Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Self-serve the new quick-serve?

Industry trends towards self-service at fast food restaurants may soon force the industry to reconsider the moniker 'quick-service restaurant' and replace it with 'self-service restaurant.' More and more plans are becoming apparent within the industry that seem to indicate this transition. We reported here on the self-service kiosk at a KFC/Taco Bell in North Carolina last month and on the introduction of the self-serv kiosks in November. Subway and Arby's have also experimented with self-service.

A National Restaurant Association representative said self-service "will lets consumers feel more in control because they're getting exactly what they ordered. Businesses can deploy the staff elsewhere and refocus on speeding up order delivery." But we're not really expected to believe that this trend won't cut into employment rolls are we? As for the consumer, I can see where it would be an improvement with regard to the reliability factor.

Spurlock sorry after speech to students stopped

Morgan Spurlock, of Super-Size Me fame, ruffled a few feathers at a high school last week with some pretty outlandish comments, especially considering his audience. Racial remarks, drug references, jokes about mentally challenged kids in the audience and the f-word were all included in a speech to 700 students and teachers before he was removed from the stage. Another speech by Spurlock scheduled for later was canceled by the school.

Spurlock has posted an 'apology' on his blog, but tries very hard to paint himself as the hero of free speech to the high school kids.
[E! and McCalls]

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Still no nutrition data from Quizno's

UPDATE: Quizno's has finally published their nutrition data. Read about it and see the data in the Fast Food News article:
"Quizno's nutritional information... finally!"

You can also find Quizno's complete nutrition data here.

It still boggles my mind that Quizno's can get away with not providing nutrition information about their sandwiches. Since Quizno's first appeared on the fast food sandwich horizon, I've pointed out this lack of data in blog posts about Quizno's, on my Fast Food Facts nutrition web site and in my book of the same name. Parke, over at US Food Policy, recently reiterated his comments on this omission, too.

Here's why Quizno's wanting to keep their calories a secret doesn't make sense to me: A potential customer that counts calories (or other data) might eat a company's product after they check the nutrition data, but won't eat it if they discover the company won't reveal the data. Sure, most people don't care and don't check, but others do and those people aren't eating at Quizno's. Isn't that bad for business? And there are a lot of people who check nutrition info before they eat; a half million a month on my web site alone.

Expansion plans for Caesars, Church's

Little Caesars Pizza and Church's Chicken both have big plans for expanding their restaurant chains.

Little Caesars Pizza has plans to add 'hundreds of stores,' possibly 600 to 1,000 more in the next few years, dramatically increasing the chain's size. Little Caesar now has around 2,000 pizza outlets, down from its peak of 5,000 in the early 90s. They are currently the #4 pizza chain behind Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s.

Church's Chicken has announced plans to finalize 1,100 new restaurant commitments this year, 150 in the US and 950 internationally. They plan on reaching $2 billion in sales within the next five years, this would be a doubling in size: Church's just passed the $1 billion mark.

And in a bid to challenge Baja Fresh and Rubio, Taco Del Mar, which has 190 restaurants primarily in the western United States, is looking for franchisees and locations in the Southern California area.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Counting Subways in Manhattan

Subway restaurants now outnumber subway stations in Manhattan. The 129 subway stations that took decades to build have been surpassed in quantity (131) in a much shorter time (since 1990 to be precise).

Subway restaurants the world over feature images of the original NY IRT construction as part of the restaurants' decoration.

With 468 subway stations in all of New York, the restaurant has a way to go to beat the train citywide.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Chicken nugget inventor dies

The inventor of the chicken nugget and other poulty innovations passed away this week. Robert C. Baker, a member of the American Poultry Hall of Fame, developed a flock of poultry products, including ground poultry, chicken baloney and chicken hot dogs. When he figured out how to process and bind chicken meat into various shapes he gave the world the 'nuggets' now ubiquitous in grocery stores and fast food joints around the world.

Baker was a professor of food science and poultry science at Cornell University. He was 84.

Where's the Shamrock Shake?

Since today is Saint Patrick's day, I couldn't help but recall the Shamrock Shake. Unlike the Lenten season, fast food restaurants have not (to my knowledge) made any effort to celebrate St. Pat's day... except for McDonald's with their Shamrock Shake.

