Danny Meyer & Enlightened Culture

Fast Company: “How do you persuade your waiters to forgo a 20% tip on each table they serve? Danny Meyer says they never wanted to hire people who would only have been nice to you if they assessed it out of the four tables in their section, you were the richest or you were the most generous.”

“By that he means building a culture where employees focus first on pleasing one another, creating a warm energy that in turn fuels the staff as it tends to patrons, the community, and suppliers. His restaurants offer employees a variety of rewards, from bonuses to birthday cakes. And employees in turn have discretion to give customers free extras, all creating a virtuous cycle of hospitality.”

“Meyer regularly tests his approach to see if it’s is working by asking members of the team to share their understanding and experience of the culture … He says these discussions happen at pre-service meetings and in employee town halls, and through multiple internal channels that employees can use to offer their honest feedback.”

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WorkEatPlay: The Pay-to-Stay Café

Anne Kadet: “There’s long been an uneasy relationship between the city’s cafes and the freelancers who use them as office space. Some joints banned laptops or unplugged the Wi-Fi. But a few are trying a new tactic—charging for table time. Peter Litvinenko, CEO of WorkEatPlay, which currently offers pay-to-stay service at one Hamptons and five New York City venues, describes his business as an Airbnb for restaurants looking to rent their tables as workspace during slow periods, typically on weekdays before the dinner hour.”

“Patrons using the WorkEatPlay website can select an establishment and reserve a day; hours vary depending on the venue. One can pay by the day or buy a package of hours. WorkEatPlay keeps the fee and the restaurant—at least in theory—gets new business. The ideal venue offers a convenient location, a pleasant dining room and decent wireless, Mr. Litvinenko says. Restaurants serving fish are out: ‘We don’t want the aroma to be part of the experience’.”

At Pourt, “which opened this spring on Manhattan’s Cooper Square … there’s a traditional cafe upfront, while the spacious backroom offers a cafe/office hybrid. The workstations feature charging outlets and swiveling ergonomic armchairs, and the décor includes paintings by neighborhood artists … The $10-an-hour rate is steep compared with the $40 that standard co-working spaces typically charge for a day pass. The co-working outfit WeWork, meanwhile, only offers monthly passes. Rates in New York City, which vary by location, start at $300 for a ‘hot desk’ and $650 for a private office. Pourt founder Mike Kruszewski recently tweaked his proposition so guests can apply the entire fee toward food and drinks at the cafe.”

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Extreme Aging: Rotting Beef Commands Top Dollar

The Wall Street Journal: “The hottest menu item at New York restaurants may be a plate of rotting beef. Dining spots around town are offering steaks that have been aged anywhere from 90 to 180 days, pushing the limits well beyond the typical aging period of 21 to 45 days. Restaurateurs and chefs say the added time allows for greater tenderness and depth of flavor than the norm.” Billy Oliva, executive chef of Delmonico’s, describes it as “like the taste of roasted hazelnuts and dehydrated mushrooms.”

“The lower Manhattan restaurant is marking its 180th anniversary by offering a 180-day dry-aged bone-in rib eye, served on a keepsake plate, for $380. The special is offered through Oct. 14. The reason for the high cost? Beef that has been aged loses a considerable amount of its weight over time, Mr. Oliva explains, so diners are essentially paying for that shrinkage.”

“While beef that sits in a meat locker for months on end may sound like a dicey dietary proposition, food-safety experts say it is generally fine for consumption because of how the steak is prepared. Before cooking, chefs trim the exterior of the meat where any bacteria might grow, reducing the safety risk. And the cooking process itself adds another layer of protection … Which isn’t to say the flavor of the steak is one that every carnivore appreciates … ‘It’s like blue cheese on a bone,’ says Michael Lomonaco, chef and owner of Porter House Bar and Grill, a steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan’s Time Warner Center.”

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Amy’s Drive-Thru: Meat-Free Fast Food

Fast Company: “Amy’s Drive Thru is America’s first vegetarian, organic, gluten-free-optional fast-food restaurant, and much to the surprise of the owners, it’s doing more than holding its own against its greasy competitors … Business has been so booming at Amy’s Drive Thru in its two years of operation that it’s beginning a chain.”

