McDonald’s ‘Bottles’ The Coke Experience

Thrillist: “While you’d think that Coca-Cola and other fountain drinks are more or less sold the same way at every fast food chain, McDonald’s claims that its restaurants go above and beyond to ensure the drinks taste as good out of the fountain machine as they would out of a bottle. For example, McDonald’s has its supply of Coke syrup delivered in stainless steal containers instead of the typical plastic packages used throughout the industry to help preserve its freshness.”

According to McDonald’s: “There are many reasons the Coca-Cola tastes so great at McDonald’s. We simply follow the guidelines set by Coca-Cola and take steps to ensure it tastes the same as when you buy it in a bottle. The water and Coca-Cola syrup are pre-chilled before entering our fountain dispensers with the ratio of syrup set to allow for ice to melt. We also keep our fountain beverage system cold so your drink can always be at the peak of refreshing. In order to ensure our drinks are always meeting a gold standard, we have proper filtration methods in place. There’s also our straw — it’s slightly wider than a typical straw, so all that Coke taste can hit all your tastebuds.”


In-Store: Walmart App Promises Faster Transactions

The Washington Post: “Walmart is making yet another bid to speed up its in-store shopping experience. The big-box chain is creating express lanes in its pharmacy and money services areas, in which customers will be able to use new functions in the Walmart app as part of the transaction process. By allowing shoppers to do some things in the app instead of at the counter, and by letting them bypass the main queue, the theory is that customers should get in and out of the store more quickly.”

“In the new set-up, customers can input key information directly to the app before coming to the store. This eliminates a tedious in-store process in which they filled out paperwork by hand, only to stand by as a Walmart employee keyed all that information into a computer. Similarly, in the pharmacy department, customers will be able to complete a transaction by coming to the counter, entering a PIN on their phones, and then using their phones to scan a code displayed at the register. The hope is that this shortened process alleviates a key customer pain point.”

“The express lanes in both pharmacy and money services departments will arrive in a limited number of stores in March and should be available in almost all of the chain’s 4,700 locations by fall.”


Bowery FarmOS Yields ‘Post-Organic’ Produce

Christian Science Monitor: “A newly launched modern farming company, Bowery, is growing what they call the world’s first “post-organic” produce. Their concept breaks from traditional agricultural practices by growing plants indoors in vertical rows without any pesticides. With the help of proprietary technology, Bowery can closely monitor the growth of their crops and meticulously manage the resources needed. More than 80 types of crops are currently being grown at the company’s farm in Kearny, New Jersey, and they are selling several types of greens and herbs in stores in the New York region.”

“The idea for the company spawned when co-founder and CEO Irving Fain discovered a promising trend in LED lighting cost and efficiency that could improve indoor farming.” He explains: “The pricing of LED lights dropped dramatically a little over 5 years ago. We’ve also seen the efficiency more than double. What makes this even more exciting is that research suggests that this trend will continue. This means that not only are LED’s a viable solution for indoor farming today, but this solution continues to scale out in the future. While traditional farming methods waste resources and endanger our future food supply, advancements in indoor farming make it possible to address a wide range of agricultural issues.”

“FarmOS, a technology system built by the Bowery team, allows crops to grow year-round, at a faster rate, and using 95-percent less water than traditional agriculture. FarmOS creates ideal conditions using automation, LED lighting that mimics the sun, and a 24-hour monitoring to ensure a reliable yield without wasting resources.”


Ladies & Gentlemen: The Rolling Stores

The New York Times: “It is 3 in the afternoon, and Anthony Palmer, 62, is behind the wheel of the beat-up, retrofitted and rebranded bread truck that is Anthony’s Rolling Store. Today his wares include vegetable oil, cornstarch, Alka-Seltzer, oatmeal pies, ramen noodles, ice cream, Slim Jims, doughnuts, ChapStick, Dial soap, little cigars, chips, fruit punch and Saltine crackers.”

“Mr. Palmer’s truck is among the last of a small and dying tradition in this section of black Atlanta, just west and northwest of downtown. In the 1970s and ’80s, there were rolling stores all over neighborhoods like English Avenue and Vine City, stocked with all of the fixings for a real supper … the disappearance of the rolling stores may simply be a result of the relentless and multifarious pace of change in Atlanta, one of those American cities that move and morph at the pace of the nation itself.”

“The truck does not roll as much as it used to — just a few hours a week. The Atlanta Falcons are building their new football stadium just down the road. It looks like a cut diamond, or like some futuristic building on Mars. Everyone is talking about neighborhood revitalization. Mr. Palmer can envision the day when the threadbare old houses like his are replaced by condos with fitness centers. It bothers him some. But sometimes he talks as though change in the city is a force too powerful to be judged, but rather something at which to marvel, like a storm.”


On Trend: Permanent Pop-Up Restaurants

The Wall Street Journal: “The excruciatingly high cost of real estate, plus rising minimum wages and the hard work of running a restaurant, have encouraged some chefs in big cities to change their end goal. They’re establishing permanent pop-ups—oxymoronic as it sounds—that are less expensive to run than a conventional restaurant and allow more flexibility and creativity.”

“Aburaya (San Francisco) sells Japanese fried chicken and izakaya plates for lunch Tuesday-Friday at one location, for dinner Wednesday-Saturday at another location and twice a month at a third location. Two other ventures, Tacos Oscar and Sup!, which serves Southeast Asian street food, each set up shop twice a month at a bar called Starline Social Club and pop up at other locations throughout the month.”

