Archive for December, 2010

Wendy’s Tests Out New Big Mac Style Burger

December 29, 2010

Well the next time you’re having a Big Mac attack, you may not need to head for the Golden Arches. Instead, you may just be heading for a redheaded girl in pigtails. It seems Wendy’s has decided to honor the memory of their founder, Dave Thomas, with a brand new burger. And that burger seems to bear a very suspicious resemblance to a certain double patty burger offered by the Golden Arches.

Find the DT Double in Providence, RI

Of course, Wendy’s new DT Double is not an exact clone of the popular hamburger offered by McD’s worldwide. Nor is the new burger from the third largest burger chain in the United States (after McD’s and Burger King) available just anywhere. No, on order to get this special sauce laden Big Mac wannabe you have to head out to Providence Rhode Island where the hamburger is being offered to customers for $2.49.

According to at least one blog that follows the restaurant industry, GrubGrade, the new DT Double bears a striking resemblance to the famous Big Mac. Like that burger, it features two all beef patties and it also has a pair of slices of cheese. The new burger, however, features Wendy’s special “signature sauce,” the recipe to which they are not officially revealing. There is also lettuce, tomato and red onion thrown into the bun, which comes toasted and buttered.

More About Wendy’s New Marketing Campaigns

This isn’t Wendy’s first foray into trying out new ideas in order to honor the man himself. Wendy’s previously decided to honor Dave Thomas by offering Las Vegas customers a break from gambling with a Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy cheeseburger.

Both burgers have been test marketed with ads featuring Wendy herself, for whom Dave Thomas named the restaurants (Wendy was his daughter).  Wendy’s is part of the Wendy’s/Arby’s chain of restaurants in the United States.

A Side of Dirt with Your Salad Sir?

December 27, 2010

A while back, we told you about the latest culinary trend sweeping the nation’s restaurants – hay was being featured on the menu of some haute couture restaurants in the United States (and being offered for a pretty penny at that). Well, now a new trend has started to emerge which may make you feel like you’ve been transported to kindergarten or first grade. Some restaurants have decided that it’s high time their customers eat a mouthful of dirt.

Edible Dirt Emerges in Copenhagen

Now to be fair, we’re not talking about the same stuff you plant your petunias in, though it sure does look that way at times and it takes a bit of imagination to get over the shock of seeing the stuff served to you in a nice restaurant. However, at Noma in Copenhagen, that’s exactly what you’ll get. You get a flower pot filled with something you’d swear was dirt and it’s even got a whole radish (raw of course) planted inside the dirt for your enjoyment.

Now you may be asking yourself, how they are getting away with serving their patrons dirt. The answer is, they’re not. It just looks that way. In reality, Noma, like a number of other restaurants is crafting a kind of edible dirt which their customers can actually eat without feeling like they’ve been given a dare by the other kids in their 1st grade class.

What’s Really in Edible Dirt?

It’s actually a ground up mixture of a variety of seeds and other foods designed to look like dirt. Nor are they the only ones trying this concept out. In Tel Aviv, chef Eldad Shem Tov of Shakuf offers his customers a plate of dirt made out of chickpeas. Even in this country, you can dig into a mouthful of dirt if you visit San Francisco and sit in Jennifer Puccio’s restaurant, Marlowe; the dirt is made from olives.

Now while all these ideas may seem positively bizarre to you at first, it does seem to be a trend that’s catching on and which some chefs are having fun with. After all, isn’t that one of the things people come to a restaurant for? To try new things – here they get to try something new while being reminded of their childhood.

How Some Pictures of Food Can Reduce Appetites

December 23, 2010

So it turns out that when you invest in photos of your food for your menu, you may not only be helping to drive sales of your most photogenic dishes, but you may also be helping some of your customers lose weight.

Carnegie Case Study Reveals Surprising Results about Food Photography

A new study at Carnegie Mellon University has concluded that if people simply look at pictures of food, imagine what it tastes like and how it smells, it actually helps you to curb your appetite. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of what we all assumed until now – that imagining what the food is and how it looks only whets your appetite.

