helped us achieve both, with our primary objective being to earn media coverage.”

And while at first glance, the collaboration seems geared toward a digitally-savvy Gen Z audience, the pink and red merch reached a wider demographic. “Our target audience with this release was adults aged 25 to 49 who are interested in both food and fashion,” Over said.

Over said that the collaboration generated over 700 million earned media impressions for Fruit of the Loom, including online coverage on Today, People, Tasting Table, and Mashed, among other lifestyle outlets. “Additionally, our social media efforts resulted in another 21.5 million impressions on Fruit of the Loom and Milk Bar,” she added.

Boston-based pickle company Grillo’s, founded in 2008, is another brand that has increasingly embraced merch partnerships to grow brand awareness. For years, the company released branded shirts and hoodies on its official online store. But Grillo’s merch strategy started to ramp up in 2020 as it started to partner with bigger brands on items. That year, the company released limited-edition Rugrats jar labels in collaboration with entertainment conglomerate Nickelodeon, a play on the Tommy Pickles character.

In the past year alone, Grillo’s has struck recipe and merch partnerships with Utz Chips, Ithaca Hummus, and a pickle-themed camera with Polaroid.

According to Eddie Andre, head of brand at Grillo’s, many of these collaborations were a result of social media outreach, including Instagram messaging brand managers and influencers.

Most recently, in 2022 the company launched an official Grillo’s clothing and accessories collection with the streetwear brand Carrots by Anwar Carrots. After meeting through social media, the two brands launched a nationwide apparel collaboration in Urban Outfitters in February 2022 — along with branded jars of pickled carrots for the Los Angeles launch party.

As an often-overlooked grocery product, generating online buzz over pickles is tricky. That’s where standout merch comes in, which the company said helps get a brand like Grillo’s on shoppers’ minds.

“We got a good number of followers when we announced the collab,” Andre said, including a number of influencers and celebrity accounts posting about it. “We’ve sold out of the merch in stores, and are thinking about bringing it back soon,” he added. This summer, Grillo’s has plans to bring the carrots-themed collaboration to its Lower East Side, New York pickle pop-up shop.

Even when buzzy merch doesn’t sell out, it can be a relatively easy marketing tactic with a high return on investment.

Nik Sharma, CEO of strategic initiatives firm Sharma Brands, remains bullish on branded merch being an easy lift for brands trying to build a following. “It’s the same reason tech companies give branded water bottles, mouse pads, or other branded swag away,” he said.

Sharma suspects that is the reason these collaborations continue to be popular among brands and audiences. “I think that if brands find there’s an innovative way to get their brands in people’s hands, they’ll go for it,” he said.

Additionally, these so-called walking billboards are relatively easy to produce and give away.

“It’s not going to be a huge money maker for any of them,” Sharma said. (Albeit, for a brand with a cult following such as Liquid Death, merch is helping bring in millions of dollars in annual revenue.) But even having a logo-covered item land on someone’s desk or shelf creates another free impression for that company. “The more places they can be seen without having to work hard for it, the better off they are in the long run.”

Grillo’s Andre said in the Anwar Carrots case, the company wanted to reach streetwear fanatics and young people. “Pickles are for everyone, so it’s been fun to be able to work with brands that can cast such a wide net and still keep it authentic,” he said.  – Source: Modern Retail.


Subway announces potential sale of the company . . . .

Bain Capital, Goldman Sachs Among Subway’s Potential Bidders


A report from UK-based Sky News says Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bain Capital are among those interested in acquiring the sandwich chain.

Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bain Capital are among those interested in acquiring the Subway sandwich chain, according to a new report from United Kingdom-Based Sky News. Other potential suitors include TDR Capital and TPG, while TSG Consumer Partners is “also monitoring the situation,” the publication reports.

These potential suitors emerge nearly two months after the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Subway was exploring a sale with an estimated valuation of $10-plus billion. Subway confirmed the sale about a month after that report was published. Sky News reports that Goldman Sachs Asset Management doesn’t typically participate in these types of auctions. According to the company’s website, GSAM oversees more than $2 trillion in assets under supervision worldwide.

Meanwhile, Bain Capital has approximately $160 billion of assets under management and a long history of partnering with restaurant companies, with previous investments that have included Bloomin’ Brands, Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, and Dunkin’ Brands, among others.

According to its website, London-based TDR Capital oversees about $15 billion in assets with investments in segments from power to higher education, and from discount retail to tourism. In the food and beverage segment, TDR’s portfolio includes Stonegate Pub Company, Napaqaro, and Pizza Express.