“The emerging business model works in several ways. A pop-up might pay a set fee to the restaurant to use the space and/or chip in for utilities, which helps make ends meet. Or the pop-up might attract new customers on a night when the restaurant is slow. One typical arrangement is that the pop-up takes home the money spent on food but the host keeps the money for alcoholic drinks … Permanent pop-ups also feed diners’ hunger for all things new.”


Mall Writer: Novel Idea for Shopping Experience

Quartz: “The Mall of America, parthenon of consumerism, is looking for the next Joan Didion …you can apply to be the first writer-in-residence at the US’s biggest shopping mall. The writer will spend five days inside the mall, which has its own aquarium and theme park, and record ‘on-the-fly impressions.’ In return, the shopping center, which measures 5.6 million square feet, will pay the winner $2,500 and put him or her up in a hotel for four nights.”

“Its panel of submission reviewers will weigh ‘creativity’ over quality, and the work can’t be critical of any aspect of the mall … The writer will also be expected to work from 11am to 7pm, and has to physically sit at a public desk in the mall for at least four hours per day. Pending approval, the winner may also have her work displayed in ‘almost-real time’ on a large monitor inside the building, and it ‘may scroll continuously’ throughout the day.”


Ikinari: The Stand-Up Steakhouse

The Wall Street Journal: “Ikinari Steak … in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood, is a ‘standing’ restaurant, where patrons feast—upright—at any of the 40 spots at high-top tables. For those who prefer a traditional dining option, 10 chairs also are available. The concept comes by way of Japan, where Ikinari Steak is a fast-growing chain with 116 locations, according to founder Kunio Ichinose. Mr. Ichinosesees the chain catching on in New York, too, and has plans to open 10 additional locations in the city in the next year.”

“By having patrons stand, tables tend to turn over more quickly. The higher traffic lets Ikinari Steak keep prices relatively low. A sirloin weighing 200 grams (7.1 ounces) costs $16, for example. At some of New York’s better-known steakhouses, prices often can run double that amount.”

“Ikinari Steak further distinguishes itself by keeping its menu simple: three cuts—the sirloin, along with filet and rib-eye. Each platter comes with a side of vegetables, though potatoes are an option. Wine and Japanese beer are available. The restaurant has a no-tipping policy.”


Hospitality Today: Please Hurry Up & Eat

The Wall Street Journal: “As online reservation systems make it simpler to fill seats at less-popular hours, restaurateurs are finding that their biggest challenge is getting tables turned over in time for the next reservation … To move the meal along, many restaurants keep tabs on loitering diners, rush out food for guests sitting at in-demand spots and regularly entice diners to the bar for free dessert or a post-dinner drink.” Restauranteur Gabe Garza comments: “We really concentrate on being able to control the dining room without the guest feeling it.”

“While restaurants don’t publish turnover times, most won’t let two-person meals run much longer than 90 minutes during busy nights. That limit can be closer to two hours for slightly larger parties or fine dining. In general, two-person tables tend to leave earlier, while a four-person table can order the same amount of food but stick around at least 15 minutes longer … To create pockets of faster turnover, more restaurants are opting for communal tables in the dining area, along with backless stools at the bar, where patrons can order from the full menu.”

“What’s the solution for diners who want to stay past the allotted time without the hassle? Dine later. Or be upfront when reserving about wanting a leisurely dinner, which may lead to an out-of-the-way table that’s best for lingering. As a last resort, Mr. Garza suggests dropping a hint to the server upon arrival.” He advises: “There are diners who enjoy the art of dining and we want to give that to them.”


Infinite Personalization: A Layer Cake of Fake

David Siegel: “Infinite personalization comprises the artificial intelligence-driven, big-data based tools that allow algorithms to build a personalized Internet echo chamber customized just for you, designed to make you feel great. Infinite personalization feeds you the real, the fake, and everything in between, with the simple goal of holding your attention and getting you to come back for more. It is the process by which companies can measure, match, and predict consumers’ individual preferences with amazing accuracy and then tailor offerings to maximize revenue.”

“Particularly when it comes to information, however, infinite personalization has a dark side … Today, each and every one of us has a custom-designed experience based on our past preferences … One result is that Americans seem to be losing a certain commonality of experience—even, in some cases, within the same household … The problem is likely to get worse. The technology of infinite personalization is getting so good that it’s debatable whether we choose our information sources, or the other way around.”

“The scientific method and the advent of artificial intelligence offer us the promise of greater empiricism and a more evidence-based understanding of reality. Perversely, infinite personalization seems to deliver the exact opposite. Worse yet, we are still in the early days of this information revolution. The ability to use such tools to shape our thinking will only grow more powerful in the coming years. As individuals and as a society, we should be very wary about their potential to warp our perspectives.”


Wisdom of Crowds: The Minority Rules

The Wall Street Journal: “Researchers at MIT and Princeton have found a way to tap into the insight of the expert minority within a crowd—a minority whose views would otherwise be swamped in a simple majority vote or poll. The researchers’ simple new technique leverages the ignorance of crowds as well as their wisdom.”

“Their approach works by asking the question to which you need an answer, then adding a second question that is some version of: In percentages, how do you think most people will answer? If the actual minority percentage exceeds the predicted minority percentage, the minority answer is probably the correct one. And the larger the gap between prediction and reality, the more confidence we can have in that minority response.”

“The technique works, says Drazen Prelec, one of the MIT scientists, because people with more knowledge than most recognize the likely position of the majority, and both groups join in predicting a low vote in favor of the minority answer. When the minority vote for the right answer exceeds that prediction, it gives us what the researchers call the ‘surprisingly popular’ answer, which is more likely to be correct.”