Starbucks baristas want you to stop asking them to blend food into your drinks

Starbucks in Leeds, UK
Former Starbucks baristas say customers have asked them to blend cake, cake pops, Danish pastries, cookies, brownies, and bananas into drinks – usually Frappuccinos.

  • Starbucks baristas are allowed to blend fruit into drinks, but not other food items.
  • Still, baristas say some customers request that cake, pastries, or egg bites be blended into drinks.
  • One said she’d even asked been asked to add protein shakes to drinks.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Should you ask your Starbucks barista to blend a cake pop, brownie, or cookie into your drink, chances are they’ll say no.

It’s against company policy for baristas to blend food into Starbucks drinks like Frappuccinos. But that hasn’t stopped customers from trying.

“I’ve had people asked for some food items blended,” Alexis Rivera, a former Starbucks shift manager in New Jersey, told Insider. “We don’t do that.”

A Starbucks representative said baristas “may handcraft blended beverages using ingredients offered at Starbucks stores including sauces, syrups, espresso, coffee and tea, Evolution Fresh juices, and bananas and blueberries.”

“Food items in store (including baked goods and egg bites) are not approved additions to blended beverages at Starbucks,” the representative added.

Numerous former baristas, however, told Insider they had gotten requests – which they said they rejected – for food to be blended into drinks. This included cake, cake pops, Danish pastries, cookies, and brownies.

Rivera said some customers brought in their own food or protein shakes and asked for them to be blended.

The baristas said this happened only with in-store customers because adding food to drinks wasn’t listed as a modification on the Starbucks app.

Speaking about in-store orders, Rivera said “technically if you’re not able to charge for it in the drink, it’s not something that can be made.”

But she said some customers would seek a workaround: “If you’re requesting those items too, you’re buying them separately, like a Frappuccino, but you’re asking, ‘Hey can you blend them for me?’ Some places do – some places don’t.”

“Making items like that during rushes where you don’t even have enough people to go to the back and clean them properly, that’s most likely why they’re declined,” she added.

Different baristas Insider spoke with had different attitudes. “It’s not worth risking my job to add a brownie to a blender,” a current barista in Florida said.

Rivera said one customer had even asked her colleague to blend egg bites into a drink, though the customer ultimately described it as a joke.

Rivera said her colleague didn’t follow through with the request – but a former barista in Indiana, who asked for anonymity because she still visited the store as a customer, said she had actually blended egg bites into a Frappuccino.

“It was just gross to hand out,” she said.

The Indiana barista said she had also blended a melted brownie into a frappuccino, too. She said her manager had told her that though she technically wasn’t supposed to blend food into drinks, she could tell the customer they could make it as a one-off.

A former barista in British Columbia, who asked to stay anonymous because she might return to work at the chain, said customers often asked for their Refreshers, which usually contained liquid, ice, and fruit pieces, to be blended.

“A lot of the time we’d be like, ‘We can do it, but we’d rather not put the fruit in it because the fruit gets stuck and it jams the blender,'” she said.

“They’re not really designed for that kind of thing,” she added, saying the staff at her store once broke a blender blending dried fruit into a drink.

Asking for fruit blended into their drinks is just another way customers are making their drinks orders more complex. Starbucks baristas told Insider they’re sick of making TikTok-inspired drinks, too, sometimes with “mile-long stickers” listing order customizations.

Do you work at Starbucks? Got a story to share? Email this reporter at gdean@insider.com. Always use a non-work email.

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Instant coffee is a billion-dollar market with a bad reputation. A startup backed by Meghan Markle is on a quest to usher in a new era.

Hannah Mendoza CLEVR Blends
Hannah Mendoza

When Hannah Mendoza was nine years old, she had an idea: a smoothie bar for kids.

She set up shop in her home economics class and organized a group of classmates to help sell her creations. It was something she loved, Mendoza told Insider. She didn’t know it would foreshadow the business she would one day run.

Today, Mendoza, 29, is CEO and cofounder of two-year-old Clevr Blends, a company that sells instant, “SuperLattes,” infused with “superfoods” like mushrooms and probiotics, which help with digestion. Priced at $28 a bag (each bag makes around 14 lattes), the company told Insider it saw a substantial increase in sales last year and is expecting the trajectory to continue throughout 2021.

On Tuesday, it launched its latest product, a Rose Cacao mix, infused with calming herbs.

Instant coffee has a bad reputation, Mendoza said. However, in her view, it works for next-gen consumers who are always on the go. By marketing her instant coffee as a healthy form of self-care, Mendoza is attempting to tap into the intersection of the billion-dollar coffee market and the trillion-dollar wellness industry. It seems to be working: Meghan Markle – who, alongside Prince Harry, made Times’ 2021’s 100 ‘most influential’ people list – invested an undisclosed amount last year. Oprah also posted about the brand on Instagram. Overall, packaged coffee sales rose during the pandemic, Bloomberg reported.

In an interview with Insider, Mendoza reveals the steps her company is taking to remake instant coffee’s reputation and connect with young consumers, including making sure the brand’s actions match its ethos of empowerment and investing in a sustainable supply chain.

Spotting an intersection of two thriving markets

The global instant coffee market hit $12.1 billion last year, while the global wellness market was estimated at over $4.4 trillion in 2019. Mendoza saw the chance to tap into both by making a coffee and tea alternative that has less sugar and uses an organic mushroom-infused latte mix instead of just coffee beans.