TPG manages $135 billion in assets and a portfolio that includes Burger King, Mendocino Parms, Philz Coffee, and more. Finally, San Francisco-based TSG Consumer Partners has nearly $20 billion in assets in categories from automotive and consumer tech to beauty and personal care.

In a statement released in February confirming its sale, Subway said, “The management team remains committed to the future and will continue to execute against its multi-year transformation journey, which includes a focus on menu innovation, modernization of restaurants, and improvements to its overall guest experience. The company recently announced another record-setting year, ending 2022 exceeding global sales projections and achieving eight consecutive quarters of positive same-store sales growth.”

Just last week, the Milford, Connecticut-based Subway announced a new dual headquarters building in Miami, which includes offices for consumer-facing and Latin American development staff. It also includes Subway’s first innovation center and mock restaurant.

Subway has about 37,000 locations in more than 100 countries. About 21,000 of those are in the U.S. – Source: NRN.


The 4,325-square-foot space, designed by Mayavian Creative Studios, features an elegant Parisian feel with Tiffany Blue accents

La Parisienne French Bistro to Open in Frisco, Texas La Parisienne French Bistro, the Parisian-inspired Bistro featuring French fare for lunch, dinner, weekend brunch, high tea service, housemade desserts and chic cocktails will open to the public on Monday, March 13 at The Star at Frisco at 6740 Winning Way, Suite 1000, Frisco, TX 75034.

La Parisienne was created by local resident Mondi Tag, a successful local attorney and a restaurant owner and operator for over 20 years. Tag was born and raised in Texas and was the first female franchisee owner/operator for Dickey’s BBQ in Dallas at the age of 19 along with her mother and subsequently Genghis Grill in Dallas.

Tag, who has been in and around the restaurant business for most of her life, says of La Parisienne, “One of my favorite places to travel is France. I love traveling to slow down from the everyday hustle and do as the French do – joie de vivre!”

With the restaurant’s welcoming and beautifully designed interior and patio, she says “ We designed the space in hopes that our guests will feel as if they are sitting in a chic bistro in Paris enjoying French food and desserts along with sipping on a cocktail, tea or coffee. All of our desserts are made fresh with our standout being the Mille Feuille pastry along with our hazelnut praline and eclairs in a variety of flavors but the food menu is also carefully prepared just as one might find in Paris.”

Executive Chef Ozzy Samano, born and raised in Texas and an El Centro College Culinary Studies graduate, has recently come on board. Chef Samano has vast experience working in some of the most well-known kitchens in the metroplex from Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse, Bob’s steak house, opening the original East Hampton Sandwich Co., Hudson House, Drake’s Hollywood, Lucky’s Hot Chicken to most recently Dahlia Bar & Bistro.

Appetizers such as Jambon Cru Tomato Bruschetta with jambon cru and fresh tomatoes; Wild Escargot with absinthe butter, french herbs, and roasted garlic in a puff pastry; Mondi’s Baked Brie with fig spread and warm pecans; Oysters on the Half Shell with citrus mignonette, horseradish, and lemon; Local Burrata as well as Classic Steak Tartare with a quail egg and housemade potato chips are a perfect way to get into the French Bistro spirit!

Guests can expect entrees such as Coq Au Vin with chicken, porcini mushrooms, red onions, and red wine; Vegetarian Bourguignon with mixed baby veggies, mixed baby potatoes; Steak Frites with sliced tenderloin, pomme frites, sauce bearnaise; Loup De Mer with potato soubise, sweet pepper, and aigre-doux; Parisienne Burger with two patties, brie, arugula, mushrooms, aioli, pommes frites; French Dip served with a fresh baguette, shaved tenderloin, provolone cheese, and au jus; and a French classic the Moules Marinières et Frites with marinières style steamed mussels with shallots, garlic, parsley, and pommes frites.

Another highlight of the bistro is fresh house-made French desserts range from a number of different options such as Classics with the Mille Feuille – layers of caramelized puff pastry, light vanilla cream; Infinity Pistachio with pistachio sponge, cremeux pistachio, pistachio ganache and three flavors of Eclairs; to Tarts including the likes of Fruit Tart, Citron Meringuee, and Banana Pecan with banana mousse, caramelized pecan, banana bread croutons.

Crépe & Waffles include the Normande Crépe with caramelized apples, flambéed and calvados; Banana Foster Crepe with cinnamon, vanilla, and caramelized bananas; the Triple Dose Crepe made with Nutella Chocolate, vanilla and coffee; Nutella Waffle with whipped cream; Caramelized Bananas Waffle cinnamon spiced with caramelized apples, whipped cream, and Mixed Berries Waffle.