“For 29 years, the Petaluma, California-based Amy’s Kitchen has gained a cult following as a purveyor of family-style, vegetarian frozen meals, from macaroni and cheese to burritos, all handmade fresh in three operating facilities across California, Oregon, and Idaho, and shipped nationwide … The drive-through is powered by solar panels, and the tableware is recyclable. Using mostly organic and local produce for ingredients is more expensive, but it’s what customers expect from the company.”

“Whereas a standard fast-food restaurant has around 15 employees per outpost, Amy’s Drive Thru employs over 90 because it takes many more people to prepare the food … A true cross-country empire of Amy’s locations is still far off … The company wants to expand slowly, to ensure that they can partner with local farmers and producers around each location … and to understand where the drive-throughs could have the greatest effect in breaking up health-food deserts.”

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Sey What? A Nordic Coffee Experience

The New York Times: “This season, two New York roasters are unveiling shops that are designed to impress. One, the airy Sey Coffee, which opened this month in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is all raw concrete and whitewashed walls, a skylit showcase for a roaster with a following among coffee-heads who favor the bright, clean profile of the so-called Nordic style … Its owners, Tobin Polk and Lance Schnorenberg, started roasting in 2011 in a fourth-floor loft around the corner from the new shop … Mr. Polk built the burnished maple bench that runs along a cinder-block wall himself, and the ceramist Erin Louise Clancy will set up a work space in the back that will supply the shop.”

“A roaster taking a similar tack is Nobletree Coffee, which … is unveiling a shop in front of its Red Hook, Brooklyn, roasting facility that sets out to make a statement, a state-of-the-art coffee bar with all the shiny toys: a gurgling Steampunk brewer, a streamlined Modbar brewer and espresso machine, kegs of nitrogenized cold brew on tap. While the other Nobletree locations are built for speed, this is a place to nerd out, a destination coffee bar. It helps that the roaster is in a mid-19th-century warehouse, on a pier with a postcard view of the Statue of Liberty across the harbor.”

“Eric Taylor, the general manager of Nobletree, says the purpose of the coffee bar isn’t to make sales but to create a tasting room, a place where you can refine your palate. Nobletree is a part of FAL Coffee, which owns coffee farms and a processing mill in Brazil. Some of the beans that make it to Brooklyn are the cream of those crops — the baristas behind the counter are familiar with every link of the supply chain.”

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Driverless Cars To Deliver Domino’s Pizza

The New York Times: “The Domino’s pizza chain this week plans to start testing deliveries using a self-driving Ford Fusion sedan outfitted with enough sensors, electronics and software to find its way to customers’ homes or offices in a section of this city 40 miles west of Detroit.” Dennis Maloney, chief digital officer at Domino’s, comments: “It’s going to be a real learning experience. No one really knows what’s going to happen when customers walk out to the car. They’re faced with a car. There’s no human interaction. What happens if they approach the car from the wrong direction? Will people mind coming out of their house? We want to understand all that.”

“For the Domino’s trial, Ford is providing a self-driving Fusion that scans the road with radar and cameras. It also uses lidar – a kind of radar based on laser beams – that can be found in a rooftop unit featuring distinctive spinning canisters. The images collected are compared instantaneously with highly detailed digital maps to ensure that the car knows precisely where it is on the road and how to reach its destination.”

“Because there is no delivery person to bring pizzas to the door, customers will have to walk outside the retrieve their order. They will be alerted by text when the car is nearing their home and when it arrives. A red arrow on the car’s rear, passenger-side window tells customers to ‘start here’ and directs them to a touch screen. Keying in the last four digits of the customer’s phone number causes the window to open, revealing an insulated compartment large enough to hold five pizzas and four side orders. One customer advantage of taking delivery from a self-driving car: If there’s no driver, there’s no tip.”

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Dominos Delivers Its Promise: Gross Bro-Food

Fast Company: “In the age of Instagram, food is no longer designed to just be food … Yet in this new wave of food-as-influencer, there is a single, curmudgeonly brand that insists on photographing its dishes on conference room tables, under fluorescent lighting, and from all sorts of unflattering angles. It’s a brand that looks art directed by your 65-year-old parents who bought some no-name Android smartphone, hired based upon their portfolio of blurry photos on Facebook. It’s Domino’s.”

Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief digital officer, comments: “In this space, we actually are finding that less than perfect is sometimes actually perfect. A lot of customers are out photographing their food. They know, depending where you take it and the light you’re under, food looks different. It feels much more honest and transparent when the images are imperfect … Even if it is a little bit gooey, greasy, the packaging isn’t perfect, and there’s a bit of a burnt spot, that’s the pizza you get. And that makes you think how good it was last time you had it.”

“But let us be clear about something when it comes to Domino’s social feeds. It’s not just full of realistic photography without a food stylist on the set. It’s often downright gross bro-food, like what you might see waking up at 5 a.m. on the floor of a frat house. We’re talking about grease-stained boxes, mozzarella cheese that has a white balance set to the color of earwax (17,000 likes) … We’re talking about congealed chicken wings sitting in a pool of lukewarm buffalo sauce (8,000 likes) … In theory, Domino’s will only drive more loyalty with every person who sees a deflated pile of cheese sticks on its feed and orders them in real life, because Domino’s is delivering on its promise.”

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Pizza Al Taglio Doesn’t Cut Corners

The Wall Street Journal: “A number of New York pizza makers are now offering the classic treat with different geometry: Their ‘pies’ aren’t pie-shaped. Instead, they are based on a rectangular-shaped style, known as pizza al taglio, that is popular in Rome. Further distinguishing this version: Slices are often served at room temperature. And when it comes to cutting the pizza, forget about the traditional wheel-style cutter. This is a pizza best divided with a scissors.”

“To some extent, the interest in pizza al taglio speaks to the appetite New Yorkers have for a broadening array of pizza styles, circular or rectangular-shaped. The city has seen restaurants offering everything including Detroit-style pizza and the classic Chicago deep-dish version. And that is not to mention the Sicilian pie, another rectangular style, that has been a mainstay at New York pizzerias for decades.”

“Moreover, other Roman styles are also finding their way to the city. Pinsa Lab, which opened earlier this year in Brooklyn, specializes in an crispy circular style, known as pinsa, that is said to date back to ancient times … But pizza al taglio has special appeal for a host of reasons, say fans. Some like the fanciful toppings that are often used: At Fornino, for example, the pizza al taglio comes in versions with everything from heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese to radicchio and figs.”

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Blue-Corn Pixza Helps Homeless Kids

Fast Company: “For every five slices of blue corn pizza sold at Pixza, a piece of paper denoting a sixth slice is set aside. Once a week, those slips are counted up, and the corresponding number of slices are made and brought to a nearby homeless shelter, where Pixza representatives–many of them who once lived in the shelter–distribute them to the youth and have a conversation about Pixza’s program, and how it could lead to a job offer at the pizzeria.”

“Next, the youth are set up with a haircut, a shower, a T-shirt, a doctor’s appointment, and a life-skills course; Souza has set up partnerships with local hairdressers, medical students, and doctors who volunteer their services to the program. When the youth make it through all of the steps–their progress is recorded via a bracelet in which each step is hole-punched as it’s completed, like an analogue Fitbit–they are offered a job at Pixza.”

“Once employed at Pixza, the youth are matched up with a dedicated coach, who walks them through life planning and securing necessities like housing … The youth and mentors meet at Pixza during closing hours to plan: how to use the two-month stipend doled out to the kids to help them secure an apartment, how to source furniture, how they might want to direct their career beyond the pizzeria.”

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Applebees: What Is (not) Hip

Quartz: “It turns out, Applebee’s perhaps isn’t cut out to be a sophisticated, modern bar with a menu that sports chicken-wonton tacos and Sriracha lime sauce shrimp. Since the beginning of the year, the company’s stock price has plummeted by nearly 50%. It’s currently sitting at its lowest point in more than five years.”

“In a recent conversation with investors, Applebee’s executives were blunt about what went wrong. They called out the brand’s overt attempt at attracting a younger, affluent crowd as a strategic misstep that wound up alienating boomers and Gen-X consumers. Even worse, the rebrand never succeeded in luring younger diners.”

“By contrast, Texas Roadhouse made a conscious decision to avoid a rebrand and found success. It stuck to its straightforward menu, designed for those who enjoy the routine of sticking to the same dishes.”

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