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Posts Tagged ‘restaurants

“The golden rule when reading the menu is, if you cannot pronounce it, you cannot afford it”*…

 

menu-read

 

Consider the restaurant menu.

By design, menus aren’t meant to spark conversation. But as restaurants take drastic steps to weather COVID-19, they are revamping their menus in a big way — and it’s hard not to think twice about the piece of paper in your hands.

IHOP is ditching its 12-page behemoth for a much cleaner 2-page menu. McDonald’s has slashed several items off its all-day breakfast menu. Applebee’s, Taco Bell, and Subway are all slimming down their offerings.

These high-profile shifts reflect what’s happening on a much more local level across the industry: 28% of restaurateurs are shrinking their menus because of the pandemic. That number is so large that New York Magazine recently asked, “Is It Time To Get Rid of Menus For Good?”

The underlying reasons for this are financial: Restaurants can’t bother with low-margin dishes. They have fewer employees on the payroll, so they want to be more efficient with a smaller set of meals. They’re prioritizing fewer — and cheaper — ingredients.

But rewriting a menu is no simple task. Every inch of text, from the typeface down to the order of items, must be workshopped for maximum profitability.

And when restaurants need help, they turn to a niche, little-known cadre of professional “menu engineers.”…

In a changing dining economy, restaurants are turning to a small group of experts who specialize in the science of menu design: “Meet the ‘menu engineers’ helping restaurants retool during the pandemic.”

* Frank Muir

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As we ask about the specials, we might recall that it was on this date in 1916 that Clarence Saunders founded the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain.  His Memphis “flagship” introduced the the modern self-service retail sales model– for which he received U.S. Patent #1,242,872– thus initiating the development of the modern supermarket (and indeed of self-service retail in general).  His Memphis store grew into the Piggly Wiggly chain, which is still in operation.

The first Piggly Wiggly store

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Clarence Saunders

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“Cuisine is when things taste like themselves”*…

cuisine

 

“The destiny of nations,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th-century French gastronome, “depends on how they nourish themselves.” Today a nation’s stature depends on how well it nourishes the rest of the world, too. For proof of this, consider the rise of culinary diplomacy. In 2012 America’s State Department launched a “chef corps” tasked with promoting American cuisine abroad. Thailand’s government sends chefs overseas to peddle pad Thai and massaman curry through its Global Thai programme. South Korea pursues its own brand of “kimchi diplomacy”.

But which country’s cuisine is at the top of the global food chain? A new paper by Joel Waldfogel of the University of Minnesota provides an answer. Using restaurant listings from TripAdvisor, a travel-review website, and sales figures from Euromonitor, a market-research firm, Mr Waldfogel estimates world “trade” in cuisines for 52 countries. Whereas traditional trade is measured based on the value of goods and services that flow across a country’s borders, the author’s estimates of culinary exchange are based on the value of food found on restaurant tables. Domestic consumption of foreign cuisine is treated as an “import”, whereas foreign consumption of domestic cuisine is treated as an “export”. The balance determines which countries have the greatest influence on the world’s palate.

The results make grim reading for America’s McDonald’s-munching, tariff-touting president. The United States is the world’s biggest net importer of cuisine, gobbling down $55bn more in foreign dishes than the rest of the world eats in American fare (when fast food is excluded, this figure balloons to $134bn). China comes next, with a $52bn dietary deficit; Brazil and Britain have shortfalls worth around $34bn and $30bn respectively. Italy, meanwhile, ranks as the world’s biggest exporter of edibles. The world’s appetite for pasta and pizza, plus Italians’ relative indifference to other cuisines, give the country a $168bn supper surplus. Japan, Turkey and Mexico also boast robust surpluses [see chart above].

Mr Waldfogel does not account for culinary hybrids such as the cronut—a cross between a croissant and a doughnut—or Tex-Mex. Nor does he consider authenticity; few Neapolitans would consider Domino’s Pizza a real taste of home. Despite this, some cuisines clearly have a bigger worldwide appeal than others. Foodies scoffing spring rolls in San Francisco or cheeseburgers in Chongqing should give thanks to globalisation. A policy of culinary mercantilism could make dining out very dull indeed…

Which countries dominate the world’s dinner tables?

