Monday, June 23, 2008

Daydream believers

I was trading air-guitar licks the other day with Bluto Pilkbean, the imaginary childhood friend who helped me invent the flying car and a way of extracting super-human strength from Twizzlers. He’s recently made a name for himself in the fanciful field that’s filled many a restaurateur’s daydreams of late, the silver bullet.

“Pilkbean,” I said after we’d decided not to take the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models to dinner, “do you really buy this malarkey? So many things are stacked against the industry that all the experts are calling this a perfect storm. An operation is going to soar out of hell just by adding sliders or upgrading its coffee?”

“This from the person who believed he could obliterate all homework by electrifying Silly Putty,” he retorted. “Besides, you’re forgetting that most adapters combine the magic pills. McDonald’s is focusing on breakfast and beverages. Taco Bell is embracing cheap-o deals and new drinks and breakfast. Applebee’s is not only touting sliders and bargain-rate lunches, but also inviting customers to submit videos for a new campaign. It’s a matter of mucho mojo, mi compadre.” Pilkbean had never been quite the same since the trip to Tijuana.

“Who cares if you offer five or 50?,” I responded. “What does it get you other than one turn of consumers’ heads?”

“A point of differentiation.”

“For how long? If these killer plays do anything, everyone and their cousin copycats ‘em. It’ll be curbside takeaway or the Bloomin’ Onion all over again.” I looked to see if he was reaching for his combination death ray pistol/Pez dispenser, because I had him now.

“There’s always something new,” he noted calmly.

“Such as?”

“Well, right now some fast-casual chains are adding table service. All kinds of concepts are giving away food to bolster traffic. Eat ‘n Park and Chipotle are supposedly looking to use more local ingredients. Red Lobster just announced that it’ll give space on the menu to a dish created during one of those cooking-contest shows.”

“Isn’t that exactly what Friday’s did?”

“Well…maybe. But there’s talk of going even farther afield. Some concepts are talking about radical steps like upgrading service, renovating dining rooms, or”—he actually shivered at this point—“trying to hire and retain the best employees. Gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?”

“You’re an idiot,” I assured. “Now let’s get back to work on our Red Sox immobilization spray.”

1 comment:

  1. That is too funny. I spent several years as a restaurant manager and am glad to be out of that rat race. I really enjoyed your conversation with Bluto.