Archive | January, 2012

Is Eating Out Cheaper Than Dining In?

26 Jan
family dining out

Dining out may cost you less than groceries!

Going out to eat to me has always been a special treat, no cooking, no cleaning, but of course at a price. However, with the rising costs of food and groceries, restaurants have made themselves competitive by keeping their costs relatively the same if not lower!

According to a consumer report released late last year by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, consumers have been spending more (almost 4.5%) on dining out. I don’t mean the 5 stars, but family restaurants are promoting more deals and with the added convenience of no prep time and left-overs for lunch the next day, sometimes it works out for the better.  Shopping and cooking takes time so it’s definitely more convenient for a family to eat out. The time saved on meal prep is then able to be spent on a second income or a part-time job which is the case with a lot of families these days.

Part of what makes this recession so challenging is that as salaries have been coming down the cost of living has been going up. Supermarket food prices have increased approximately 6% a year, about 2.5 times as fast as the cost of restaurant meals, according to the same report. Effectively making dining out more cost-effective. Restaurants have been struggling in this difficult economy as well so they are passing down the savings from their ability to buy at whole sale to diners like you and me!

Keep in mind though that restaurants have been providing themselves additional savings by cutting back on staff and decreasing hourly wages. Restaurant staff tend to be hard workers with a mindset that their money comes from tips, so restaurants have been able to get away with lowering hourly pay without too much fuss. Most restaurants also do not offer benefits so don’t forget to tip your servers people!

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eMenu, The New Tablet On US Tables

25 Jan
eMenu logo

eMenu brings their touchscreen technology stateside, starting with New York!

eMenu, a restaurant menu software that is meant to replace paper menus has recently come to NY. The features of eMenu rival those of  E La Carte with the same goals of improving the dining experience by increasing efficiency of ordering by use of a touchscreen tablet and decreasing the dependence on wait staff. 

The company started in Israel and then branched out to Europe, Africa, and now has become available in the US. eMenu’s interactive restaurant menu technology displays detailed information about a restaurant’s menu and provides high quality photos of dishes too.

Just like E La Carte, eMenu claims that their tablet helps increase restaurant revenue by at least 10%. I think having a tablet at the table is cool, but I don’t know if it would necessarily make me order more . . .  although, being able to see what the food looks like might make me order something extra if it looks too good to pass up!

A custom designed eMenu on for the iPad.

What seems to make the eMenu system differ from E La Carte is that it is a software program compatible with any digital LCD touchscreen computer or iPad, so the restaurant doesn’t have to buy hardware that is only good for the eMenu system. Also each eMenu is customized to each restaurant so what the customers see on the screen is truly that restaurants actual logo and photos of their food. 

eMenu is currently at Garden of Eden in Brooklyn and Abigael’s in Manhattan will have their eMenu system up and running in approximately two weeks! Look for eMenus to be popping up soon in North Carolina and Florida restaurants as well.

I guess time will tell if these digital menus will completely replace printed ones, and their effect on the overall dining experience and remains to be seen.

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Etta James Dies at 73

20 Jan
Etta James

Etta James passed away at age 73. She was a strong woman and a vocal legend. RIP Etta James.

This is turning out to be a bit of a morbid week for posts but I have to pay my respects to one of the all-time greats, Etta James, who passed away today at the age of 73. Etta James is most recognized for her song, “At Last” which she recorded in 1961 with Chess records. Her catalogue of songs includes hits in R&B, Gospel, Blues, and Rock and Roll. Like many artists of her generation she had her battles with drug addiction and for long periods of time was not able to make the most of her musical talent because of it.

And oh boy was she talented! Etta James had the kind of voice that rips through your soul and makes you feel every word of what she’s saying, like it or not. She could be soft, she could be strong, she could be sad, and she could be hard, but whatever she was she did it beautifully and with gusto . . . and she will be missed.

It is a rare gift to hear a voice like hers and even though there are many talented vocalists out there, precious few voices have the ability to effect you as powerfully as Etta’s. As for myself I can think of only three others who have moved me like Etta, Billy Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Adele.

If you go out this weekend, hit up a jazz club. And if you hit up a jazz club, you’re bound to hear some Etta James. Hopefully they will do her the justice she deserves, may she rest in peace.

This is my favorite Etta James, I hope you enjoy!

RIP Danny Evins, Founder Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

17 Jan
cracker barrel

Long time American restaurant chain founder, Dan Evins dies at 76.

If you’ve never been to a Cracker Barrel you are missing out! The restaurant chain was founded by Dan Evins in Lebanon, TN in 1969. Evins wanted to open a restaurant that offered Southern style cooking and hospitality to people who were on the road. A country store where you can buy knick-knacks, clothes, and other sundries accompanies the restaurant for the added convenience of anyone who is in the middle of a road trip.

Evins spent his life building the chain into a quality national brand as CEO from 1969 to 2001 and chairman until he retired in 2004. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. now operates more than 600 restaurants in 42 states. The restaurants have somewhat of an older feel to it as they were inspired by the general stores of Evins’ youth, but the company has managed to mix a bit of the old with the new with healthy and seasonal menu offerings in addition to traditional Southern classics. The prices are totally reasonable too. I love coming here for breakfast or brunch, their fruit and nut multi-grain pancakes are the absolute best!

Dan Evins passed away over the weekend at age 76, but his legacy lives on in his restaurants. It is rare that such a large chain exhibits such consistent quality of food and service, I have never had anything but a delicious meal at Cracker Barrel and I’ve been to at least 20 different locations being a bit of a road traveller myself. So thank you Mr. Evins and condolences to your family and the Cracker Barrel team.

Do You Karaoke?

16 Jan
beyonce jay-z

Blue Ivy Carter is youngest person ever to be on the Billboard Top 100 Singles chart.