* Curnonsky (Maurice Edmond Sailland; c.f. almanac entry here)

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As we contemplate culinary culture, we might send carefully-peeled birthday greetings to John Richard (“Jack” or “J.R.”) Simplot; he was born on this date in 1909.  An Idaho-based agribusiness entrepreneur, Simplot, J.R.’s eponymous company, became the largest shipper of fresh potatoes by the outbreak of World War II.  In 1967, Simplot and McDonald’s impressario Ray Kroc agreed by handshake that the Simplot Company would provide frozen french fries to the restaurant chain; by 2005, Simplot was supplying the (by then vastly larger) Golden Arches with half of its french fries and hash browns.  Simplot also provided seed capital for Micron Technologies, a successful computer memory chip company.

J._R._Simplot source

 

 

Written by LW

January 4, 2020 at 1:01 am

“It requires a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun”*…

 

fast food

 

There may be no American institution more polarizing than fast food. Whether it’s wages, health, the environment or those Colonel Sanders ads, the problems associated with the all-American meal inspire lots of detractors. But for many millions, places like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Steak ’n Shake generate fierce loyalty for their convenience, value, ritual, shock-and-awe menu items and community; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2018 that more than one-third of Americans eat fast food on any given day. As the summer season of road trips and Frosties enters full swing, here are five myths about fast food…

Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams: A Journey Through the Heart of America’s Fast-Food Kingdom, enumerates “Five Myths About Fast Food.”

* Ray Kroc, creator of the McDonald’s franchise empire

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As we chow down, we might send beefy birthday greetings to Rex David Thomas; he was born on this date in 1932.  After rising through the ranks at Kentucky Fried Chicken, then helping to found the Arthur Treacher’s fried fish chain, Thomas founded Wendy’s– the burger chain named for his daughter (whose real name was Melinda Lou, but who was called Wendy, since as young child she couldn’t pronounce her name).

 

Written by LW

July 2, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Every restaurant needs to have a point of view”*…

 

chili bowl

Launched in 1931 by former amateur boxer Art Whizin, the Chili Bowl chain had 22 outposts at its peak. Each building was round and shaped like a chili bowl with 26 stools around a circular counter where diners could get the signature dish: an open-faced burger blanketed with chili. This 1937 photo shows the original Chili Bowl, located at 3012 Crenshaw Boulevard.

One stop on a wonderful tour of La La Land’s most exceptional eateries; see them all at: “LA’s Awesome History Of Weird, Food-Shaped Restaurants.”

* Danny Meyer

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As we muse on the mimetic, we might sparea thought for Charles Elmé Francatelli; he died on this date in 1876.  A Italian chef working in England, renown in his time, he was chef to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert for a time, chef of the St. James Club, among other prestigious postings .  But he is probably better remembered for his best-selling cookbooks, The Modern Cook (1845), A Plain Cookery Book for the Working ClassesThe Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant, and The Royal English and Foreign Confectionery Book.

Charles_Elme_Francatelli source

 

 

Written by LW

August 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”*…

 

Casual dining chains — industry parlance for economical sit-down restaurants like Fridays, Applebee’s, Chili’s, and Buffalo Wild Wings — have subsisted in a dismal and persistent state of decline for about a decade. But in the last two years, things have gotten worse, with the number of people eating at casual dining chains overall falling every single month since June 2015; they are now the worst-performing segment of the entire restaurant industry. In recent months, Applebee’s has said it will close 135 locations this year; Buffalo Wild Wings will shed at least 60. Ruby Tuesday closed 109 restaurants last year, and put the whole company up for sale in MarchFriendly’sBennigan’sJoe’s Crab Shack, and Logan’s Roadhouse have all filed for bankruptcy.

Whatever your feelings about casual dining chains, they have been a vital part of the way that many Americans eat since the 1930s, when Howard Johnson began blanketing the highways with his trademark orange-and-teal restaurants — temples to affordable, quality fare in a wholesome setting. After plodding along for some 50 years, the genre exploded during the 1980s, as America entered a period of sustained economic growth and chains like Fridays, Olive Garden, and Applebee’s saturated suburban landscapes with their bland, softly corporate vision of good times and good food. While the brands and the fads have changed — RIP fried-clam sandwich, hello baby back ribs and buffalo sliders — the formula has remained more or less unchanged over the decades: middlebrow menu, solid value, and friendly service, consistently executed, from Pasadena to Tallahassee. Until recently, it was a formula that worked across cuisines, state lines, and demographics…

TGI Fridays and Applebee’s and their ilk are struggling as the American middle class and its enormous purchasing power withers away in real time, with the country’s population dividing into a vast class of low-wage earners who cannot afford the indulgence of sit-down meal of Chili’s Mix & Match Fajitas and a Coke, and a smaller cluster of high-income households for whom a Jack Daniel’s sampler platter at Fridays is no longer good enough. At the same time, the rise of the internet, smartphones, and streaming media have changed the ways that consumers across the income spectrum choose to allocate our leisure time — and, by association, our mealtimes. In-home (and in-hand) entertainment has altered how we consume casual meals, making the Applebee’s and Red Lobsters of the world less and less relevant to the way America eats.

