Restaurant News Bites: Chipotle, Seasons 52, Dunkin’ Brands

Restaurant News Bites: Chipotle, Seasons 52, Dunkin' BrandsAs the cost of food and transportation continue to rise, restaurants are looking for new ways to keep spending down.  Many restaurants expect a rise of at least 4% in commodity costs this year, but few can afford to raise their prices enough to cover it.  Large franchise chains like Popeye’s are keeping costs low by automating their supply system and implementing energy-saving technology.

Would you like to be able to order your food or drink without having to wait for a waitress?  Many restaurants are experimenting with applications that allow diners or bar customers to order from their smartphone or iPad.  Others are adding touchscreen systems to restaurant tables that not only allow quick and easy ordering, but also offer games and other fun distractions.

Many states have added new laws that prevent food chains from advertising  children’s meals.  Some of the biggest names in fast food, including McDonald’s, are lobbying state legislators before they can pass bills barring advertisement of Happy Meals.  Talking to the legislators before they can pass the bills has worked in many states including Arizona.  Other chains are simply changing their children’s meals to be healthier in order to meet the new laws.

America’s largest BBQ chain, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, has added a new catering hotline that will help customers place their catering orders faster. Highly trained catering specialists will staff the hot line and will help customers plan their menu and make style choices for their catered event. The national hotline will direct orders to the closest Dickey’s location after it has been placed.

BJ’s Restaurants have added a number of healthier entrées to their menu, all of which offer less then 575 calories. A number of lighter cocktails have also been added that stay under 130 calories.  Lighter entrées include chicken à la Fresca, Creole tilapia and Mediterranean vegetable pasta the new cocktails include the Skinny Rita and a low calorie mojito.

The Chipotle Mexican Grill chain is currently under a criminal investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.  ICE is investigating if the chain hired illegal immigrants without rights to work in the United States.  Hundreds of hiring documents have been subpoenaed and interviews are currently taking place with employees of the chain.

Dunkin’ Brands, the parent company of Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts, has named a new president to handle international growth.  The two chains are currently found in over 57 countries around the world. Neal Yanofsky will be in charge of all international development and growth and will report directly to the CEO and president of the company.

Santa Monica, California will be the new home of a Seasons 52 chain restaurant. Seasons 52 locations combine a classy wine bar with a high end grill restaurant. The new location is expected to open in the fall of 2012. Nightly entertainment will be offered in the piano bar, which seats 79, and the main restaurant will offer a number of delicious grilled entrées all under 475 calories.

As Russia’s middle class grew in the 90s, the country underwent its own dining revolution.  Increased consumer spending allowed more individuals to enjoy fine dining which was rare during the Communist era.  Restaurateurs like Arkady Novikov, who owns an upscale Chinese restaurant and is Moscow’s most successful restaurateur, struggled in the early 90s to bring fine dining back to Russia.