To pair, a robust Illy coffee and Tea Forté high tea program is also offered along with a cocktail program offering elegant French cocktails served in ornate glassware including the Parmida’s La Vie En Rose made with Ketel One Grapefruit and rose; The Boulevardier made with Elijah Craig Bourbon, Campari, and Lo Fi Sweet Vermouth; French Connection with Dubouche Cognac and Luxardo Amaretto; Empress Josephine with Empress Gin & tonic; The Parisienne Old Fashion with Basil Hayden, Angostura bitters, orange slices, and black tea syrup; the Paris Romance with RumHaven, fruit juice, topped with bubbles, and many more.

High Tea service is available daily from opening through 6 pm for $55 per adult and $30 per child. Reservations are required 48 hours in advance.

The 4,325-square-foot space, designed by Mayavian Creative Studios, based in Dubai, features an elegant Parisian feel with Tiffany Blue accents, water features, 3D mural, chandeliers, and lush greenery and florals throughout. The bistro offers seating for 120 inside and 44 on the patio. To add to the ambiance, live music will be featured Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings and during Sunday brunch.

Tag says, “We are looking forward to La Parisienne being the perfect place to host baby showers, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, girls’ night, romantic dinners, tea parties, or just a spot to grab late-night dessert and coffee.”

La Parisienne will open for lunch, dinner, happy hour, and weekend brunch. Hours of operation will be Monday – Thursday 11 am – 9 pm, Friday 11 am – 10 pm, Saturday 9 am – 10 pm, and Sunday 9 am – 8 pm. – Source: FSR.



Food services and drinking places added nearly 70,000 jobs in February, according to new federal data. They are now 100,000 jobs short of pre-pandemic levels

Restaurants and Bars Near a Full Job Recovery Restaurants and bars continued to add a healthy dose of workers last month as the industry gets near a full employment recovery three years after the start of the pandemic.

Food services and drinking places added 69,900 jobs in February, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They now employ 12.2 million workers, or just over 100,000 jobs short of where they were in February 2020, the last month before widespread closures of dine-in services led to mass-scale job cuts at restaurants across the country.

Wages continued to grow. The average hourly wage for a nonsupervisory worker in the leisure and hospitality industries was $18.42, according to the BLS. That was up 8.4% over the past year and 24% over the past two years when widespread labor shortages led to massive spikes in hourly wages. Restaurants account for the bulk of the leisure and hospitality workforce.

Overall, the economy added 311,000 jobs in February and the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.6%. Restaurants and bars accounted for one out of every 4.5 jobs created last month.

The labor force participation rate, a key figure that has influenced the labor shortage over the past two years, remained unchanged at 62.5%, the BLS said. The employment-to-population ratio was 60.2%. Both have held steady over the past year and remain below where they were in February 2020—when labor force participation was 63.3% and employment-population was 61.1%.

The restaurant industry was one of the hardest hit businesses in the country during the pandemic and governments shut down dine-in service to slow the spread of COVID-19. The industry lost half its workers between February and April 2020.

It has also been one of the slowest to recover. While private-sector employers and the economy have fully recovered from that era, restaurants remain below their pre-pandemic employment levels. Yet a pickup in hiring in recent months, despite concerns over profitability and the economy, means the industry is on pace to recover in the next two to three months. – Source: Restaurant Business.


Deliveries have been added on Saturdays and Sundays to provide more scheduling flexibility to employees, but customers have discovered a labor benefit as well . . . .

U.S. Foods Tries Weekend Deliveries


Deliveries have been added on Saturdays and Sundays to provide more scheduling flexibility to employees, but customers have discovered a labor benefit as well Foodservice distributor US Foods is adding Saturday and Sunday deliveries in a handful of test markets as a potential plus for employees and customers.

The three-market trial is intended to provide workers with more scheduling flexibility. The pilot program allows employees to opt for three, four, or five-day workweeks across a seven-day stretch, weekends included.

“It gives employees that opportunity to find schedules that work for them, offering enhanced flexibility for improved work/life balance,” the company said in a written response to emailed questions from Restaurant Business. “The results to date have exceeded our expectations with significant reductions in turnover and positive employee feedback.”

Like many operators, distributors have been struggling to restaff to pre-pandemic levels. Truck drivers have proven particularly difficult to recruit and retain.