But the green, mint flavored, 'triple thick' shake is getting harder to find. Posters at The Gothamist have had a hard time finding one, but some Chicagoist readers have been 'luckier,' they've even been advertised on the radio, evidently. Leave us a comment (below) if you find the Shamrock in your town.

The Shamrock Shake was such an icon as a seasonal promotional product at one time that it actually ranked its own mascot: Uncle O'Grimacey (pictured at left). There's more info on Uncle O'Grimacey on a site dedicated to bringing back the Shamrock Shake.

For some great Shamrock Shake humor, check out this satire from a 1997 Onion article: Sinn Fein Leaders Demand Year-Round Shamrock Shake Availability.

McDonald's only mention of the shake on their site says it is served during the green season in Ireland.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What McDonald's employees eat

Did you ever wonder what the kids working at McDonald's eat during their breaks? Me neither. But then I read some of their special recipes!

Some of the members of McDonald's Talk, a livejournal forum for McDonald's employees, have posted their favorite 'snacks' in this thread. I'm really impressed with what they've come up with using only those ingredients, equipment and supplies found in a McDonald's.

So, here's their creations, in their own words:

Orange Julius - 21 once cold cup, ice cream, orange juice, put on a flurry lid, and mix it carefully in the flurry machine.

Bruschetta - Whole wheat TDS bun, with cut up tomatoes and slivered onions and parmesan cheese, put in the oven under the pie timer, and voila, bruschetta. delicious.

Quesadillas - 2 tortilla shells - sliced grilled chicken - cheddar jack cheese - tomatoes - lettuce - whatever you like. . . then grill it under the 4:1 clamshell.

Pregnant-Craving-Special - As requested by every gal who's ever been pregnant whilst working at our store: One order of hotcakes, heated; 1 oz. ladle of strawberry sauce; one serving of soft serve. Ladle strawberries onto hotcakes. Top with ice cream.

Fruit Salad - Four ounces frozen strawberries; 1 ounce frozen blueberries; 1 package Apple Slices, chopped; 2 ounces mandarin oranges, drained; 1 ounce yogurt; 1 ounce granola (optional). In a side salad base, mix fruit with yogurt. Top with granola, if desired.

Ice Cream pizza - 6 oz soft serve ice cream, Oreo cookies, Six packets margarine, One shot hot fudge, two shots hot caramel. Melt margarine in original packets in HLZ. Mix with oreo cookies in a big breakfast base. Chill. Top oreo mixture with hot fudge and one shot of hot caramel. Spread. Chill. Top with ice cream and chill. Drizzle with hot caramel.

Carrie's Omlette - Three eggs, diced tomatoes, slivered onions, green peppers, celery (when you've got it), bacon bits, grill seasoning, shredded montery/cheddar cheese. Scramble eggs in a 16oz cold cup with a fork. Place vegetables on grill, and pour eggs on top. Shake grill seasoning onto eggs. With a clean spatula, flip the egg mixture over when it starts to become white-ish around the edges. Serve when browned on both sides. Top with cheese. ***SAFETY ISSUE! Be sure to steam your grill when done!

I'm glad she included the "safety issue," I love it!

Barbecue Tortilla Pizza - Two tortilla shells, two 10:1 patties, chopped, one packet Barbecue sauce, diced tomatoes, slivered onions, green peppers, shredded Montery/Cheddar cheese. Using some of the cheese, place in between two tortilla shells on a parchment lined pie pan. Using a sundae spoon, coat the tortilla with barbecue sauce (may use more than one packet if desired). Top with meat, then vegetables, then remainder of cheese. Cook under 'Ready Baked Biscuit' (9min) or 'Baked Pie' (12min).

And finally, this unnamed creation: (please note, I didn't correct the spelling: stemmer = steamer, tortia = tortilla)
  • Take a 8" flour tortia shell that we use for the breakfast burritos and put it in the fillet stemmer and press "go"!
  • Put the stemmed tortia shell on a double cheeseburger wrap. Add on Ranch Sauce, and shredded lettuce, and you can even cut up some tomatoes and put those on there.
  • Take a piece of spicy chicken breast and cut it into small slices and add to the tortia shell. Wrap it up, and enjoy!
I don't think you'd have much luck if you tried to order one of these concoctions at your local McDonald's, but it's nice to know that the kids (and adults, too) working there aren't restricting themselves to the menu the rest of us get. Maybe some of them even deserve a trip to the corporate test kitchen!

