The Color of Money: Bias & The Brand Experience

Alexandra C. Feldberg and Tami Kim: “Over the past two years, we have investigated discrimination in customer service by conducting large-scale field experiments in the hospitality industry. We have repeatedly found that front-line workers exhibit racial bias in the quality of customer service they provide. In one experiment, we emailed approximately 6,000 hotels across the United States from 12 fictitious email accounts. We varied the names of the senders to signal different attributes, such as race and gender, to the recipients.”

“Overall, hotel employees were significantly more likely to respond to inquiries from people who had typically white names than from those who had typically black and Asian names … Hotel employees provided 20 percent more restaurant recommendations to white than to black or Asian people. Employees’ politeness also varied by race. When responding to white people, employees were more likely to address them by name and to end their emails with a complimentary close (e.g., “Best,” “Sincerely”) than they were when responding to black or Asian people.”

“Instead of relying primarily on trainings to remedy bias, if they truly want to transform the way they serve customers, companies need to make structural changes. For instance, they should standardize scripts and provide employees with specific protocols for managing these situations. Such efforts can institutionalize norms of behavior for employees when they interact with customers … To detect bias in these behaviors requires quantifying different aspects of customer service and comparing treatment quality across a range of customers … It is only after identifying these disparities that companies can develop targeted interventions to combat biases.”

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Eateries Experiment with Split-Menu Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “When the Michelin-starred, Paris-based chef Joël Robuchon opened his high-end L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon restaurant in the Meatpacking District last November, he had it share space with his “elegant, yet approachable” Le Grill de Joël Robuchon concept. At the former, a main course can cost as much as $135 and tasting menus run $145 to $265. At the latter, there is a three-course prix-fixe menu for $65. All prices include tipping.”

“Agern, the Nordic-inspired restaurant in Grand Central Terminal that also offers $100-plus tasting menus, has taken another approach to pricing. In recent weeks, it has expanded its a la carte offerings—even going so far as to add a burger and chicken wings, albeit in gourmet-minded versions. The $26 burger, for example, is made with a secret-spice mix, according to chef Gunnar Gíslason, and is served on a bun seasoned with smoked salt and vegetable ‘ash’.”

“Ultimately, each restaurant may have its individual reasons for adopting lower-price models and approaches. But if there is a common thread, it is the increased emphasis on casual dining in our culinary culture, says Arlene Spiegel, a New York-based hospitality consultant. Today’s diner ‘doesn’t want the restaurant to tell them what to wear or how much to spend,’ she says. ‘They want to feel welcome whether they are in jeans or tuxedos’.”

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Bravo: Homestyle Grocer to Latino Mets

The New York Times: “Cooks scurried in and out of the kitchen carrying containers of pork ribs, stewed beef, and rice and beans. Behind a display case of Latin American pastries, a worker hurried through coffee orders. The rapid-fire banter of Caribbean Spanish filled the air. It was the lunchtime rush at the cafeteria of the Bravo Supermarket here, but one loyal customer in particular — the Mets infielder Jose Reyes — caught the eye of the head chef, who hugged him as he took his place in line yet again, like so many Mets from Latin America hungry for home cooking.”

“Opened in 2005, the supermarket has done more than provide a dose of home comfort for players, essential as they find that. It has, at times, also offered free food for strapped athletes, occasional employment or even a cheap place to stay through Luis Merejo, an owner of the supermarket and a former baseball player himself.” Mets shortstop Amed Rosario comments: “It’s home. Every Dominican likes to eat their food, and this is the closest to my mother’s cooking. It makes me feel better. Sometimes you just want to eat your rice and beans, and Dominican-style meat.”

“Bravo is a supermarket chain with at least 60 stores in Florida and the Northeast, including the Bronx and New Jersey, in areas with a high concentration of Latinos. The Port St. Lucie location has perhaps fed the most professional baseball players … A large plate of Dominican-style rice and pigeon peas and fried plantains costs $4. Add meat for only a few more dollars. It’s a steal for minor leaguers who earn paychecks that pale in comparison to those that major leaguers receive.”

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Valentine Hearts Take Flight on Chicken Wings

The Wall Street Journal: “Somehow, chicken wings are elbowing their way to a spot alongside flowers, chocolate and champagne on America’s Valentine’s Day menu … Restaurant orders of chicken wings—1.1 billion in the U.S. last year—are 14% higher on Feb. 14 compared with other days of the month, excluding Super Bowl Sunday, of course, according to Bonnie Riggs, restaurant analyst for NPD Group, a market-research firm.”