US Foods has discovered that some foodservice customers have also embraced the option of being restocked on Saturdays and Sundays, in part because they typically schedule more staff for weekend shifts. The chances of someone being available to check in the new supplies are greater.

“It’s well suited for operators who have more staff on hand to receive and stock products and operators who want to optimize what they have in stock as they approach the week,” US Foods said.

The company’s sales staff is identifying the operators within the three test areas that would be most likely to benefit.

“We believe this approach will further differentiate US Foods as we maintain our promise to help our customers ‘Make It,’” US Foods said.

It stressed that the test is still in the early stages and has just been expanded to three markets. It declined to identify the pilot areas and how many restaurants are participating.

CEO David Flitman revealed the original test market is in the Southeast but did not air more specifics.

“We see a real opportunity this year to roll out the flex scheduling portion to a significant number of our markets and likely be more selective with seven-day delivery elsewhere,” Chief Transition Officer Andrew Iacobucci said during US Foods’ most recent earnings call, according to a transcript from the Sentieo financial services company.

He noted that the initiative would also expand US Foods’ capacities by extending its business week by two days.  – Source: Restaurant Business.


Special promotions and $5 bowls are among platforms considered, CEO Larry Roberts says on Q4 earnings call . . . .

El Pollo Loco Works to Hold Onto Younger, Budget-Pinched Customers El Pollo Loco Holdings working to hold onto a growing base of younger customers and economically pinched lower-income patrons, executives said Thursday.

The Costa Mesa, Calif.-based fire-grilled chicken brand would continue to drive differentiation, said Larry Roberts, the brand CEO, on a fourth-quarter earnings call, “through our product offerings, advertising, and remodeled restaurants.”

Roberts cited El Pollo Loco’s Overstuffed Quesadillas promotion during the fourth quarter, which included three options, one of which was beef.

“Overstuffed Quesadillas achieved a mix of almost 7% of total sales, with beef being a top performer,” Roberts said. “The promotion success was at least partially due to the continued use of TikTok to reach younger consumers, which achieved over 10 million views during the module.”

Both Overstuffed Quesadillas and beef have the “potential to be permanent menu items that help us attract younger consumers,” he said.

“Recognizing that many consumers are increasingly budget conscious, we also have focused on value offerings during the fourth quarter, with the promotion of our $24 Family Feast and revised Fire-Grilled Combo meals starting at $5,” Roberts said. “Both resonated well with consumers and further highlight the need to provide value offerings to maintain frequency among budget-constrained consumers.”

Into the new year, El Pollo promoted Loco Burrito Grillers at the beginning of January and started marketing our Double Tostada Salad in late February. “Both promotions included shredded beef options, as we continue to test our way to permanently serving shredded beef at our restaurants,” Roberts said. The company had success with a beef birria promotion last year.

The company has also tested $5 bowls, he said. “We do think that’s going to resonate with the lower-income consumer and get them back into our restaurants as frequently as they used to,” Roberts said.

Year-over-year pricing at the company-owned restaurants in the fourth quarter was 10.6%, Roberts said. Ira Fils, El Pollo Loco’s chief financial officer, said that for the first quarter, the menu will “be just shy of 11% pricing, as we took another price increase. We took a 2.5% price increase in March. And as we move forward through the year, we’re going to be careful with our pricing.” The company is thinking about “another moderate price increase later in the year,” Fils said and expects to end the year with about a 4%-range increase.

Roberts said consumers were reacting “a little bit by maybe buying a little bit less,” and the drink mix was down.

“People are managing their budgets a little more tightly again, amongst low-income consumers,” Roberts said, but mid-level and higher-income consumers were not exhibiting much difference. The third-party delivery was mixing about the same as throughout 2022, executives said, at about 7.5% to 8% of sales. But it was not growing, they added.

El Pollo Loco does plan to launch a revamped smartphone app and loyalty program in April, Roberts said. “These upgrades will make it significantly easier for consumers to order food from us, and our loyalty program will provide additional options for engagement and food redemption,” he said.

The brand is also revamping its dessert and catering offerings as they “present significant opportunities for incremental sales that we have not aggressively pursued,” Roberts said.

Staffing became less of a challenge throughout 2022, Roberts added.

“Crew member turnover during the fourth quarter was down to 100%, and 93% of our company-owned restaurants were fully staffed,” Roberts said. “All company-operated restaurants are able to open all sales channels for all operating hours.”

Roberts said the company was turning to build bench strength. “In 2023, we are expanding our operations focus to include bench building, enhanced training, and cost management,” Roberts said. “We believe that the key to building sustainable and consistent restaurant operations is through the development of a restaurant leader bench, including area managers, general managers, assistant managers, and shift leaders.”