Monday, March 13, 2006

Anti-McDonald's online game is a satirical, 'anti-advergame' that highlights the dark-side of running a McDonald's-like fast food restaurant. The player discovers that to make money running the company you must exploit underdeveloped countries and low-wage workers and feed unhealthy growth hormones to cattle. The game plays like a fast food version of the "The Sims."

"Behind every sandwich, there is a complex process you must learn to manage," Molleindustria, the games creator, said in a statement. "From the creation of pastures to the slaughter, from the restaurant management to the branding. You'll discover all the dirty little secrets that made (McDonald's) one of the biggest companies (in) the world."

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The In-N-Out 100 x 100

This has been circulating on the net for awhile, but certainly deserves mention on Fast Food News. It is the story of what is certainly the largest In-N-Out burger ever created. The 100 x 100 is a single set of buns with 100 meat patties and 100 slices of cheese in between.

It was was the brain child of blogger Will from San Francisco, and many more glorious photos of the 100 x 100 are available on his blog. Having discussed its creation for some time, Will and his friends finally ordered it at a Las Vegas In-N-Out Burger on Halloween at a cost of $97.66 (1 Dbl/Dbl, 98 Extra patties!)

McDonald's Spurlock countermeasures

McDonald's continues to fight the fall-out from Morgan Spurlock's film Super Size Me. Their latest attempt is a web site created by one of their PR firms called "30 Day Dieters" that profiles some folks that ate only McDonald's for 30 days (like Spurlock) but lost weight (unlike Spurlock).

My questions is, couldn't McDonald's face its critics (like Spurlock) head on and profile these other folks (who disagree with Spurlock) on their own web site instead of creating what appears to be an 'independent' site? I've written about three of these people previously in this blog (McLes, Morgan, and Weaver). McDonald's could have done the same at Instead they hired DCI Group which used a subsidiary, TCS Daily, to create

It just seems so unnecessarily shadowy and deceptive. And don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not defending Spurlock; he practices bad science (if not outright deceit), but at least he used his own voice, not someone else's.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The filet-o-fish on-line game

McDonald's has also picked Lent to promote their fish. They've got a new web game featuring sharks and the filet-o-fish sandwich. The game, at, offers 3 levels and it's bilingual (Spanish, too). In the first level you use your mouse to keep the filet-of-fish box away from 4 sharks. (I didn't have the patience to play beyond that.)

Part of this new filet-of-fish promotion is the "Double Filet-O-Fish sandwich," which looks a lot like they've just put 2 fish filets where there used to be 1! Does that really qualify as a 'special sandwich' that is "available for a limited time only?" Couldn't you just ask for 2 filets on your filet-o-fish any time?

The promotion is only running in limited markets (Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, TX and Sacramento, CA), through the Lenten season.

Free samples of Arby's 'natural' chicken

To further entice consumers to their new 'natural' chicken (which I wrote about last week), Arby's is going to be giving away free samples. If you visit an Arby's this Thursday, March 9, between 11 AM and 7 PM you can get a free Arby's "Chicken Naturals Tender" with your choice of dipping sauce.

Remember, though, that as far as government regulators (like the USDA) are concerned, 'Natural' means nothing. There are no requirements that must be fulfilled before you call your food product 'natural.'

Arby's calls their new chicken naturals "100 Percent Natural," and "Free of Added Water, Salt and Phosphates." But remember, from my previous post, that on their ingredients page, Arby's includes the following for their chicken: salt, hydrolyzed corn and soy protein, flavor contains less than 2% (autolyzed yeast extract, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, enzyme modified egg yolk, thiamine hydrochloride).

I'm not saying you shouldn't eat Arby's chicken, I'm just pointing out that its not much different from the other guys' chicken. :)

El Pollo Loco's new salad and TV ad

Mexican fast food chain El Pollo Loco has introduced a new Tropical Pollo Salad. It features citrus-marinated, flame-grilled chicken with mango and papaya. This is the fourth salad in their line-up which includes their Fiesta salad, Caesar salad, and Tostada salad.

El Pollo Loco has also started airing new Spanish-language television ads in the LA market with the slogan "My Pleasure Place." This is an extension of their previous marketing message to the Hispanic market, "The fresh Mexican sabor of our flame-grilled chicken brings out the loco in you."

