For decades, the value proposition in quick-serve circles was pretty easy to capture in a catchphrase: More Is Better. Give those 18–34-year-old guys bigger burgers, burritos, sandwiches, and pizzas; super-size the drinks and sides; pile the toppings high; ladle on the extras, and you had a surefire formula for success.
Menu-development professionals for fast-food chains have probably watched enviously as some of their fast-casual competitors have unveiled salads that are both too elaborate and too expensive to replicate at their concepts.
In his landmark 2004 treatise The Paradox of Choice, Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz made the case that the vast number of choices available to modern consumers does not offer a heady sense of freedom. Rather, it produces a kind of anxiety, even paralysis, brought on by endless mulling, weighing, rethinking, comparing, contrasting, and second-guessing.
If demography is indeed destiny (as so many pundits and prognosticators are fond of noting), then fast-food and fast-casual brands are bound to take on an even more pronounced Latin flavor in coming years.
If you’re reading this column in a bleary-eyed, early-morning fog, I recommend a piping-hot cup of coffee to kick-start your day. You might even make it a double.
Two years ago in this very space, when I last opined on beer and wine, I acknowledged that the very idea of selling alcohol remained remote for some concepts, and far-fetched for many. But the drive for higher margins, coupled with the fact that many adult customers simply see beer and wine as essential components of a good meal, has led to a sizable shift in the past 24 months. The question for many quick-serve chains now is not whether to serve beer and wine, but when and how.
Say this for modern quick-serve sandwiches: They’re certainly not standing still.
They’re jarred awake by an abrasive alarm clock, flustered by the challenge of selecting the right outfit in the dark, annoyed by the prospect of a heavily congested commute, and daunted by the prospect of another day’s slog through the salt mines. Is it any wonder the last thing your prospective customer wants to consider at 6, 7, or 8 a.m. is what to eat for breakfast, and where to buy it?
The topic I’ve been asked to address this month is kids’ dining.
Note the deliberate use of the word dining. Not kids’ eating, which would be purely utilitarian. Not kids’ scarfing, which can be a more accurate description of how young people approach mealtimes. No, today we’re talking about kids’ dining.
While attending the Research Chefs Association’s annual conference in San Antonio this past March, I wandered into the Esquire Tavern, a historic downtown institution with a cocktail menu capable of tempting even the most ardent teetotaler.