Food & Service: How CFA Beats KFC

Business Insider: “Chick-fil-A restaurants sell three times as much as KFC locations — and it’s made the chicken chain No. 1 in the industry … The reason for Chick-fil-A’s dominance is a mix of excellent food and superior customer service, according to many analysts. The chain consistently ranks first in restaurant customer-service surveys, with customers raving about the restaurants’ cleanliness, quick, convenient service, and hardworking employees.”

“Chick-fil-A’s success on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis can be traced in part to the chain’s peculiar business model. The company accepts just 0.4% of franchisees, one of the most selective chains in the industry … franchisees are encouraged to become ‘entrenched’ in their communities, including involvement in local churches … the company attributes its success to investing in training employees. With only one location for each franchisee and a strongly cultivated company culture, that training may come more easily than at chains like KFC.”


Elvis Has Left The Cabin

The New York Times: Flight attendants “used to think of themselves … as hosts and hostesses of an exclusive party. But in today’s age of consolidation, when even the uniforms have lost their élan, much of that individual charm has worn off. Still, some flight attendants are not going gently. They are still doing what they can to keep passengers entertained or informed beyond pushing a button to play the video recordings of the in-flight safety videos.”

Consider Jack Sullivan, a Southwest Airways flight attendant who impersonates Elvis, complete with the sunglasses and scarves. Or the Spirit Airlines flight attendant who has taken to singing safety instructions to the tune of … Leaving on a Jet Plane. But few can match the worldwide appeal of Marty Cobb, a 10-year Southwest Airlines flight attendant, after a video of her comedic spinoff of the mundane safety directions spread quickly online in 2014.”

“Not all airlines are enamored of such displays of personality. Delta and American … said in statements that the airline appreciated it when flight attendants humanized their interactions, but that flight attendants were reminded that less was more when it came to in-flight announcements.” However: “A spokeswoman for Southwest also said that the company considered its crew to be its in-flight entertainment and that it hired flight attendants primarily because of their attitude.”


Vinnie’s: Vegan Pizza Fit for a Prince

The New York Times: “Vinnie’s, about 200 steps from the Bedford Avenue stop on the L train in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, thrives by selling colorful pizzas designed for customers who post pictures of their food on social media before they take a bite. For such a small pizzeria, Vinnie’s has an outsize online footprint. It is home to the photogenic Mini Vinnie, a slice covered in tiny pizza slices that caught the Internet’s attention last year … When Prince died, a Purple Rain slice with violet-hued cheese was on the menu.”

Vinnie’s latest: “a pizza box fashioned out of pizza crust. The creation features a small pepperoni pie nestled between a base of Sicilian-crust pizza and a lid of garlicky, naan-like bread. It sounds like the kind of creation dreamed up in a stoner haze.” Vinnie’s co-owner Sean Berthiaume “said his goal was to reduce the number of pizza boxes piled up around the neighborhood. As for the inspiration, he added that he may be the ‘only person in Williamsburg’ who doesn’t smoke marijuana. ‘My dad says I’m getting residuals,’ he said.

Berthiaume and two friends bought Vinnie’s for $150,000 in 2007. “The new owners … focused on maintaining the existing clientele by selling New York classics, like meatball-ricotta, as well as attracting a new type of regular customer by introducing gluten-free options and dozens of nondairy, meat-free recipes. Vegan fare accounts for about a quarter of all sales … ‘It doesn’t look like a quote-unquote vegan spot, which I like,” said Juliane Casey,” who ordered a “vegan version of a macaroni-and-cheese slice and a vegan barbecue chicken slice. ‘The things I miss the most are pizza and mac and cheese,’ she said of eating a vegan diet. ‘When I see it on the menu, it feels like they care about you’.”


Dark Patterns: Websites Designed to Deceive

The New York Times: “Harry Brignull, a user-experience consultant … has a professional bone to pick with sites that seem to maneuver people into signing up for services they might not actually want. He even has a name for the exploitative techniques: ‘dark patterns.’ To him, these are debased versions of the typical sign-up, sharing, shopping, checkout and download processes that are standard practice online.”

“A few years ago, Mr. Brignull started a site called to call attention to the practices. There’s the ‘sneak into basket’ technique, where a retailer automatically adds products — like a magazine subscription or travel insurance — to consumers’ shopping carts and makes it hard for them to remove the unwanted items. There’s the ‘roach motel’ or ‘walled-garden’ technique, in which sites offer fast-and-easy sign-up processes but make it much more cumbersome for consumers to close accounts.”

“There’s also ‘misdirection,’ in which prominent marketing come-ons may distract users from seeing check boxes that by default, say, sign them up for a newsletter or membership, spam their contacts or alter their home pages. And then there’s scarcity inflation: ‘Only two hotel rooms left at this price!’

“If the company benefits more than the consumer, I would call it ‘evil design,’” said (Chris) Nodder, who wrote a book on the topic called Evil by Design. If an approach benefits the company and the customer equally, he added, ‘you are probably in the realm of commercial design’.”


Reinheitsgebot: ‘Purity’ Is an Impure Concept

The New York Times: “A pair of Bavarian dukes came to this pretty town on the Danube River 500 years ago and laid down what Germans claim as their source of beer-brewing prowess: the purity law. Only hops, water and barley should go into beer, decreed the dukes. Wheat, above all, should be spared for real bread for the hungry people … Half a millennium later … Germans, nothing if not careful conservers, still revere their purity law, or Reinheitsgebot, and insist it is the way to make beer.”