El Pollo Loco, for those of you scratching your heads in the east, is a US chain with 330 restaurants in California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Illinois.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Schlosser's fast food book for kids

Eric Schlosser, author of the bestselling exposé Fast Food Nation, has co-authored at children's book called Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. It will hit the shelves in May 10, 2006.

The 270 page book written for kids aged 9-12 covers some of the same topics as its older brother Fast Food Nation, but is targeted at McDonald's favorite age group. Real eye-openers are given in advance info on the book like the fact that McDonald's is the biggest toy company in the world and that one out of every three toys given to a child in the US is from a fast food restaurant.

Advance press for the book also states that 1 in 5 schools serve brand name fast food. Evidently this book sets out to inform the young readers as to what it is they're eating when they eat fast food and what the fast food companies do to make them like it so much.

Of course this all sounds exactly like what we read in Fast Food Nation, but maybe it is good for kids to read this stuff, too. It could prompt kids to question what they're told... both by the fast food industry and in Schlosser's book.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

McDonald's kosher concession

I'll admit, I didn't even know there were kosher McDonald's in Israel...I guess I never thought about it, but it makes perfect sense. And now, for the first time, McDonald's has agreed to change their classic logo of golden arches on a red background in order to denote their strictly kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv.

All of the 100+ McDonald's in Israel serve kosher meat, but only a dozen are considered strictly kosher because they do not serve dairy and are closed on the Sabbath. Tel Aviv's chief rabbi has pressured McDonald's to change the signs of the strictly kosher restaurants to show the golden arches on a blue background (instead of red). McDonald's is changing two and will gradually change the other 10.

The other requirement is that the signs say "Kosher" in both English and Hebrew as shown here:

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Wendy's new salads

Wendy's has introduced three new salads. They are part of Wendy's Garden Sensations line of salads that was originally introduced in 2002. They are (as pictured top to bottom):

The Caesar Chicken Salad with romaine lettuce, chunks of chicken breast, grape tomatoes, shredded Parmesan cheese, Caesar dressing and garlic croutons for a total of 500 calories, 34 grams of fat and 20 grams of carbohydrates.

The Southwest Taco Salad has Wendy's Chili, shredded cheddar cheese, and diced tomatoes over mixed greens, served with Ancho Chipotle Ranch dressing and tortilla strips and sour cream. It has 700 calories, 41 grams of fat, and 51 grams of carbs.

The Spinach Chicken Salad has romaine lettuce and baby spinach topped with chicken, chopped egg and grape tomatoes. It comes with sweet and sour bacon dressing and garlic croutons served on the side. It is the low(er) fat offering with 450 calories, 16 grams of fat and 42 grams of carbs.

For the sake of comparison, Wendy's single hamburger and medium fries (combo #1) has 870 calories, 41 grams of fat (same as the Chicken Caesar Salad), and 95 grams of carbs.

All three salads retail for $4.19.

Fast food fasting

With Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) concluded, today is Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. At least three fast food companies had the Lenten religious tradition of eating fish (instead of meat) in mind when they issued press releases yesterday.

Jack in the Box didn't even mention Lent by name in a press release about their long established Fish Filet Sandwich and Fish 'n' Chips. I guess it's just a coincidence that Teka O’Rourke, director of menu marketing and promotions at Jack in the Box, felt compelled to mention that their "menu items featuring fish are tasty options for consumers looking for an alternative to burgers and chicken sandwiches.”

Del Taco doesn't mention Lent either, but they've picked today to formally announce their Crispy Fish Burrito. The burrito follows the introduction of their Crispy Fish Taco, which they say has been extremely popular. The new burrito comes "with two crispy fish fillets, a new ancho chili sauce, crunchy cabbage, freshly made salsa all wrapped up in a warm flour tortilla and a lime wedge."

Now Long John Silver's could have clearly simply said, "Come eat almost anything on our menu for Lent," but since (presumably) none of the big lottery winners opted to take Long John's up on their offer to be a spokesperson for their new Lobster Bites, that's what they chose to push in their press release for Lent. "Taste the good life! Long John Silver's brings buttered Langostino Lobster Bites to America just in time for Lent. Leave it to the world’s most popular quick-service seafood chain to add some excitement to the dining season during Lent." Something tells me that's not exactly what Father O'Malley had in mind when he told us about fasting and abstinence!