Archive for November, 2010

Fast Food Is Unhealthy and Kids Love It – But it Doesn’t Have to Be That Way

November 29, 2010

And in the realm of things we already know but can still try to pretend to feign some shock at, it turns out that kids’ fast food is still unhealthy and still popular. Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a report recently where they looked at a dozen different restaurant chains across the country and came to the shocking conclusion we mentioned above. They looked at 3,000 kids meals and found a mere dozen to actually be healthy choices.

Why We Don’t Offer Healthier Options

This is a blog aimed at the restaurant and food service community, so let’s be perfectly blunt – we’re not here to set public policy, we’re not here to try to make our world a better place. We’re here to try to earn a living while giving our patrons a good time when they come to eat in our establishments.

And like it or not, fast food, including French fries and greasy hamburgers taste good and kids love them, so we keep offering them to our patrons. That said, maybe there is a better way.

Healthy Food For Kids that Still Tastes Good

The report also mentioned, as we said, that there were twelve kids meals that did make the grade for being healthy options for fast food. One of them that we thought was interesting was Burger King’s macaroni and cheese meal. It comes with apple slices and fat free milk.

The total cost of the calories in the thing? 285 calories. Compare that to the 973 calories that Dairy Queen was offering their young patrons and it makes us wonder – isn’t there some way we can offer healthy options as well?

Yes, We’re Trying to Make a Living, But…

Okay, we know, you’re not in business to set public policy. You try to offer what your patrons want to eat. Then again, if those patrons are young, they are often going to come in with their parents. We image (we hope) that their parents will want their kids to make healthier choices. Why not at least make healthier choices an option on your menu?

It Just Has to Look Right

November 27, 2010

Here’s an interesting tidbit that we’ve always probably known, but now we have scientific proof for the fact: How a food looks is more important than how it tastes!

Now we’re not saying that you shouldn’t strive for great taste—you should. But we all know that the appetizing looking meal that gets photographed is the one we want to eat and that makes our mouths water even though we can’t taste the food or smell it. And the food that looks like something that has been left out too long, well even if it tastes great, we might wrinkle our noses at it when we first see it.

A New Study of Soy Bean Products Proves the Point

Soy beans are those miracle beans that are supposed to feed the world. They are used by a variety of industries for everything from making oil to making fake cheese and fake meat. In some countries, the use of soy is even being specifically encouraged in order to get people to eat more healthily.

However, what is interesting is that a new study, set to appear in the journal Food Quality and Preference says that while taste is important, looks are even more important in getting people to eat soy based products.

It Just Has to Look Right

We talked previously about a phenomenon where the TV show iCarly has prompted kids to start creating spaghetti tacos, putting spaghetti into a taco shell and eating it. However, we wonder, what if the idea had been say spinach in taco shells? Or something else that really just doesn’t seem to go. Maybe something that looks artificial and sickly green.

It wouldn’t have been as big a hit with kids because it wouldn’t look like it belonged. It turned out that the researchers in this study, who worked with a total of 93 volunteers who were non vegetarians, didn’t care so much about how the soy protein products tasted as much as how it looked. If they soy product looked like something that should be served in a meal, they liked it. If it looked like it didn’t belong in the meal, they didn’t want it.

An Important Lesson

This offers us as restaurateurs an important lesson, one that hopefully most of us learned in restaurant management courses or chef school – presentation is everything when serving your customers. Make sure it looks great and even if the food is only so – so, people will keep coming back for more. (But also make sure your food is more than just so-so!)

C-ing is Believing (if You Can See the Health Department Grade That Is)

November 25, 2010

So the New York Post is reporting what many of us might already expect – that restaurateurs who just barely passed their health inspections are embarrassed about having a grade of C on their establishments. However, what they found really disturbing, (though not really shocking) is that a number of restaurants decided that they didn’t have to follow the law. They actually went and hid their reviews somewhere away from the public eye!

How it Works

For those wondering what we’re talking about, New York City recently imposed a letter grade system similar to those used in a number of other cities to grade restaurants in town. The idea is that a restaurant gets granted a grade of A, B or C (anything lower and they get shut down) by the health department.

They are legally required to post their grade prominently where people can see it so that they can decide if they want to eat there. It’s the same idea as the system we recently reported on that Los Angeles is insisting street vendors will now be required to follow. However, some New York restaurateurs decided the law didn’t quite apply to them.

