The New York Times magazine has an interesting piece today about how McDonald’s has reported financial results nearly double industry expectations.
The recipe for success appears to be a combination of new buildings and renovations; adding more beverages to the menu (they have the highest profit margins and little to no waste); and flying mom bloggers to Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters for a charm offensive.
One of the topics the McDonald’s folks covered with the nutrition-minded moms was their decision to add apple slices to their Happy Meals. But the moms apparently weren’t totally bought off. They mentioned ideas like putting broccoli the meals, which McDonald’s rejected.
Somehow, even with my history as a devoted McDonald’s employee, I don’t expect to be invited.
I don’t think it’s because I’m not a mom, though that is certainly true. I think the reason is that — apple slices notwithstanding — I have a ton of healthful eating isues to discuss with them.
Even for a seasoned dieter, it’s hard to pass up a piece of good chocolate. If it’s high quality, sometimes one nice bite is enough to satisfy. It should be easy, however, to pass by the gross stuff spilling over the edge of the chocolate fountain. I don’t care if the dipping items do include fresh fruit.
I’ve never liked them. Instead of a wonderful dessert that leaves you feeling satisfied, there’s this giant tower of mysterious liquid surrounded by skewers and platters of fruit, cakes and cookies. After awhile, the whole station is spattered with chocolate. It’s not appetizing in the least.
Plus, I’ve always suspected that it isn’t exactly high-quality chocolate. To get the chocolate to flow so smoothly and not gum up the fountain, it’s clearly been thinned. Water would dilute the taste, so the likely culprit is fat. One recipe found online calls for adding three-quarters of a cup of oil to two bags of chocolate chips. Another website www.chocolatefountains.com, explains that a higher concentration of cocoa butter makes the chocolate flow easily.
So now are you tempted to visit Golden Corral and dip that fruit into a fat bath? I thought not.
The Restaurant Dieter was harsh on Darden Restaurant Group and Michelle Obama recently. The chain announced some pretty modest efforts to make its menus healthier, but from the purple prose, you’d have thought Darden conquered obesity.
Now comes the news that the chain — which operates Olive Garden, Red Lobster and others — is suffering financially. One of the reasons cited is commodity costs. Here’s hoping it gives the chain incentive to rein in some of the enormous and calorie-laden portions it serves.
“When people eat at home, they want to eat low cal, but when they go out to dine, they really want every calorie they’re paying for,” says David Overton, CEO of The Cheesecake Factory. “Because it’s celebratory, they’re here, they want to have a good time.
That quote from the chain’s 65-year-old founder comes from a recent interview with ABC News. It made me race for the Google’s image search, hoping to find a photo. Was the man overweight and perhaps skirting with poor health himself? I wanted to indulge a fantasy that karma would come back around to punish him for pushing some of the most outrageous and over-sized restaurant foods in America.
The photo of him from several websites appears to be the kind of corporate CEO portrait handed out by the PR department. It shows a round-faced man with full cheeks and a blossoming second chin on top of what appears to be a large frame.
Perhaps Overton’s eaten a few too many of his chain’s Farmhouse Burgers, topped with bacon, mayo and a fried egg. It seems telling that the company’s website doesn’t include a section on nutritional analysis. Most other chains do at least that.
The large portions, he says, are “what America wants to eat.”
Certainly, his chain’s status as one of the industry’s most profitable chains backs him up. But hasn’t he ever heard of corporate responsibility? And if not that, how about enlightened self interest? That may be at work with the company’s recently-introduced SkinnyLicious (TM) Menu
Let’s hope the effort is catching when it comes to the rest of the menu. When his current customer base succumbs to Type 2 Diabetes and premature death, who will line up at his restaurants then?
The Restaurant Dieter does not choose the advertising that appears on his page. Nor, at this point, has he seen a dime of the advertising revenue.
I feel compelled to say this because in looking at the page today, I noticed that it carried an advertisement for Applebee’s. Readers know that I am not a fan of its approach — fat, salt and sugar layered on one another in enormous portions.
Here’s how this works. I agree to let Google serve ads onto my pages. Using keywords, their software determines, from the content, what kind of advertising might be of interest to the blog’s readers.
No human goes in to see exactly what the content is. So all the computers see is that I write about restaurants a lot. Hence, the Applebee’s advertisement.
Before any money changes hands, a blog has to achieve a certain level of page view traffic. As of the beginning of 2012, no money had changed hands.
In the world of political campaign advertising, it’s known as “going negative.” It’s when campaigns shelve those high-minded ads about what their candidate will do in favor of negative ads. They’re easy to spot: ominous Jaws-like music plays over dark images that predict armageddon if the other guy wins.
Subway has been content, at least until now, to stress its positive benefits. But a new ad for its Oven Crisp Chicken Sub takes the gloves off, according to Marketing Daily. The sandwich is 420 calories and 6.7 grams of fat but promises to give a taste more equivalent to that fried chicken sandwich.
In the restaurant biz — particularly chains — it’s the Holy Trinity: Fat, salt and sugar. Creating new dishes that hits all three of those compass points means satisfied customers.
It also means fat ones. Former FDA commissioner David Kessler has written about how the industry test kitchens are all about maximizing flavor via those three ingredients.
One chain where this seems near-gospel is Applebee’s. On a restaurant industry website, the chain was touting a new dessert.
It’s a cinnamon apple turnover that is “a miniature apple pie with cinnamon flavored apple slices hidden inside a flaky pastry crust.The dessert is topped with a honey cream cheese sauce and is served with a slice of vanilla ice cream.”
Salt, fat, sugar.
I couldn’t find the new dessert listed on Applebee’s own website, but another new menu innovation certainly makes the point:
“Stacked, stuffed and topped: The entrees you love, packed with even more flavor.”
From this, we get the Chicken Parmesan stack, which is
“Country-fried chicken stuffed with Italian cheeses, smothered in our spicy marinara and served atop a bed of fettuccine with roasted garlic Alfredo, onions and peppers. Topped with parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese. Served with toasted garlic bread.”
Chik-fil-A‘s got a new multi-grain oatmeal that provides at least a decent alternative to that bundle of fat and sodium called a chicken biscuit.
Without the toppings, an 8-ounce serving is 120 calories, 3 grams fat, 21 grams carbs and 4 grams protein. With topping, it climbs to 280 calories, 11 g fat, 44 g carbs, and 6 g protein. The toppings are cinnamon brown sugar, nuts and dried fruit.
I wish it had more fiber, though, because that’s what makes a meal filling and satisfying. The plain has 3 grams of fiber; with toppings it increases to 5. For comparison, a Thomas’ Light English Muffin is 100 calories, 1 gram fat and 8 grams of fiber
The meal will come with apple slices — two bags if one wants to skip the fries, which are also scaled down to a smaller portion. The beverage choices will include fat free chocolate milk and 1 percent milk.
We wondered why a prominent chain like Mickey D’s would leave itself out of the National Restaurant Industry’s new program to promote healthier chain meals for children. Apparently, McD’s had its own announcement coming shortly.
Because the centerpiece of the new Happy Meal remains a hamburger, cheeseburger or chicken nuggets, it’s hard to get too excited. A burger is 250 calories with 9 grams of fat and 520 mg of sodium. A cheese burger is worse at 300 calories, 12 grams fat and 750 mg of sodium. The nuggets are marginally better than both with 190 calories, 112 grams fat and 360 mg of sodium.
Add to that how powerless parents often are when they pull into the Golden Arches. Nation’s Restaurant News says that only 11 percent of those ordering Happy Meals now choose the apple slices option.
Fries and obesity vs. tears: I guess the fries win.