Now before you start wondering about why your customers don’t just look at the pictures, get satisfied and walk out, it turns out that there’s one hitch – in order for the pictures to work when they see them, the people who see them have to also actually imagine eating the food.

Case Study on Psychological Eating Results

The study was broken down into five parts. In the first part, 51 people were told that they should imagine 33 different actions that they do repetitively, each of them one by one. Then, they asked a control group to imagine they were busy popping 33 quarters into a coin operating washing machine. Still another group was told to imagine putting 30 quarters into a washing machine and then eating 3 M&M candies. Another group did the reverse, imagining eating 30 M&Ms and then putting three quarters into a washing machine.

Once that was done, the groups were offered a bowl of actual M&Ms to eat. The ones who had imagined having eaten 30 M&M candies actually ate fewer than the other groups.

Now bottom line, it’s really more a curiosity for us as restaurateurs than an actually important piece of information. However, if you happen to see a customer come in and ask to see and hold a picture of a large order of fries, hold it for a few minutes and then order small fries, you’ll know what happened.

New Combinations for Old Foods

December 21, 2010

So more and more national brands are trying to find a way of appealing to new crowds. Kraft foods for example has been busy upgrading their cream cheese recipes to appeal to younger people, Chex mix has gotten an update and even Velveeta cheese has seen an uptick in the number of recipes that can be made with the stuff (Velveeta fudge anyone).

Which brings up to our current topic of discussion, one we’ve talked about before – that is, finding new ways to use older ingredients so that our menus stay fresh and are enjoyable to new generations of diners.

Something Restaurateurs Have Done For Years

Now if this sounds like old news, it definitely is. Chefs have been experimenting with new ways of combining old ingredients for years and there is nothing new about that. However, what is somewhat new is the interesting mix of comfort foods that have been proposed by some companies.

Betty Crocker, for example, recently tried to upgrade their sales of pancake mix by offering up the “Mancake”. A stack of pancakes made even better by layering it with bacon and topping it with beer—unhealthier to be certain, but still tasty and appealing to men.

Combining the Best of Comfort Food and New Age Idealism

Comfort food is great and obviously works really well for those running fast food joints such as burger joints and pizza parlors; however, we’d like to suggest that more upscale restaurants may benefit from this trend as well.

Try combinations that appeal both to the New-Age types who want something healthy while at the same time trying to find ways to incorporate more traditional comfort foods, which the New Age diner may remember from his or her childhood.

In other words, our suggestion is to take the best ideas from the old world and combine them with the new. Now that’s a recipe for success.

Interfaith Ceremony Blesses New Restaurant Opening

December 15, 2010

If you sometimes wonder whether your restaurant is cursed with bad luck, you may want to place a call to the new owners of the New York Burger Company and ask them for advice. Or maybe you shouldn’t, considering they are going up against history, though they do seem to have God on their side.

The restaurant in question was recently opened in New York City at 470 West 23rd street. Now, “Why should you care,” you ask, “about a single burger joint in Chelsea?” Simple – the building seems to have been cursed as a home for restaurants.

So far, a dozen years and four eateries have come and gone since Robert Arbor opened Le Solex in the spot back in 1998. It seems that no restaurateur has been able to last in the spot, in spite of all the signs, at least on paper pointing to the place being a prime location for a restaurant.

Restaurant Requires the Blessing of 5 Faiths for Opening

The area seemed to be so cursed that the owners of the new eatery decided to bring in five different faiths to bless the place. A Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi and Buddhist minister were all called in to offer their blessings in an interfaith ceremony that owners hoped might finally cajole whatever evil spirits had invaded their restaurant space into giving up and moving on.

According to them, an Episcopalian minister was supposed to officiate later in the day, followed by a Native American ceremony.

