Archive for November, 2010

The Dollar is Falling and the Bottom Could Drop Out of Many Industries

November 9, 2010

The U.S. dollar has been falling drastically in value when compared to a number of other currencies in world markets. We’ve touched on it before, but now it’s time to discuss this in detail and how it could affect the restaurant industry.

What Happened

We all know about the recent (and many say current) recession, dubbed the “Great Recession.” Even now, unemployment is hovering in the range of 10% and economists say that the true number is much higher since so many people have given up looking for work or are working in part time jobs when they would really like to be working full time.

In order to help the economy, the U.S. Treasury has been printing money like it’sgoing out of style tomorrow! The Fed (Federal Reserve – the National Bank of the United States) has kept interest rates artificially low in order to stimulate demand.

All these efforts however have caused a drastic reduction in the value of the dollar when compared to many world currencies. The Euro, the Yen, the British Pound – they’re all relatively strong against the dollar.

That’s why so many exporters are having a field day selling to customers overseas. Plus, tourism is up from these countries as well sine our country is a relative bargain for vacationers.

The Bad News

So what could be bad about this you ask? Lots. First of all, a number of countries are now working to weaken their own currencies in order to keep their own exports flowing to the United States. China for example has been keeping the yuan at an artificially low value compared to the dollar in order to keep their exports cheap.

However, as more and more countries try to compete and see who can make their currencies weak compared to the dollar, it becomes in the words of one economist, “a race to the bottom.” At that point, global economic malaise begins to take over. This will have a direct effect on our industry as fewer and fewer people are able to afford to eat out.


The other side of this is that the Fed’s current monetary policy may lead to increased levels of inflation, since money is cheap and demand begins to outstrip demand. This would further push down the fund people have for eating out.

All in all, it’s a scary cat and mouse game at times is very reminiscent of the Great Depression. (But keep in mind there are many factors which mean we’re nowhere near a real depression!) And we don’t even have prohibition to get people into the speakeasies this time. Give them good food instead!

Getting Kids to Make Healthier Food Choices Isn’t Easy

November 7, 2010

Most of us see lots of kids come into our establishments to eat with their parents. It’s even possible that your particular establishment caters specifically to kids if you run a neighborhood pizza shop or burger joint.

However, there are also times when those of us running a more upscale restaurant grit our teeth and wonder how we can keep our other guests happy while not alienating families who may have children who just don’t want to eat a healthy meal.

Worried About the “Kid Conflict”?  You’re Not Alone.

If you’ve ever faced that problem, you’ll be glad to know you’re not alone. In fact, the USDA is so concerned about trying to get kids to eat healthy that they recently announced a new $2 million dollar campaign to try to change kids’ attitudes about school lunches.

The idea is to try and get kids to want to eat a healthy diet rather than the junk food that is often served in school cafeterias and on many of our own kids’ menus.

An Organization for Healthier Kids

The idea is to create a brand think tank called the Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs. The new organization will be based at Cornell University in New York State and will fund a number of studies in other states as well. The question they’ll be asking is: How can we get kids to want to eat healthier foods?

This is a question that we as restaurateurs, at least in more upscale restaurants need to be asking ourselves as well. Depending on the kind of place you run, you may have a tough time when the 10 year old comes in with her parents and they insist that she eat the foie gras.

How to Get Kids to Eat Healthily

One suggestion, which we frankly wonder about since it’s heavy handed and not likely to succeed (not to mention it doesn’t help us with ideas in our own industry) is to issue meal cards that can only be used to purchase healthy foods.

What are some ways that you use to get kids in your restaurant to quiet down and eat with their families? We’d love to hear about it. If you want to read more about the initiative, just visit their web site.

Campbell’s Soup in Hot Water Over Halal Certification

November 5, 2010

With a growing Muslim population in the United States and other Western countries, more and more companies are trying to find a way to embrace these consumers and to get their products into their hands.

The Jewish community has long worked to get products certified as Kosher and has worked with restaurants in virtually every corner of the United States to help them get certified when they can. But it is only recently that restaurants and food service companies have started to look for Halal certification (meaning that a food is acceptable according to Muslim dietary laws, in much the same way that Kosher certification means that a food is acceptable according to Jewish dietary laws).

However, as with so many things that involve Islam, a certain amount of controversy has found its way into the rather mundane world of food certification.

Campbell’s Soup Under Fire

While no Halal-certified restaurateur has come under fire for seeking Halal certification as of yet, Campbell’s Soup has. The controversy surrounds the decision by the New Jersey based manufacturer to seek certification for some of the soups they sell in Canada.