Last week the Internet was dominated by the birth of Beyoncé and Jay-Z‘s bouncing baby girl, Blue Ivy Carter. Already people are speculating about the talents that might be genetically bestowed on the lucky little girl and she’s the youngest person ever to appear on the Billboard Top 100 charts thanks to her dad. Baby Blue Ivy’s cries are featured on Jay’s newest single, Glory, recorded just 48 hours after she was born.

For those of us who are not the offspring of musical royalty, there will always be karaoke! Karaoke is a kind of interactive entertainment where participants sing along with popular music using a microphone and public address system. The music is minus the lead vocal so you can sing along to your favorite songs with back-up from the original track. The lyrics are displayed on a video screen, along with a moving symbol, changing color, or music video images to help you out in case you get nervous and forget the words. 

You don’t need to have fantastic singing ability in order to enjoy karaoke. True, if you can carry a tune it’s a plus, but the beauty of karaoke is that it’s supposed to be a judgement-free zone, and it’s more about belting your heart out to pop music than actual vocal skills.

Not all of us possess the nerve to be so exposed before strangers, so a lot of karaoke spots are also lounges that provide liquid courage. I had my first karaoke experience this past weekend at Apple Restaurant & Bombar in NYC and I must say I had a blast! Great food, great drinks, great friends and a whole lot of fun! Karaoke is definitely now on my list of fun things to do with friends so if there is a restaurant or lounge near you that offers a stage, screen and a microphone I strongly suggest you take advantage!  I let out my inner “Sasha Fierce” and attempted some of Beyoncé’s greatest hits, but I’m sure you can also request her hubby and daughter’s single, “Glory” if rapping is more your speed.

‘Lady Chinky Eyes’ Blows Whistle on Papa John’s

10 Jan
Minhee Cho's Papa John's receiipt

My name is not 'Lady Chinky Eyes'

Minhee Cho got an unpleasant surprise at a Papa John’s in New York City on her receipt after she visited the restaurant last Friday night. The cashier wrote in this description of her, “lady chinky eyes” in place of her name. Ms. Cho swiftly made use of her social media account and posted a picture of the receipt on her Twitter page; now the image and the story have gone viral.

In the restaurant industry it is commonplace to describe the person to whom an order belongs so that the person preparing the order knows who the cashier rang it up for. However these usually read, “woman with red scarf” or “tall man with mustache.” Most of us don’t even notice that any judgement has been passed on us because honestly how many of us really look that closely at our food receipts?

Who knows whether or not the Papa John’s employee intended to passively insult Ms. Cho or if it was just a poor choice of words used to describe an Asian woman. Believe it or not, sometimes “chinky eyes” is a compliment to someone for having a sexy slant to their eye shape. But then I suppose that makes the employee not only potentially guilty of racism, but also sexual harassment so nevermind.

In the meantime, the employee has been fired and Papa John’s has utilized their social media accounts to address the company’s stance on the incident.  A post Papa John’s official Facebook page reads:

“We were extremely concerned to learn of the receipt issue in New York. This act goes against our company values, and we’ve confirmed with the franchisee that this matter was addressed immediately and that the employee is being terminated. We are truly sorry for this customer’s experience.”

They have also responded on its Twitter feed, tweeting that “We have issued an apology, are reaching out to customer & franchise employee is being terminated.”

I wonder how often workers sneakily insult customers in manners like this. Last year, also in New York a Starbucks customer had the word, “bitch” written on her cup after she said she and her friends were teasing an employee over a small mistake they had made with their order.

The way I see it, the lesson here is two-fold: 1) Don’t passively vent your frustration about a customer on materials that you then hand to them and 2) social media is the swiftest form of justice ever seen! One minute you’re posting that you’ve been mistreated at place of business and the next you’re receiving an official public apology from the CEO.

Either way I’ll be paying closer attention to my receipts from now on!

“21 Days To A New You!”

6 Jan

Pollo Tropical is a restaurant chain that offers consumers a nutrition/meal plan directly. But how effective is it?

Look out Weight Watchers and Nutri-system, Pollo Tropical® is cutting out the middle man with its “21 Days to a New You” meal plan. Pollo Tropical is a restaurant chain with locations in Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, South and Central America and their focus is on convenient, healthy Latin cuisine.

In addition to their regular menu, Pollo Tropical’s plan provides three weeks of lunch and dinner options, plus easy-to-prepare breakfast and snack tips. Each daily plan ranges from 810 to just over 1,000 total calories for both meals. Pollo Tropical chefs, partnered with nutritionist and popular media food personality “Dr. Jo” Lichten to help its customers achieve their New Year’s resolution goal for weight loss.

“The idea behind this actually came from our most loyal customers that enjoy our food as part of their lifestyle,” said Kim Miller, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Pollo Tropical. “They count on our extensive menu variety and fresh ingredients. They portion it sensibly to make themselves look great – it’s food they feel better about eating!”

Pollo Tropical also offers “helpful tips” to supplement their meals which include  recommendations for staying healthy outlining the importance of fruits & vegetables, whole grains, exercise and even stress management. They even offer ideas for healthy meal options for breakfast and snacks.

I knew it was only a matter of time before restaurants did this! I’m still surprised that Applebee’s is the only restaurant to offer menu items with assigned Weight Watchers points. And I actually think it’s great that more and more chefs the restaurant industry are taking some responsibility when it comes to the quality of food that they serve. True a lot of this comes from the public demand for healthier food, and it’s always nice when your demands are met!

However I don’t know how effective this “21 Days To A New You” plan is, I’m a little skeptical but who knows they might be on to something . . . . Jenny better watch her back!

For a free copy of the Pollo Tropical 21 Days to a New You brochure, visit any company-owned Pollo Tropical location or download one at www.PolloTropical.com/21Days.