Christine Blank

Having a Blast for Charity

Charitable contributions and service have always been important to the management team at Milano Restaurants in Fresno, California. Executives hold seats on nonprofit organizations’ boards, while the operator of franchise brands such as Coney Island Grill and Me-n-Ed’s Pizzeria also sponsors numerous charities, including the Boys & Girls Club, Children’s Hospital of Central California, and the Red Cross.

Hot Market: Detroit

Some limited-service chains see big potential in bankrupt city.

Once a bankrupt city left for dead, Detroit is showing signs of becoming a hot destination for quick-service and fast-casual concepts. Where city blocks were once ghost towns, real estate developers today are building thriving centers for businesses and entertainment venues—and restaurant operators are excited to get on board.

Holiday Hiring Heats Up

Restaurant operators report an optimistic holiday hiring season.
Quick service restaurant brands hire more employees for Christmas shopping season.
Newk's brings in 5–10 percent more employees in three weeks after Black Friday than rest of the year.

Quick-service restaurants—along with retailers, hospitality firms, and other companies—are hiring more employees this holiday season than past holidays. Many restaurant operators are also paying those seasonal hires more than they did last year.

According to the latest U.S. Department of Labor jobs report, employers added 321,000 jobs in November, far surpassing estimates of 230,000. U.S. wages also rose an average of 9 cents per hour in November, 2.1 percent higher than a year ago.

Wetzel’s Own Wonka

Wetzel’s Pretzels rolls out video menuboards with a flair for whimsy.
Quick service brands develops creative video series for menu board.
Wetzel's new video menuboard features a character who takes the viewer on a journey through a fictional Wetzel's Pretzels factory.

Guests who walk into the Wetzel’s Pretzels store at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California, will notice something different about the store. Its digital menuboards quickly switch from product photos and information to short animated films, not unlike the style of old Walt Disney shorts.

Turkey Time

Brands get creative with Thanksgiving-themed LTOs.
Quick service restaurant brands create new seasonal menu items for Thanksgiving.
Saladworks rolled out a Farm Fresh salad that is topped with turkey tenderloins, house-roasted butternut squash, red grapes, Feta, and candied walnuts.

Fast-casual and quick-serve restaurants are not just banking on the same old flavors for this year’s Thanksgiving-focused limited-time offers (LTO). Many are featuring unique takes on turkey via salads, sandwiches, soups, and other dishes. Thanksgiving and holiday LTO desserts have gotten a new spin, too, from turkey-shaped frozen treats to gingerbread bars.

Instead of the standard turkey and cranberry sandwich pairing, Quiznos rolled out a Pesto Turkey Ciabatta Toastie sandwich with Mozzarella, basil pesto, tomatoes, lettuce, and red wine vinaigrette in early September.

From Bad to Good

Operators earn new customers by being open and honest with online reviewers.
Quick service restaurant brands leverage review sites like Yelp to sway customer opinion.
Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes is developing a company-wide protocol on responding to online review sites like Yelp.

Executives, store managers, and everyone else involved in a restaurant business dreads reading horrible online reviews of their company’s food, service, and atmosphere. But like them or not, reviews have become a significant part of the dining process, and recent research finds that review websites like Yelp! are an essential part of how consumers decide where to eat.

The Joy of R&D

Checkers/Rally’s head of development has deep company roots.
The senior culinary manager at quick service restaurant Checkers grew up in the company.
Checkers/Rally's senior director of R&D Ryan Joy grew up in the company, working for his dad Craig's franchise.

While most of his peers were attending football games and socializing on the weekends, Ryan Joy spent his teenage years working as many hours as he could at his dad’s Checkers franchise in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Today, Joy continues to put in hours for the Checkers/Rally’s brands, but it’s not working for his dad Craig Joy’s franchise, which was the first franchise in the Checkers/Rally’s system. It’s as the senior director of R&D and culinary for the company, a position in which he’s helped the company develop a number of pivotal new menu items.

Beyond Pumpkin

Sure, pumpkin is king of the fall. But brands have other tricks up their sleeve this fall season.
Fast food brands jump on board pumpking flavor trend with innovative menu items.
Au Bon Pain's fall menu is comprised of a Pumpkin Croissant, Pumpkin CroisBun, Caramel Apple Bar, Pumpkin Pie Latte, and Oven Hot Turkey & Cheddar on 9-Grain Cranberry Ciabatta sandwich.

Pumpkin has long reigned as king of the fall, but this year, limited-service brands are not just adding a pumpkin pastry and calling it a season. Instead, several quick-service and fast-casual concepts introduced non-pumpkin products and innovative spins on the pumpkin flavor, while also launching creative marketing campaigns to bring customers in the door.

Class is in Session

As back-to-school season gets underway, brands look to become part of students’ routines.
Chicken chain Wing Zone delivers menu items via electric golf cart.
To stand out in a crowded college foodservice market, Wing Zone is delivering its wings to students at Georgia Tech via an electric golf cart.

The back-to-school season signals a return to more regular meal routines for families, and quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are working hard to be a part of those routines. Many limited-service brands are entrenching themselves in and around elementary schools, high schools, and the lucrative university market as students across the U.S. head back to school.