Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Always Slammed Grille, perhaps?

The intervention should have come after the Halloween night when a kid in a red chili-pepper costume rang my door bell. “Ah, the Chili’s logo! Great choice of outfit,” I remarked to a bashful 7-year-old whose sister, dressed as a strawberry, was holding the hand of a toddler painted like a pea pod. “They’re posting some kind of same-store sales these days, huh?” His father whisked them away, and we didn’t get another trick-or-treater all night. Word had spread up and down the street: Beware the restaurant geek in No. 18.

Though, given a little-noticed thread in restaurant-naming these days, perhaps I should have been hailed as a marketing consultant waiting to be hired. Because there are definite signs of industry jargon becoming the sign fodder of choice.

Consider, for instance, a pair of intriguing concepts from two of the most-respected chain operators in the business. What did Legal Sea Foods, the New England seafood powerhouse, christen its newest venture? Legal’s Test Kitchen—shortened, in typically industry fashion, to LTK in one iteration. Those of us in the trade might know that a test kitchen is a place of experimentation, as LTK is for the upscale-restaurant company (the Test Kitchen is a fast-casual take-off that promises to get customers in and out in 15 minutes; the LTK variation features such high-tech amenities as iPod docking stations at the table). But will consumers embrace it?

Hillstone Restaurant Group, parent of the much-salaamed Houston’s chain, would probably bet so. Its restaurant in a high-end Newport Beach shopping mall is called Café R&D, as in research and development, or the department that usually runs a restaurant company’s test kitchen. Already three years old, the indoor/outdoor hybrid features such out-of-the-ordinary fare as the Vegetarian Nut Burger and the Silver Service Hot Dog.

Which brings me back to my new flirtation with restaurant consulting—have I got names for you! How about Comp Sales Booster Grille? Or Morning Daypart Diner? The Awesome AUV Inn? At the very least, Many Covers Café?

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