“Grade Pending”

One restaurateur, at a place called the Bread and Pastry Shop in New York’s Greenwich Village went so far as to tell the Post that it was his choice to decide whether or not to post the grade. He had posted instead a note saying “Grade pending,” claiming that he expected to have a new inspection soon and that he was expecting to get a higher grade this time.

After a city health inspector dropped by, the cowed restaurateur decided to confuse his customers even more by posting his C grade next to a note saying “grade pending.”

$1,000 Fines For Failure to Comply

Restaurateurs who fail to comply with the new rule face fines of $1,000 for failure to post the sign, so we are expecting to see more establishments comply with the rules. However, we’d also like to offer this advice to our readers: It’s not worth ending up with a bad reputation for having a bad grade.

If your city requires letter grades (and more and more cities do), don’t worry about hiding the grade after the fact. Just go ahead and make sure your place is spotless to begin with so you can proudly display your “A.”

Taco Bell Tries to Cut the Salt

November 23, 2010

The sodium wars are back on. Though the truth is that they probably never left us. These days it seems that the entire world is focused on the fact that Americans love fast food are obsessed with eating the stuff. However, it wasn’t too long ago that the shelves of American supermarkets began to fill up with “low sodium” products after the word started going around that sodium was a leading cause of high blood pressure.

The Craze Came and Went

None of this is news. Doctors still tell patients who are diagnosed with hypertension to cut down on their intake of salt. However, hype over the subject seems to have died down.

We haven’t seen the aisles filled with all kinds of low sodium products in much the same way that we saw supermarket aisles filled with low carb products and low fat products when those crazes began. It’s simply accepted that those who need to cut down on their sodium will do so.

Taco Bell Quietly Tries Out Some New Recipes

Taco Bell however has decided that it’s time to heat up the sodium issue again, if only by a little bit. They decided recently to quietly reduce the amount of sodium on their menus by around 23 percent at some of their restaurants recently.

The changes specifically affected some restaurants in the area of Dallas/Ft. Worth. In total, some 150 restaurants were affected by the change, however according the president and chief concept officer for the chain, Greg Creed, the plan is to begin rolling out the changes on a chain-wide basis shortly.

According to him, no consumers complained about the difference in taste on the foods. Additional spices were added in to compensate for the lack of extra salt, it was reported.

A Division of PepsiCo Corporation

Taco Bell is a division of PepsiCo  Corporation and also owns a number of other chain restaurants in addition to their eponymous chain of Mexican fast food restaurants.

Will Oyster Bars Suffer From the BP Oil Spill?

November 21, 2010

Are oysters starting to lose their appeal to the American palate? Some oyster farmers in the southwest are beginning to wonder about exactly that as they report having pulled a record number of oysters from the ocean this year but worry that we simply won’t want to buy them.

Gulf Waters Still a Source of Worry

The reason for all the concern is the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a few months ago. The fear is that consumers in this country will decide to stay away from oysters caught domestically for fear of their being contaminated by the oil slick.

Government officials have attempted to assure the public that the oysters and other foods fished in the Gulf of Mexico are perfectly safe. However some consumer groups are not so sure about this. They are concerned with the implications of what might happen.

A Fear of A Repeat of Tylenol Circa 1982

Back in 1982, there were a number of bottles of Tylenol that were found to be affected by a poison. Tylenol recalled the affected bottles and they and the government assured the public that the bottles currently on the market were safe. However, in spite of assurances, Tylenol sales slumped as consumers feared that other contaminated bottles may not have been caught.

38% Concerned According to Recent Poll

A recent poll conducted by the University of Minnesota shows that as many as 38% of respondents said that they would reduce or limit their use of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico in spite of the government assurances that the food is perfectly safe.

What We Can Do

As restaurateurs, we need to protect ourselves from controversy. We’re suggesting that while oyster bars will obviously have to continue to purchase Gulf of Mexico seafood, they should also consider looking into other options. For consumers who ask questions about the seafood, establishments should have literature on-hand from reliable sources shows that the food we serve is indeed 100% safe.

The Domino’s Pizza Government Bailout

November 19, 2010

Cheesier pizza simply tastes better than less cheesy pizza. Who knew, right? Well it turns out that Domino’s Pizza didn’t know about it. Their sales had been nose diving last year and their pizza had been voted the worst tasting pizza in the entire country. Yikes!

