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    The 100 Biggest Stories of 2011

  • The top headlines, trends, and buy-outs in the restaurant industry this year.

    50. The Colonel Takes Lunch to New Heights

    KFC launched an extreme menu makeover by dispatching the Colonel to personally deliver its new $5 Everyday Meals to window washers working nearly 40 stories up at Chicago’s River Bend building in May.

    Facebook fans were asked to name people in need of a “So Good” extreme lunch delivery, and after the votes were tallied, KFC decided to bring lunch to one of America’s most extreme occupations, high-rise window washers.

    51. Venus Williams Teams Up with Jamba Juice

    Venus Williams added Jamba Juice franchisee to her long list of accomplishments, opening her first of five planned stores in the Washington, D.C, metro area over the next two years.

    Furthering her commitment to Jamba Juice’s healthy fare, Williams joined the company’s “Team Up” program to help slam childhood obesity. As a spokeswoman, Williams is sure to deliver a powerful serve of healthy motivation to help kids choose an active lifestyle and make better dietary decisions.

    52. Arby’s Fans Get $10K, Air Time

    Arby’s offered $10,000 and an appearance in a commercial as part of a video contest to promote its “Good Mood Food” tagline.

    53. We’re in the Golden Age of Drive Thru…

    “We are all of us, right now, living in the golden age of drive-thru,” a Bloomberg Businessweek feature declared earlier this year. And indeed, innovation is reaching a peak. With kitchens at places like Taco Bell designed to minimize footsteps and wrapping time, new and easier-to-use menuboards, and ever-more targeted scripts, both efficiency and accuracy are at unprecedented levels.

    … But It Might Be Ending Soon

    With the advent of Internet ordering, the traditional drive-thru may become less popular. Cold Stone Creamery and Five Guys Burgers & Fries are implementing online orders, and a Sonic Drive-In franchise group is testing a pilot mobile and online ordering program in 71 locations.

    54. Foreign Exchange

    As U.S. companies expand overseas, international flavors are coming stateside. At this year’s NRA Show, dozens of companies were enticing restaurateurs with ethnic products. Space-efficient noodle machines from Japan’s Yamato Manufacturing Co. Ltd offered a way for restaurants to efficiently customize their own noodles, and Toronto-based Stonefire Authentic Flatbreads was selling naan, roti, and Mediterranean pitas. In the Italian pavilion, Academia Barilla offered a full line of products including extra virgin olive oils, canned peeled tomatoes, and pesto with Italian pine nuts.

    55. Rick Ross Raps on Wings

    Wingstop is widening its fan base thanks to some crafty name-dropping by rap star Rick Ross.

    “The Boss,” as Ross is also known, name-checked his favorite Wingstop lemon-pepper-flavored wings in his hit song, “M.C. Hammer.” It’s no small coincidence that Ross is on board to open several Wingstop franchises in Memphis this fall. As Wingstop’s newest celebrity franchisee, Ross joins football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, a longtime spokesman for the company who joined the board of directors earlier in the year.

    56. The Gap Launches a Food Truck

    You may have expected a food truck from Carl’s Jr. or Taco Bell, but The Gap? You know, the clothes and apparel retailer? Alas, the truck was made a reality in August when the Pico de Gap truck rolled onto Los Angeles streets to support a new line of Gap clothes.

    “Top Chef” star Marcel Vigneron provided a menu of tacos, including a braised lamb neck taco with chile negro and guajillo and a carnitas taco with chipotle.

    57. Lady Gaga Treats “Little Monsters” to McDonald’s

    Known for her poker face, Lady Gaga revealed a rare glimpse of her sweeter side to her adoring fan base affectionately known as “Little Monsters” over the summer.

    Touched by their serenade of her own songs outside the Chateau Marmont before her “Jimmy Kimmel Show” appearance, Gaga treated them to a McDonald’s feast, complete with a heartfelt tweet: “Sending some yummies to Chateau Monster tummies!”

    58. E-Verify Launches Self Check

    Employees in 21 states and Washington, D.C., can now check their eligibility to work in the U.S. via “E-Verify Self Check,” a service of the Department of Homeland Security.

    The self-check system (which is also available in Spanish) is aimed at helping employees clean up discrepancies in their employment-eligibility information before they are hired by an employer who participates in the DHS’s E-Verify program.