Strength in the storm

Strength in the storm

From the editor

Here on the East Coast we’re still shaking our heads in disbelief after a week punctuated by an atypical earthquake and a virulent storm named Irene, which was downgraded from a hurricane before hitting land but still packed a wallop that left many without electrical power and contending with major flooding.

Adding to the anxiety, a storm called Lee is wreaking havoc on New Orleans, a place that also felt the wrath of Mother Nature six years ago when Katrina hit. At the same time, the sputtering economy is keeping pundits busy deciphering what appear to be sinking signals of financial recovery. The backdrop to all of this is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, an event that still feels raw and gruesome even given a decade to digest it.

Certainly, these are not the best of times. It’s hard even to recall how we felt during the long-gone go-go years of the 1990s, when dot-coms and stock options were all the rage, IPOs were rampant and restaurant-industry growth seemed limitless.

Needing a reason to feel hopeful, we checked in with some industry veterans who’ve been through a few cycles of good and bad, and who remain nonetheless incurably optimistic about the industry’s prospects. The story, which appears in the Business Intel section, taps into the wisdom of eight longtime executives that together represent more than 320 years of restaurant experience. Their names and track records — the average tenure for the group is slightly more than 40 years — will no doubt be familiar, lending credibility to their observations and advice and hopefully imparting a bit of inspiration, as well.

At the other end of the age spectrum, we demystify Millennials, members of the young generation most commonly defined as having been born between 1977 and 2000, and ranging in age from 11 to 34. The article is based on the results of a survey undertaken by advertising and marketing agency Barkley US, consumer research firm Service Management Group and The Boston Consulting Group. Most notable for restaurant operators is the demographic’s unwavering devotion to technology, especially the smartphone, and to social media. To learn more, turn to the Marketing section.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that is no doubt true when it comes to funding growth. Given the difficult financing environment of the past few years, we’ve watched franchisors roll out a variety of innovative programs to help their franchisees gain access to capital. In the Finance section we look at a new offering from Marco’s Pizza: personal-guarantee insurance, or PGI. PGI is designed to expedite bank loans for franchisees by covering up to 70 percent of the liability in the event of a default — a possibility that leaves banks and operators equally skittish about taking risks. Although less common in the restaurant industry, PGI could be a game changer, according to Marco’s officials.

On the topic of game changers, more operators are gearing up to unveil online ordering — a program that often increases ordering frequency, according to new research from Cornell University. The study results, which are detailed in the Operations section, indicate that nearly 60 percent of 372 respondents expect to offer online ordering within the next three years.

In Food & Beverage we look into the big opportunities for shrimp, despite prices that have been pulled north by bad weather and the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

And speaking of big, in this issue’s special report we visit Texas, where a 10-gallon burger battle is taking shape as interlopers such as California-based Carl’s Jr. and
In-N-Out Burger stake out new territories in a Lone Star State that seems impervious to the economic woes besetting the rest of the country. That story begins on page 3, just above the photos previewing some of our aforementioned industry veterans — each of them courageous cowboys in their own right, holding on whether the economy bucks or bolts and always eager for new frontiers.

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected] [3].