If nothing else, the fact that they asked so many groups to offer their blessings was a brilliant way of attracting the media and getting them to cover what would otherwise have been just another anonymous restaurant opening in Manhattan. Whether it will finally work to expel the demons from the location, well that remains to be seen.

The Wild Food Movement Moves into the Commercial Arena (and hits snags)

December 13, 2010

So here’s an interesting trend that has started to take root in the United States: becoming foragers for food. No, we’re not talking about the homeless diving into your dumpster to look for the leftover food you threw away at the end of the working day. We’re talking instead about people who forage for food in the forest, collect the food and eat it. In other words, they take a bounty from Mother Nature’s wild food sources and enjoy eating stuff that is truly organic and fresh.

Selling Free Food

While the trend of gathering food in the wild has gone on for some time, a new phenomenon is potentially of more interest to the nation’s restaurateurs – people who go out and gather this food are now trying to turn it into a business and actually sell the foods they find, both to consumers and to restaurant owners.

Restaurateurs Get Truly Wild, Fresh Food

The result has been an interesting mix. On the one hand, you have truly organic produce, which was grown wild and which has never seen an artificial growth stimulus of any kind, which many restaurateurs prefer because it gives their foods a more natural flavor and allows them to claim a connection to the environment that others can only dream of.

The Law Has Its Say on the Subject

However, the foraging movement has also led to a backlash from government agencies who say that first of all, the foragers are violating state and federal laws when they gather food in forests and parks owned by state and federal park services and second of all, they may be putting the public’s health in danger by offering food which may not really be all that safe to consume.

Bottom line, as with many things today, we’re offering the advice of caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Those wild mushrooms may look tempting, but if they poison your diners, you’ll regret having bought them.

It’s Good for Sleeping On and It’s Even Good to Eat

December 11, 2010

You may have thought that hay was just for horses, but it turns out that not only is hay something that humans can eat, it’s actually become haute couture for a number of restaurants across the United States!

The theory is that the stuff is comforting somehow and makes the food feel more grassy and simple. Well that certainly seems to be true. The stuff is being added to everything from sweetbreads to ham to veal chops.

Unused and Unslept On

Those who are concerned however will be happy to note that the hay is being sourced from producers who offer organic hay and none of it has been used or slept on by weary travelers staying in a barn.

Still, the idea that the same stuff that horses are eating and sleeping on is supposed to be something people will pay good money to eat is pretty surprising to many people.

Other Odd Foods

Then again, depending on where you are in the world, there are lots of other products that seem odd to us as Americans and people in western countries. For example, there are plenty of places where one can eat gourmet insects for dinner and things like frogs legs have been a popular delicacy in some circles for a number of years, so why not hay?

What Exactly is Hay Anyway?

Hay, is actually just (long) grass, legumes, or other herbivorous plant which have simply been dried out. And while we tend not to eat grass any more than we would consider eating hay, the stuff is quite edible and even tasty at times. Hay is used for roasting foods and may serve as the bed of a meat meal, in much the same way we commonly serve food with a bed of rice or roasted vegetables.

Typically Used for Flavoring

For all that the stuff is in fact edible however, most restaurateurs and chefs have found that hay is best used as a method of flavoring foods. Give it a shot and see what happens at your establishment. Just make sure that there aren’t any needles in your hay stack.

Could We Be Next?

December 9, 2010

If you’ve been following the news outside of our industry lately, you’d know that the Food and Drug Administration has recently proposed putting out new and stark warning labels on cigarettes. The idea is to scare people into trying to quit.

Therefore, instead of the standard “Surgeon General’s Warning: May Cause Lung Cancer” on packages of cigarettes, we could see pictures of toe tags with the message that cigarettes can cause fatal diseases or pictures of breathing apparatus with a message talking about shortness of breath caused by the use of cigarettes.

While we understand fully the impetus to impose such dire warnings in an effort to get more and more people to quit their habits, we do wonder how long it will be before such warnings end up being slapped onto food and restaurant menus.