However, that’s not what this story is about. Instead, we’re more interested in how Domino’s managed to turn things around. It seems they got a government bailout, just like the banks and the car companies last year.

Government Agency to the Rescue

An organization called Dairy Management stepped in to help out the ailing pizza chain and get them back on their feet financially. The organization worked with Domino’s to come up with a new recipe for their pizzas which has forty percent more cheese on it than the old ones did.

They also helped them plan a $12 million marketing bonanza to advertise their new pies and to get people back in the door. Sales jumped and everything seemed to going their way. However, there’s one interesting wrinkle. Dairy Management is a government agency, not a private firm.

A Creation of the USDA

The United States Department of Agriculture funded and indeed created Dairy Management in order to help their core constituency to be more competitive in the world of dairy products. The organization exists solely to promote dairy products and cheese in this country. The fact that a government agency is stepping in to help however has some people up in arms.

No Less than the First Lady Herself

What makes this whole incident so amusing is that the first lady herself, Michelle Obama, has been pleading with restaurants to try to make their menus healthier while Dairy Management has been spending some $140 million to promote eating more cheese. While cheese may be tasty, it is not always the healthiest thing to eat in large quantities.

Bottom Line

The bottom line of course for us as restaurateurs is to try to balance the demands. Ultimately, we need to provide what our customers want to eat and not what the government says we should be serving. Luckily for Domino’s, the government and the market both agree on more cheese!

What’s Old is New Again

November 17, 2010

If you’ve been following the news recently (and who hasn’t, with the elections going on?), you probably know that not only was this recent election cycle the nastiest in history, but it also wasn’t the first time that these kinds of tactics were used (Thomas Jefferson was accused of being a murderer for example).

Well it seems that in our own neck of the woods, what was done years ago is being done again as well. A number of fast food restaurants have been feverishly adding new promotions and slogans that may sound familiar.  The reason they sound familiar is because they were used in the past.

McDonalds recently reintroduced their McRib sandwich to the menu after a long absence. and Little Caesars’ has decided that the old “Pizza! Pizza!” Line their mascot used to tout at the end of every commercial is going once again come back in style.

(Re)Enter the McRib

The McDonalds promotion is a limited time offer, bringing back the 1980s favorite until December 5th nationwide. Fans of the sandwich may recall that the last time you got the chance to taste a McRibs sandwich nationwide was back when the Republicans last clobbered the democrats (we’re sure some Tea Party person is responsible for the resurgence of the McRib) in 1994. (Although it was available in certain test markets a couple of years back.)

It had been offered as a tie-in with the Flintstones live action film released that year. McDonalds is also promoting their new/old sandwich by asking fans to tell them about their favorite story of the McRib in exchange for a chance to win a trip to taste the sandwich yet again, in Germany, the only country where you can buy the sandwich any old time you feel like it.

Pizza!Pizza!–Little Caesar’s Offers Double-Pie Promotion

In the case of Little Caesars’ the pizza chain has made a few changes to their Pizza! Pizza! Plans. Back in 1997, the last time the chain offered the promotion, two pizzas were offered for the price of one (or at least, the price of one from a competitor). In this new variation of the promo, the company plans to offer two rectangular shaped pizzas instead.

This time around you’ll get one pepperoni pizza and one Ultimate Supreme all for under ten bucks ($9.99). The deal is currently being offered only in the chains’ home town of Detroit. However they may expand it and offer the deal elsewhere next year the company reports.

Caffeine and Alcohol Can Be a Deadly Combination

November 15, 2010

If you’ve gotten used to serving your younger customers (and by young, we mean those in the 21-30 year old range, not the ice cream and soda pop set) Red Bull with vodka, you may soon have to rethink your plans for serving such drinks.

While alcoholic drinks mixed with caffeine tends to be a very common drink (rum and coke anyone?), new evidence has emerged that the combination can be extremely dangerous, especially for younger drinkers.

Caffeine Masks the Effects of Alcohol

The biggest problem with serving caffeine together with alcohol, doctors say, is that the caffeine has the effect of masking the effects of the alcohol. This makes it difficult for people to gauge just how drunk they actually are and they tend to over drink, potentially leading to serious problems.