While no one objects in principal to the idea of a food being certified Halal any more than they might object to a food being certified Kosher, a grassroots group has begun waging a boycott campaign against Campbell’s Soup for using a Halal certification.

Blogger Breaks the Story

The story broke when Pamela Geller, a blogger for Atlas Shrugs noticed the certification was being obtained from the Islamic Society of North America. The organization was investigated by federal prosecutors in 2007 for possible links to Hamas. Geller is also one of the principal organizers of the fight against the so called “Ground Zero Mosque.”

What’s a Restaurateur to Do?

While the case does not directly affect the restaurant industry, we feel it’s important to make it known. Not because we are taking sides in a political argument (we’re not), but because we feel that anything with the potential to impact our industry and our businesses needs to be talked about.

Campbell’s claims that they have seen no untoward effects as a result of the boycott. But to be safe, we advise that those restaurateurs who do choose to invest in certification for any kind of specialized group, be it vegetarian, Kosher, Halal or others should take the time to find out who they are working with and to make an informed decision for themselves.

Fish Prices Expected to Skyrocket in Coming Years

November 3, 2010

The world is being severely overfished. That’s the conclusion so far from an ongoing study being conducted at the University of British Columbia. According to the study, the world catch, or the amount of fish taken out of the sea “in the wild”, is approximately 170 billion pounds each year.

The study’s authors claim that this amount of fishing is unsustainable. They claim that world fish prices could spike severely in the near future as fish becomes more and more of a luxury for Western consumers while those in developing nations may have to do without altogether.

The Type of Fish is the Biggest Problem

One of the issues the study brings up, and one which we are particularly concerned about, is that the raw tonnage of fish taken out of the sea is not nearly as important as the type of fish consumed.

The authors of the study, Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist as the university, and Enric Sala, a National Geographic fellow say that the bigger the fish, the more of a problem it is to consume it.

Tuna for example, which restaurateurs have already seen spike in prices in recent years, is a fish which they say needs to be kept to a minimum. A thousand pound tuna for example, according them, would require around 15,000 pounds of other fish to be bred and made ready for our plates.

That’s because tuna is what is known as an “Apex predator.” These kinds of fish rest on top of the food chain and eat many other, smaller fish.

A Change in Menus is Called For

The scientists say that given the concerns they have regarding the sea, they would like to see people begin eating other, smaller fish such as farmed tilapia in place of salmon and black cod in place of Chilean sea bass.

How it Affects Restaurateurs

As the efforts of the study authors become more and more apparent, restaurateurs will have to make decisions about their menus. Some for example may choose to offer both the bigger fish for those who aren’t concerned and only want to enjoy tuna or salmon while at the same making more environmentally friendly choices available for their diners who want other kinds of fish.

The 6 Month Old McDonalds Happy Meal May Have Been a Bad Science Experiment

November 1, 2010

By now, you’ve likely heard about Sally Davies’ photographing a McDonald’s Happy Meal that was left out for six months and never decomposed. While the egg (McMuffin?) is certainly on McDonald’s faces over the whole experiment, it turns out that at least one scientist has announced a new experiment to check on the results that Ms. Davies found.

One Theory: The Hamburger Was Dry

The prevailing theory regarding the Happy Meal that refused to turn is that if it was extremely dry, it wouldn’t have been able to decompose. This is because mold and bacteria require moisture to grow.

Bad Science Charged

A blogger from the Serious Eats blog, J. Kenji Lopez Alt insists that the efforts of Ms. Davies constitute “bad science.” He charges that Ms. Davies (along with a number of others who are attempting to recreate the results of her experiment, such as Morgan Spurlock, who directed a documentary on the health effects of eating fast food every day called “Super Size Me” and Karen Hanrahan, who writes another blog, called Best of Mother Earth) is doing a one-sided experiment.

According to Mr. Kenji Lopez, they are not bothering to compare the results with other burgers to see if there is something special about the McDonalds food which makes it last so long as opposed to other homemade hamburgers and French Fries.

A New Experiment to Be Performed

He has decided that he is going to engage in a new scientific experiment where he will compare different hamburgers–including homemade hamburgers–to see if there is a difference between them.

He says he’s not against the idea of doing these experiments. He’s simply bothered by the “bad science” that has been used to draw these conclusions. Mr. Kenji Lopez has announced that he will be posting the results of his own experiment in a few weeks on his blog.