“Alexander Grau, a columnist for the political and cultural monthly Cicero, argues for scrapping it. Far from protecting consumers, it is a marketing ploy …More than that, others argue, it has stifled invention and imagination.”

“Even with the purity law, purity is a relative thing. A research group, the Environmental Institute of Munich, caused a stir in February when it tested 14 of Germany’s best-selling beers and found traces of glysophat, a pesticide suspected of causing cancer, in all of them.”

Nevertheless, the purity law “‘is a valuable brand for Germany, which we must keep,’ said Josef Pfaller, 50, the production chief at Herrnbräu, part of which dates back to 1471 … ‘There are few things that enjoy more consumer confidence than beer’.”


American Airlines Is Piker With Points

The Wall Street Journal: “For the third year in a row, free seats open for booking increased in the Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey, a comprehensive look at success at redeeming miles or points at the basic ‘saver’ level. The survey found two seats available at the lowest mileage level on 77% of the booking queries made this year, up from 74% last year and 72% in 2014.”

“Southwest Airlines and Air Berlin had seats available on every request. It was the fifth year Southwest has topped the survey at 100% availability. Value airlines like Southwest and JetBlue, which had seats available on 93% of booking queries, do well in the survey because they let customers earn points based on fare rather than distance. Then they let customers pay for any seat with either cash or points. The payback works out well for customers. Last year, 12% of Southwest’s passenger traffic was award travel.”

“American was among the stingiest of the 25 airlines surveyed, with saver-level seats available on only 56% of booking queries made.”


Web ‘Brutalism’ Makes a Comeback

The Washington Post: “There’s an interesting trend in web design these days: Making websites that look, well … bad. Look at Hacker News. Pinboard. The Drudge Report. Adult Swim. Bloomberg Businessweek features. All of these sites — some decades old, some built recently — and hundreds more like them, eschew the templated, user-friendly interfaces that has long been the industry’s best practice. Instead they’re built on imperfect, hand-coded HTML and take their design cues from ’90s graphics.”

“The name of this school, if you could call it that, is ‘web brutalism’ — and there’s no question that much of the recent interest stems from the work of Pascal Deville. In 2014 Deville, now Creative Director at the Freundliche Grüsse ad agency in Zurich, Switzerland, founded He meant it as a place to showcase websites that he thought fit the ‘brutalist’ aesthetic: Design marked by a ‘ruggedness and lack of concern to look comfortable or easy’ in ‘reaction by a younger generation to the lightness, optimism, and frivolity of today’s web design.’

“Look at Craigslist,” Deville says. “This is totally a brutalist website … and commercially, very successful.”


Copeland Barbie Bears ‘Misty’ Resemblance

The Washington Post: “On Monday, Mattel rolled out a Barbie doll modeled on ballerina Misty Copeland, who broke the color barrier at American Ballet Theatre last summer … It resembles Copeland in some ways: It’s clearly a ballerina, with nicely arched feet in pink toe shoes, hair pulled back, stage makeup, dance costume … The doll’s legs are long and thin, but her calves are Copelandesque: pronounced and muscular … So why doesn’t the Barbie look like her?”

The doll, based on photographs, has “neither her looks nor the rich color of her skin.” In other words, she looks “mighty, mighty white.” However: “A Mattel spokeswoman said the skin color seems faded because of the lighting … When you’re looking at the actual doll, ‘you can really tell it’s [Copeland’s] exact skin tone,'” she said. “Seeing the actual doll may be difficult. It sold out within minutes of Monday’s rollout for pre-order.”



The De-Malling of America

The Wall Street Journal: “Retailers from Gap Inc. to Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. are abandoning a decades-old strategy of growing sales by blanketing cities with stores as consumers do more of their shopping online and less at the mall. The shifting shopping habits have prompted chains such as Williams-Sonoma Inc. and Macy’s Inc. to close stores in secondary malls to focus on web sales and more upscale shopping centers.”

However: “Mall owners disagree about whether the Internet is their main problem. They point to demographic changes that redirected population and income growth away from malls built years ago, along with a real estate glut that has left the U.S. with 24 square feet of retail space per person, compared with 15 for Canada, 10 for Australia and 5 for the U.K., according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.”


How Gillette Delivers a Close Shave

The Wall Street Journal: Gillette employs an “elite squad of shave testers” who “assess 45 attributes of the shaving experience, rating some more obvious ones like tugging and redness, to more obscure ones like ‘blade feel’ and noise … The input helps Gillette’s scientists hone the razors it sells to three-quarters of a billion men world-wide, helping optimize coatings on blades and lubrication strips on cartridges.”

“Gillette, a Procter & Gamble Co. division, created the current panel by winnowing a pool of some 200 applicants. A visual screening eliminates guys with slow-growing beards or swirls in their stubble. To make the cut, candidates must pass sensory tests that gauge vision, touch and ability to detect subtle differences. One test involves inserting a hand in a box with three sanding blocks and identifying which is different.”

“There is usually no shaving cream. Bar soap is preferred, as it helps isolate the performance of the razors … After a pre-wash, they hold the soap beneath a stream of water set between 95 and 105 degrees. After 10 seconds, they roll the bar 10 times between both palms. Then they gently rub their hands together in 10 circles forming a lather, applied in a sweeping swirl … A timer gives them a 10-minute pause to assess their work. They repeat the process on the other half of their faces using the second razor.”