Calorie Counts Required

Readers in certain cities know already that they have been required to post information about calorie counts and fat content on their menus for many of their dishes. This has so far not had much impact on people’s choices.

Imagine however if our menus had to include warnings that “eating this food could lead to diabetes.” Or maybe when a Chinese restaurant includes MSG, they’ll be required to put on a label warning that it may cause adverse reactions in certain people.

These are the kinds of warnings we currently see on packs of cigarettes so it’s not a stretch to believe that such warnings could be required on our menus and or on packaged foods.

The Next Level

We don’t know if the new rules that the FDA has proposed regarding labeling with pictures will ever end up on cigarette packs. Nor are we going to take a position on the subject, knowing that some of our readers are going to be staunchly against it.  After all, many of us make our living from offering restaurants that allow smoking. However, we feel it’s important to mention this and to ask ourselves, could our industry be the next one targeted for sterner warnings?

Your Menu May Help Men Feel Less Aggresive

December 7, 2010

File this one under the list of things too bizarre not to be true. It turns out that men who are feeling aggressive could actually get help in feeling less aggressive by taking a gander at your menu. If you serve meat, that is!

Frank Kachanoff is a researcher from McGill University who was studying the relationship between meat and aggression in men. He wanted to test a theory that people are likely to become more aggressive in response to meat. Mr. Kachnoff showed pictures of the stuff to men and to study their reactions.

The study looked at 82 men and used various techniques to force them into a more aggressive stance. The men were told to punish a person who was reading a script to them whenever a mistake was made. At the same time, they were given a stack of photos of ready to eat meat products and told to flip through them while the script reader was busy doing his thing.

A control group was given the same experiment but when the script reader was reading, they were instead given a stack of random photos to flip through. The men in the study were told that they would be administering their punishments by way of painfully high levels of sound being broadcast to the person reading the script.

What really shocked Mr. Kachnoff however was the result of the study. He fully expected that the images of meat would make the men more aggressive and more likely to commit punishments against the reader when he made a mistake. Instead, the opposite was true. All the men who sat and stared at pictures of meat were less aggressive than the control group.

Kachnoff speculates that the reaction was based on the fact that the meat the men were staring at was ready to eat. He theorizes that the primal instinct which would have made men feel aggressive about meat was absent when the meat was already prepared.

At that point, he says, ancient man would have felt more peaceful because he was sitting around the fire and having a pleasant meal with family and friends. Maybe that’s why people enjoy going out to eat so much – they get to feel that ancient primal experience of a group meal.

Zagat Unveils Plans to Revamp Their Web Site

December 5, 2010

The Zagat survey of New York City restaurants began life as a simple single sheet of paper in the early 1980s and at the time was merely a hobby for Nina and Tim Zagat. They simply prepared a piece of paper with their own survey of the best restaurants in New York and passed it around to their friends.

The story might have gone no further than that had an officer at Citibank not come across the list. Soon, 3,000 copies of the list had been distributed to every officer in Citibank and the Zagats knew they had a hit on their hands.

World Renowned Today

Today the Zagat survey is word renowned and a good or bad rating in the book can make or break the reputation of a restaurant, especially one that is just starting out. Ask any gourmand about the Zagat survey and they’ll say “of course I’m familiar with it. It’s my bible.”

However, ask the same gourmand about, the web site that the company rolled out a few years and you may see more than a few scratching their heads and wondering, “do they have their ratings listed there as well?” The Zagat company is hoping however to change all that.

A New Old Strategy

Zagat was one of the first companies to erect a pay wall around their online content. They decided that they weren’t going to give away the store just because they were now on the web. However, as with many companies that have tried in the past to erect pay walls, Zagat suffered while their competition, which remained freely available (you may have heard of Yelp for example) grew at exponential rates.

However, the Zagats are hoping to change all that by revamping their web site and offering much more in the way of free content while still keeping some material behind a pay wall in order to maximize their profits. This strategy has worked well for publications such as the Wall Street Journal, and will hopefully work for the Zagat Guide line as well.