El Pollo Loco has completed the rollout of an enhanced e-learning platform across its system, he said. “This will not only improve the training our team members receive but enable us to track the completion of the various modules, thereby ensuring employees are certified for the positions they are working,” Roberts noted.

“With improved staffing levels and customer service at company-operated restaurants, we are now increasing our focus on better managing labor and food costs,” he said. “This includes minimizing overtime, meal break penalties, staffing inefficiencies, and food waste. I am pleased to say that we’re already making good progress against these since the start of the year.”

Simplifying operations remains a top priority, Roberts added. “We’re building upon the work we did last year by implementing several initiatives geared for reducing complexity and improving product quality,” he said. As part of the program, soap tanks for cleaning grill filters and broilers will be implemented in company-owned restaurants by May and throughout the system this summer, he said.

For the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 28, El Pollo Loco’s net income was $6.5 million, or 18 cents a share, compared to $6.2 million, or 17 cents a share, in the same period last year. Revenue increased 6.4% to $115.9 million, up from $109 million in the prior-year quarter Same-store sales increased 4.7% in the quarter.

Fils said that in 2022 El Pollo Loco “opened a total of four new company restaurants and nine new franchise restaurants. During the fourth quarter, we remodeled two company restaurants and eight franchise restaurants, which brings our completed remodels for the year to six company and 16 franchise remodels. Looking into 2023, we expect to complete 10 to 15 company remodels and 20 to 30 franchise remodels.”

Roberts said remodels generally produce a sales lift of between 3% and 5%. The company offers a Level 1 remodel at between $250,000 and $300,000, a mid-level remodel at about $350,000 and a high-level remodel in the $400,000 to $450,000 range. Most are in the first two levels, he added.

For its 2023 outlook, Fils said El Pollo Loco plans to open four to six company-owned restaurants and eight to 12 franchise restaurants.

El Pollo Loco has more than 485 company-owned and franchised restaurants in Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas and Utah. – Source: NRN.


How Christina Guidera built a forward-thinking business that marries baking and entrepreneurship . . . .

The Women of King Street

As the founder and CEO of King Street Baking Co., Pastry Chef Christina Guidera is proud to have structured a baking company around women.

Growing up in New Jersey, Guidera spent countless hours baking with her grandma, a “traditional Italian baker.” Translating her upbringing into a career, Guidera got her start working in cafés in Sydney, Australia, and went on to cut her teeth on pastry stations at Tavern on the Green and Eleven Madison Park, before starting her own project: King Street Baking Co. She began her new venture by offering her colorful baked goods to Black Fox Coffee. From her small SoHo kitchen, she’d bake cookies, gluten-free olive oil bundt cakes, salted caramel slices, and more every day before sunrise. She’d then descend three very steep flights of stairs and load herself into an UberPool with boxes full of confections.

With an increase in demand, Guidera transitioned to a professional kitchen, expanding cautiously until she found herself with a team of 20 cooks, porters, and drivers, the majority of whom are women. Building a supportive company culture, unlike the glaringly toxic kitchens often associated with fine dining, was her primary mission as a business owner. “It was important for me to have a safe space for other chefs,” Guidera says. “It’s hard, especially for women, to plan for longevity in this industry. You should feel good about where you work.”

Guidera brought on her sister, Olivia Guidera, as COO and hired culinary director Sumaiya Bangee to round out her team. They emphasize investing in their staff: “We teach them everything, from prioritizing mental health to self-advocacy. Self-advocacy is super important; you have to fill your plate to feed others,” says Bangee, who leads biweekly team meetings and trains the newest team members one-on-one. “Having an all-women executive team affects our leadership,” Guidera says. “We understand the challenges of managing work with life responsibilities like pregnancy and child care.” Enter: The four-day work week.

“All of our employees were completely on board and excited about the four-day work week,” Guidera says. Longer shifts mean fewer hours spent commuting each week. Every employee gets at least two consecutive days off per week, plus a third day intermittently to enjoy life. “This has really contributed to fewer call-outs, better retention, and better quality of life for everyone who works for us,” says Guidera. “Through implementing several incentive programs, and an automatic pay up if you’re on time each day, no one comes in earlier than 7:30 am and leaves later than 7:30 pm,” adds Bangee.

