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Editor’s Note: In September we announced that Skift was expanding into food and drink with the addition of the Chefs+Tech newsletter.
We see this as a natural expansion of the Skift umbrella, bringing the big-picture view on the future of dining out, being fanatically focused on the guest experience, and at the intersection of marketing and tech.
We publish C+T twice weekly.
What It Takes to Grow a Brand Nationwide
In 2015, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group made its first outside investment in California’s Tender Greens, an upscale fast-casual chain with a focus on local ingredients at its then 21 locations. (The company’s founder calls it “fine-casual.”) Now, Tender Greens has unveiled its new brand identity, presumably readying itself for a larger expansion.
Expect a completely new look for the 12-year-old chain as it completely revamps its physical restaurants and associated branding. The new logo and website was unveiled last week, and an associated mobile app and loyalty program is coming in September. Also new: its logo, uniforms, and packaging, plus operational changes to make service faster, like mobile ordering and payment and easier in-store pickup, according to Restaurant Hospitality.
While any decade-old brand deserves a refresh, all of these changes are a good look at what it takes for a well-positioned brand to compete in a crowded market. For example,Tender Greens is planning to open a Manhattan location not far from beloved, veggie-centric favorites Sweetgreen and Dig Inn, both of which offer mobile ordering, payment, and pickup. No longer a differentiator, this functionality is a must-have for a new brand launching in today’s competitive landscape. Tender Greens explains the changes, including the logic behind its new logo and its new menu items, in a blog post.
Restaurant Jobs Are Increasing, Why Is That Bad?
Food service jobs are growing, which on the surface feels like good news for the economy. But as a piece in The Atlantic points out, restaurant jobs are growing faster than any other sector, and they often pay far less than the manufacturing jobs that previously made up the fast-growing portions of the country’s economy. “The U.S. still makes stuff, but mostly it serves stuff,” writes the author. And it’s true, restaurants are booming. More than a quarter of new jobs created in July were in food service, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: 53,100 in food service to 16,000 in manufacturing in the same time frame, something the National Restaurant Association seems happy with.
So what’s the problem? For one, there’s some thought that the U.S. has too many restaurants, and that this type of growth and long-term employment is unsustainable. Plus, the average restaurant job pays just $12.50 per hour, significantly less than most factory jobs, which isn’t great news for workers. And benefits? Not comparable. Still, it’s hard to argue that job creation is bad, though as The Atlantic rightly points out, with an administration touting job creation and American prosperity, its focus on manufacturing over service seems outdated and out-of-touch with the realities of the modern workforce.
DineEquity Gets a New CEO and Closes 130 Restaurants
Last week, DineEquity announced its new CEO, former Choice Hotels CEO, Steve Joyce. The parent company of IHOP and Applebee’s had been without a CEO since February, when Julia Stewart left the role amid declining sales. Second quarter earnings didn’t look much better for the brand, with Applebee’s same store sales decreasing 7 percent. Amid these numbers, DineEquity announced it will close up to 135 Applebee’s locations in an aggressive push to close what Applebee’s brand president called brand-damaging restaurants.
Reservations at the Cheetos Restaurant are Full. Can We Still Mock It?
Just in time for the close of New York City Restaurant Week, Frito-Lay is opening a pop-up, Cheetos-themed restaurant in the West Village. The restaurant, open for only three days between August 15-17, is already fully booked. The Spotted Cheetah features “upscale, Cheetos-filled dishes” created by celeb chef and Food Network favorite, Anne Burrell — some more appealing than others. (I mean, Spicy Cheetos Nachos sounds more like a college dorm room creation than a viable menu item, but I could get down with some Cheetos Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup.)
While funny and certainly buzzy, this pop-up is a marketing campaign, through and through, with all of today’s hallmarks, including kitsch, nostalgia, and, of course, Instagrammability. The thing is, unless you’re getting ready for a meal at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square, I can’t imagine looking to any of the food for inspiration. It’s also kind of like… is this a weird episode of Chopped? Are the Cheetos hiding in the recipes? (Does anyone else remember season 2 of Top Chef when one of the chefs made a monstrosity of an amuse bouche using a candy bar and Cheetos from the vending machine?)
All this said, there aren’t any available reservations left for the restaurant (they used OpenTable to manage reservations, as did a similarly PR-driven Taco Bell Test Kitchen in Orange County, California), so maybe it’s not so laughable? I’m still skeptical of the food, but if you weren’t lucky (?) enough to snag a spot at the table, you can download a cookbook featuring Burrell’s recipes beginning August 15.