Marivel Guerrero, who plans to give her new boyfriend a chicken-wing bouquet wrapped in a red bow, explains: “When you’re eating wings you’re really getting to know that other person. Will they pick at them with their fingers? Will they dive in and eat right off the bone?” Charlie Morrison, of Wingstop, “a chicken-wing chain of about 1,100 restaurants,” says sharing wings means “you’re ready to be vulnerable with someone, because there’s going to be food on your face.”

“Duffy’s Irish Pub in Washington, D.C., will offer chicken-wing combinations or ‘flights’ on Valentine’s Day in different flavors … The nine-wing combos require a couple to negotiate over the last piece, says co-owner Casey Callister. The back-and-forth could spark new intimacy.” He comments: “Sharing a partially eaten wing is like sharing a toothbrush.”

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Profits Eat the App-etite for Delivery Services

The New Yorker: “In 2016, delivery transactions made up about seven per cent of total U.S. restaurant sales. In a research report published last June, analysts at Morgan Stanley predicted that that number could eventually reach forty per cent of all restaurant sales, and an even higher percentage in urban areas and among casual restaurants, where delivery is concentrated. Companies like GrubHub maintain that the revenue they bring restaurants is ‘incremental’—the cherry on top, so to speak, of whatever sales the place would have done on its own.”

“They also argue that delivery orders are a form of marketing, exposing potential new customers who might convert to lucrative in-restaurant patrons. The problem is that as consumers use services like Uber Eats and Seamless for a greater share of their meals, delivery orders are beginning to replace some restaurants’ core business instead of complementing it … And, as delivery orders replace profitable takeout or sit-down sales with less profitable ones—ostensibly giving restaurants business but effectively taking it away—the ‘incremental’ argument no longer holds.”

“DoorDash, an Uber Eats competitor, has started to experiment with leasing remote kitchen space to restaurants so that they can expand their delivery radii. If such practices catch on, it’s easy to imagine a segment of the restaurant economy that looks a lot like, well, Uber, with an army of individual restaurants designed to serve the needs of middle-man platforms but struggling to make a living themselves.”

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Burger Serf: How Many Whoppers Per Second?

The Verge: A new Burger King ad explains “the concept of net neutrality with a stunt that showed what it would be like to have paid prioritization in a burger joint. In the ad, actors playing Burger King employees taunt ‘actual guests’ by making them wait for absurd amounts of time to receive their food — unless they pay huge tolls to get it quickly.”

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Why Do Pizza Chains Attract Republicans?

Morning Consult: “Large pizza chains accounted for 36.5% of sales in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016, compared to 23% of sales in states that voted for Hillary Clinton … Pizza industry experts suggest the popularity of major chains in traditionally conservative states — and to some extent, price and the level of more premium toppings — could be reasons for the political divide.”

A theory: “While pizza was plentiful in Italian immigrants’ urban communities along the East Coast around the turn of the 20th century, it was sparse elsewhere in the United States. It wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when companies like Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Little Caesars cropped up in the Midwest, that pizza was brought to the wider American public. During the industry’s early years, when chains were starting, companies focused their marketing on lower-income neighborhoods and presented pizza as an inexpensive dinner option in those Midwestern hubs.”

Carol Helstosky, author of Pizza: A Global History, comments: “If we think about this in culinary terms, the emphasis is on cost, reliability, standardization and efficiency … Food historians might label these culinary values conservative, in the sense that the consumer wants the same product, and qualities like fast delivery matter more than particular ingredients or the overall taste.”

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Drone Promo: The Kentucky Flying Object

The Verge: KFC’s “new, India-only Smoky Grilled Wings will come packaged in a box with detachable drone parts. Although customers will have to look up instructions online, they can eventually assemble the box and its parts to turn it into a Bluetooth-connected drone.”

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Depachikas: Department Store Sushi?

Business Insider: “The best place to find and sample Japanese food in Japan is actually in Tokyo’s department stores. Stores like Tokyu, Mitsukoshi, and Nihonbashi Takashimaya are like miniature cities unto themselves, spanning five or more floors and selling everything you can possibly imagine. But it’s in the basement where the real magic happens. There you will find Japan’s depachikas, sprawling fancy food halls with all kinds of Japanese and international cuisine.”

“Depachika is a portmanteau of the words for department store (depato) and basement (chika). Most department stores in Japan have them … The depachika is seen as a way to draw in hungry travelers and convince them to shop in the store’s upper floors, otherwise known as the “the Fountain Effect.” They offer just about every type of cuisine someone might want. Some depachika offer as many as 30,000 products.”

“Some depachika have sit-down sushi restaurants inside the food hall. But the grab-and-go sushi is usually very high quality … Depachikas are often attached to train stations to attract harried commuters. They can be a great place to grab a quick bento box before getting on the shinkansen (bullet train).”

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