King Street sells loose pastries (freshly baked as well as frozen) to cafés, coffee shops, hotels, and restaurants across the tri-state area. Packaged cakes and cookie doughs are sold to grocery and specialty stores, and in 2023, Guidera and her team will be focusing on bringing their line of premium baking mixes to larger retailers.

“We aim to make King Street an inclusive place where everyone can grow in their careers, while also feeling supported in their day-to-day lives,” says Guidera. “As a woman-owned business, it’s really important that all the women at King Street feel as though they can achieve anything, and that they are truly supported in doing so.” – Source: StarChefs.


The restaurant chain’s newest catering truck will be creating mini versions of the brand’s most popular items . . . .

In-N-Out’s Catering Channel Introduces Fries for the First Time For In-N-Out, catering isn’t new. The California-based quick-service restaurant brand has had 10 catering trucks — called Cookout Trucks — since 1974. But now, for the first time ever, one is serving up fries.

This month, the chain will debut its newest truck named after co-founder Esther Snyder. This truck will serve mini Double-Doubles, mini burgers, and mini fries.

Prior to this truck, In-N-Out catering trucks only served chips instead of fries.

“Exciting news to share!” In-N-Out owner and president Lynsi Snyder recently wrote on her Instagram page. “In memory of my precious Grams, we welcome our newest addition, the Esther Snyder Cookout Truck that serves In-N-Out’s ONLY mini Double-Doubles, mini burgers, and yes, mini fries!”

A Double-Double is just that, a double cheeseburger: Two patties covered in cheese between a bun with lettuce and tomato.

This truck is specifically reserved for children and youth events.

A portion of the proceeds from the truck goes toward the In-N-Out Foundation, which assists children who have been victims of abuse.

This news comes as Sweetgreen on Monday officially launched its catering program after six months without marketing power behind it.

On its latest earnings call, Sweetgreen’s co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman said catering sales doubled during the fourth quarter. – source: NRN.



The restaurant chain builds demand by teasing the return of popular items and putting a time limit on current best-sellers. Two brand-new LTOs are also in test . . . .

Fans of Taco Bell’s Quesarito should hightail it over to the nearest location before it exits the menu to make room for returning favorites.


The cheesy quesadilla-burrito hybrid known as the Quesarito has an expiration date of April 19, but starting in a week, three other popular items return to the menu nationwide and two others in select markets.

Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell on Thursday welcomes back the Double Steak Grilled Cheese Burrito, which first launched during the 2022 holiday season. The generously stuffed burrito is filled with a double portion of grilled marinated steak, seasoned rice, and the chain’s unique sauces, all rolled up in a flour tortilla. It’s topped with a triple blend of cheeses—cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack—then grilled to form a crispy cheese crust.

It’s selling systemwide for $3.49 at Taco Bell’s 7,700-plus U.S. locations.

Joining the burrito is the Bacon Club Chalupa, also returning to the national menu for a limited time. This spin on the classic Chalupa features grilled chicken, bacon, avocado ranch sauce, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and that three-cheese blend in the signature pillowy chalupa shell. The price is $4.99.

And rounding out Thursday’s nationwide debuts are two freezes—Blue Raspberry Breeze and Wild Cherry Breeze—updated with the addition of four tropical flavors—pineapple, mango, passionfruit, and lime—in the base. The neon-colored refreshers go for $2.99 for 16 ounces and $3.19 for the larger 20-ounce size. During Taco Bell’s Happier Hour, which runs from 2-5 p.m. daily, the smaller size is $1.

Customers in Knoxville have an extra LTO in store. Taco Bell is testing its all-new Cheesy Chicken Crispanada, an empanada-shaped handheld designed to grab and go. The Crispinada boasts a pastry shell filled with chicken and a bold blend of cheeses that are then folded over and fried to create a crisp shell. It’s priced at $3.49.

And rounding out the introductions are $2 Double Stacked Tacos, coming to restaurants in Birmingham, Ala. The tacos mix textures by wrapping a crunchy taco shell with a soft tortilla and filling it with layers of beef, cheese, creamy sauces, and lettuce. Three varieties are on offer: Nacho Crunch, Cheesy Chipotle, and Sweet Scorpion.

Taco Bell is notorious for building excitement with very limited-time offers, such as Mexican Pizza and Nacho Fries, as well as funky combos like the Big Cheez-it Tostada, only to take them off the menu soon after. It’s proven a winning strategy for the chain, with cult followers drumming up support on social media and signing petitions to bring back favorites. Mexican Pizza is now on the permanent menu since September, and U.S. same-store sales rose 11% in the fourth quarter of 2022. – Source: Restaurant Business.


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