As casual dining restaurants collapse in on themselves, TGI Fridays remains — unfortunately for it — an emblem for the entire category: In 2014, after years of slipping sales, the chain was sold to a pair of private equity firms, Sentinel Capital Partners and TriArtisan Capital Advisors, which swiftly began offloading company-owned restaurants to franchisees, essentially stripping the business for parts. Meanwhile, the chain’s beleaguered management has attempted to turn things around with a series of highly publicized initiatives, like delivering booze. Most notably, last year, Fridays unveiled a new concept restaurant in Texas — a stunning reversal from the tchotchke-laden image savagely memorialized in Mike Judge’s 1999 cult classic Office Space — that’s heavy on neutral tones, pale wood, brick walls, and exceedingly mellow, indistinct furniture; it looks like a neglected airport lounge in Helsinki…

A fascinating consideration of a restaurant that is both an avatar and a bellwether of the American middle class: “As Goes the Middle Class, So Goes TGI Fridays.”

See also: “Applebee’s Deserves To Die,” which explores the millennial dimension of this phenomenon:

The media-created meme that’s arisen about millennials killing things — beer, napkins, Hooters, cereal, casual dining establishments, and motorcycles, and golf, to name a few — is fascinating, again, because of what it reveals. Young people’s generally decreased standard of living and the preferences they have developed as a result are destroying established industries, and older people don’t like it. But these are rational responses to economic anxiety. Everything from high rates of homeownership to Hooters came out of a middle-class prosperity that doesn’t really exist anymore, because the middle class doesn’t really exist in America anymore, especially not for the millennials who had to grow up without the comfort of the American Dream. Chains united America, but things were different then, and for millennials at least, they’re irreparably broken now…

* Steven Wright

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As we avail ourselves of the Endless Appetizers, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that a self-taught engineer named Percy Spencer applied for a patent for a “microwave cooking oven”; he had been working in a lab testing magnetrons, the high-powered vacuum tubes inside radars.  One day while working near the magnetrons– which produced microwaves– Spencer noticed a peanut butter candy bar in his pocket had begun to melt — shortly after, the microwave oven was born.

In 1947, Raytheon introduced Spencer’s invention, the world’s first microwave oven, the “Radarange”: a refrigerator-sized appliance that cost $2-3,000.  It found a some applications in commercial food settings and on Navy ships, but no consumer market.  Then Raytheon licensed the technology to the Tappan Stove Company, which introduced a wall-mounted version with two cooking speeds (500 and 800 watts), stainless steel exterior, glass shelf, top-browning element and a recipe card drawer.  It sold for $1,295 (figure $10,500 today).

Later Litton entered the business and developed the short, wide shape of the microwave that we’re familiar with today. As Wired reports, this opened the market:

Prices began to fall rapidly. Raytheon, which had acquired a company called Amana, introduced the first popular home model in 1967, the countertop Radarange. It cost $495 (about $3,200 today).

Consumer interest in microwave ovens began to grow. About 40,000 units were sold in the United States in 1970. Five years later, that number hit a million.

The addition of electronic controls made microwaves easier to use, and they became a fixture in most kitchens. Roughly 25 percent of U.S. households owned a microwave oven by 1986. Today, almost 90 percent of American households have a microwave oven.

Today, Percy Spencer’s invention and research into microwave technology are still being used as a jumping off point for further research in radar and magnetron technologies.  Different wavelengths of microwaves are being used to keep an eye on weather conditions and even rain structures via satellites, and are able to penetrate clouds, rain, and snow, according to NASA.  Other radar technology use microwaves to monitor sea levels to within a few centimeters.

Police are also known to use radar guns to monitor a vehicle’s speed, which continually transmit microwaves to measure the waves’ reflections to see how fast one is driving.

 source

 

Written by LW

October 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

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