Four Loko Especially Considered Dangerous

A fruit flavored drink called Four Loko, according to a recent report in the New York Times is considered to be particularly dangerous because it combines 12 percent alcohol with the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.

A number of students from Ramapo College in New Jersey and another school, Central Washington University in Florida recently found themselves in emergency rooms after drinking the Four Loko drink.

State Attorney Generals Investigating

Eighteen attorneys general from various states have petitioned the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to investigate and to declare the drinks unsafe. Until now the FDA, while not approving of the mixture, has not done anything to stop it from being served.

Some states are also looking into passing laws specifically with the intention of banning the sale of such drink mixtures, though no such laws have as yet been passed.

Consider Non-Caffeinated Drinks

We are suggesting that restaurateurs with alcohol licenses consider offering non caffeinated alternatives to the caffeine drinks they have traditionally offered as a standard item and offer to substitute the more traditional drinks only on request from patrons. This way, you are protected from potential liabilities should one of your patrons get sick.

Japanese Wine? Yes, Japanese Wine!

November 13, 2010

While Americans know all about saki and sushi, there is another Japanese product, wine made from the koshu grape. The trouble is that until now, no one other than the Japanese ever wanted to drink the stuff, considering it to be horrible swill that wasn’t fit to be served in good restaurants.

One Importer Tries to Bring in Koshu Wine

Ernest Singer is an American importer who tasted the wine ten years ago for the first time. A fruity white wine, Mr. Singer fell in love with the stuff and decided that it was perfectly matched to Japanese food. He is convinced that the wine will become the very first Asian wine to draw a true international market.

A Need to Change the Way Things Are Done

Mr. Singer has been working with French vintners and grapes grown locally to try to create a new taste sensation for the American palate. The key Mr. Singer says is that the vintners from Japan need to start following different patterns which he is trying to teach them so that the wines they produce will no longer taste like swill to American and Western palates. He reports that he has had some success working with a small group of younger wine makers who are willing to experiment and try new ideas.

Traditional Made From Bad Fruit Mixed with Plenty of Sugar

The biggest problem is that the koshu grapes, grown primarily near Mount Fiji, were traditionally harvested for other uses. The damaged grapes were mixed with heavy doses of sugar to create a cheap, sweet wine which few people, even the Japanese consider to be particularly drinkable.

A Need for New Science and Ideas

In addition to the problem of overcoming traditional methods of making wines in Japan, another issue that Mr. Singer has found is that the traditional methods of making wines that the French and California vintners use doesn’t work well in Japan. French and California wines are drown in dry climates while Japanese wine must contend with very wet areas where rainstorms show up all summer and fall.

However, for those who get into the market early and start offering the wines to their customers, we expect that you will see  a nice bump in business as word of the new drinks spread.

Corn Prices Expected to Go Through the Roof

November 11, 2010

It’s remarkable to think about, but corn production in the United States, or the lack of corn production in this country, quite literally has an effect on almost every aspect of our lives and especially on the lives or restaurateurs.

The USDA recently announced a severe cut in the corn prospects for the corn crop, causing a severe spike in the price of futures. The price of a bushel of corn is expected to hit $6 for December deliveries.

Cutbacks in Various Meat Products

The expected shortage of corn is said to be leading to the rise of prices of poultry, beef and pork. In addition, there may be a spike in the costs of high fructose corn syrup and possibly even ethanol.  Below, we’ve detailed expected cost increases for various products:


The general consensus is that pork producers need to be paying no more than $4 per bushel for corn in order to break even when they sell live hogs. At current corn prices, it is expected that the cost of pork is going to skyrocket as producers begin trying to make up for the extra cost of the feed they need to provide for their herd.

The price of Smithfield Food for example, a major pork producer, is expected to go down in fiscal 2012 as the price of feed skyrockets.

Cattle and Poultry

Cattle and poultry prices are expected to continue to rise as well. Of course, the fact that beef and poultry prices have been steadily rising for the past few years already is just an indicator that we can expect to see even faster price increases now that the cost of feed is expected to skyrocket as well.

Export Products

The one bright spot on the horizon is exports. As the value of the dollar continues to fall relative to world currencies, exports are expected to continue to grow. The recent price increases in the cost of corn futures are expected to lead to a significant rise in the value of cattle, poultry and hog exports.