Barney Wolf

Barney Wolf is an Ohio-based freelancer for <em>QSR</em> magazine.

Taco Bell Is At It Again

New Biscuit Taco part of ongoing innovation efforts at Yum! Brand.

Brian Niccol is a man on a mission. In the nearly two years since Niccol was tabbed as Taco Bell’s president, and in the three months since he became chief executive, the Mexican-inspired quick-service restaurant chain has been an innovation engine for its parent company, Yum! Brands.

Last year alone, the division launched breakfast nationally, began a mobile ordering and payment application, added menu items like Quesaritos and Power Bowls, rolled out its dollar menu, and debuted a fast-casual brand, U.S. Taco Co. and Urban Taproom.

Sensational Spuds

Consider the spud. Sure, it’s often thought of as a simple, standard restaurant staple—and in the quick-service field often relegated to the side of the plate or presented in fried format—but it also can be the subject of inspiration and kitchen creativity. Potatoes are also a cost-effective comfort food open to culinary flair.

“Potatoes are among the best profit makers for restaurants,” says Susan Weller, global foodservice marketing manager at the U.S. Potato Board. “And there are so many options for potatoes on the menu.”

Fitting Finale

Desserts have been part of the limited-service restaurant landscape for decades. Whether it’s cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream, or other goodies, consumers continue to seek these typically indulgent items to add to their meal or as a stand-alone treat.

In recent years, operators have added numerous dessert items, including many that don’t include chocolate. These days, fruits, cinnamon, peanut butter, and vanilla—the most popular ice cream and frozen yogurt flavor—are increasingly leveraged in dessert innovation.

How Easterbrook Can Fix McDonald’s

Incoming CEO has his work cut out for him at struggling McDonald’s.
Quick service restaurant behemoth McDonald's hired new CEO to turn company around.
Incoming McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook hopes to turn the company around.

As Steve Easterbrook readies to take over the helm at McDonald’s Corp. next month, one point seems crystal clear: He has his work cut out for him.

In the wake of two years of declining sales and profits, the world’s largest restaurant enterprise is turning to Easterbrook to turn around the ship after current chief executive Don Thompson decided to step down after nearly three tumultuous years.

Most experienced observers believe Easterbrook has the experience and ability to pull McDonald’s out of its funk, but they caution that it is going to take time.

Using Your Noodle

They’re made with just flour and water, but mixing these simple ingredients has created one of the world’s most popular foods. Noodles, from Italian pasta to all-American macaroni and cheese, and from Asian wheat or rice flour versions to those used for chicken noodle soup, are on the menus at about half of American limited-service restaurants.

Stocks Dip in 2014

Despite high-profile IPOs, quick-service stocks performed worse than overall market in 2014.
Quick service companies saw stocks fall in 2014 but could rebound with Shake Shack IPO.
Shake Shack, expected to file its IPO on Friday, could help limited-service stocks climb back from a down 2014.

After outperforming Wall Street the past few years, the stock prices of restaurant companies with quick-service concepts finished a bit worse than the overall market in 2014.

Slightly more than half of limited-service dining companies’ stocks were bested by the Standard & Poor’s 500 index last year. A dozen companies, including quick-service giants McDonald’s and Yum! Brands, saw their equity prices decline during the period. The S&P 500 gained 11.4 percent, but its restaurant sector index rose just 4.3 percent.

9 Fast Food Trends for 2015

The foods, ideas, and technologies that will leave a mark on the quick-serve industry this year.
Quick service restaurant trends to change industry in 2015 include Asian cuisine flavors.
Authentic Asian flavors becoming more present on quick-serve menus is one trend predicted to take off in 2015. thinkstock

Every time a new year gets under way, there’s a combination of promise and anxiety, a very real hope that better days are ahead mixed with uneasiness about what issues or problems may be lying in wait.

That’s why predictions seem to be as much a part of a New Year’s celebration as champagne and the ball drop in New York’s Times Square. For the restaurant industry, getting a peek into likely trends for 2015 provides some insight into the type of menu items that could give them smash successes in the year ahead—or a glimpse of the staggering challenges they’re left to overcome.

Putting Some Pop in Soda

Soda sales aren’t exactly bubbling at restaurants these days. In fact, they’ve been declining for years. Despite that, there’s fizz remaining in carbonated beverages as operators look toward craft sodas, new technology, homemade beverages, and creative concoctions to put effervescence into their sparkling libations.

“We’re seeing a lot of craft soda products available in the market, although it’s still very small,” says Joe Pawlak, beverage expert and senior vice president at Chicago market research firm Technomic Inc.

All Access: KFC

Headquarters tour shows brand hard at work on quality, consistency.
Quick service restaurant icon KFC is improving menu options while focusing on consistency.
KFC opened a new store prototype in its hometown of Louisville, Kentucky.

Read More About

Images of the late Col. Harlan Sanders are everywhere as you walk through the Louisville, Kentucky, headquarters of KFC and its parent, Yum! Brands. Not only are there plenty of photos and videos of the company founder and creator of the world’s most popular fried chicken recipe, but there are also statues of him both standing and sitting, as well as an animatronic version in the onsite Col. Sanders Museum.

2014’s Top 9 Stories

The stories that made this year one of the most eventful in industry history.
Quick service brands make impact on restaurant industry with big news events.
Taco Bell made a splash in 2014 with its breakfast menu, which included the Waffle Taco. Taco Bell

It’s fair to say that 2014 has been as eventful a year for quick-service restaurants as the industry has seen in quite a while. Changing demographics and sharper competition have sparked a variety of innovations, but also exposed some weaknesses. And the unrelenting march of technology is changing the restaurant business landscape, particularly when it comes to mobile phones.