“I would love to be in a position where I can squeeze my own nut milk and blend up an elaborate drink, but that’s not the case and I know that’s not the case for a lot of people,” she continued.

Hannah Mendoza CLEVR Blends
The goal of Clevr Blends is simply to make people feel good, Mendoza said.

It took one year and “thousands” of iterations for Mendoza to settle on a recipe, she said. The result is now five different instant latte mixes, each infused with ingredients such as lion’s mane, a mushroom that helps improve memory, and ashwagandha, a root that helps reduce stress.

Young consumers, especially, seek to support brands that match their eco-conscious and social values, and Mendoza says it’s important for her brand to “put the money where its mouth is.”

That’s why the company strives to be transparent about its supply chain, touts its mostly female and non-binary team, and donates 1% of its revenue to charity.

“If there are 20 different types of matcha, we ask, ‘which one tastes the best, which one has the best transparent supply chain?” she said, adding, for example, the company sources matcha from Japan and buys turmeric from Diaspora Co., a company specializing in equitable spice trading, located in Oakland.

Clevr Blends also sources cocoa from a regenerative farm in the Ecuadorian rainforests, where farmers manage their lands to make the soil richly bio-diverse. This helps contribute to natural carbon mitigation, and the practice has been a growing trend as brands pivot toward becoming more environmentally friendly.

Knowing your customers intimately is key

In its early days, the Clevr Blends team took the time to meet with customers to garner feedback on how the products made them feel.

Daisy Pyo, a graphic designer based in Brooklyn, discovered the brand on Instagram, where its photos feature soothing pinks, yellows, and greens, waves crashing at the beach, and selfies of people sipping their instant lattes. Pyo told Insider she loves that the powders already contain adaptogens and probiotics so she can skip taking additional supplements in the morning.

Hannah Mendoza CLEVR Blends

“I really enjoy the ritualistic aspect of starting my day with making matcha in the mornings,” Pyo said. “It’s also just really tasty, so I see it as my little ‘pick-me-up.’ I feel good about incorporating it into my daily routine because I know it’s good for me.”

One high-profile customer turned out to be Markle, as Fortune reported, who found the brand after trying one of its instant lattes and became attracted to its ethical ingredients, community-focused business model, as well as the fact the company is female-led. Fortune reported that after news of the investment spread, the company had a month-long waitlist.

Hannah Mendoza CLEVR Blends
Hannah Mendoza

Working at a start-up was useful training for running her own

Mendoza always wanted to open her own business.

Growing up outside of London, she decided to move to California, without knowing a soul, after seeing an article about Emma Watson applying to school in the US.

Mendoza figured she’d give it a try, and went on to attend the University of California, Santa Barbra, where she studied applied psychology, global studies, and entrepreneurship.

Her first job was at food startup Imlak’esh Organics, where she learned the importance of organic farming, fostering healthy company culture, and how to be comfortable with the unknown.

It doesn’t hurt to take chances, either.

For instance, Clevr Blends is primarily e-commerce but is sold in one store – Erewhon Market in Los Angeles. A friend of Mendoza’s had a meeting set up with Erewhon buyers for his own product but believed in Clevr Blends so much, he snuck Mendoza and her cofounder into his own buyers’ meeting.

The buyers were skeptical at first but eventually fell in love with Clevr Blends. The same way Markle did, and Oprah, and all those kids at Mendoza’s elementary school. “It was an incredibly rough year for everyone,” Mendoza said. “But if what we’ve created made people’s mornings even ten percent easier – I’m really grateful for that.”

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Secretly Good: this vegan cashew cheese is so tasty that it meets even my dairy-purist standards

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A piece of toast next to Miyoko's European Style Cultured Vegan Butter

Anyone who’s been friends with me for a while (or just been to one happy hour networking event together) has seen me stack enough cheese cubes on my plate to build a small fortress. My leaf-to-feta salad ratio leans heavily on dairy, and I refuse to call it a panini if it isn’t glued together with slabs of mozzarella.

But, for reasons ranging from animal wellbeing to my skin routinely breaking out after a beloved grilled cheese, I’ve been trying to cut down.

I’ve tried a lot of vegan and plant-based cheeses (my partner is vegan, as are a handful of my friends) and the brand that consistently blows me away is Miyoko’s Creamery.

Organic Roadhouse Chedda Cultured Vegan Cheese Spread (small)European Style Cultured Vegan Butter (small)

Fully lactose-free and made from ingredients like oat and cashew milk, coconut oil, navy beans, sea salt, and mushroom extract, Miyoko’s products are perfect if you’re craving a solid dairy or cheese alternative such as a spread, easy butter sub, or burger topping.

My favorites have been the Roadhouse Chedda’ dip and the cheese wheels, which come in flavors like Classic Chive, Sundried Tomato Garlic, Smoked English Farmhouse, and French-Style Winter Truffle. (Yes, I have eaten them all and in very close to one sitting!)

For me, the game-changer is the taste: My biggest gripe with other vegan dairy substitutes is that there can be an artificial-feeling aftertaste or even just an overpowering nutritional yeast presence. (I love a sprinkling of nooch, but I have my limits).

Organic Plainly Classic Vegan Cream Cheese (small)Classic Fresh Italian Style Vegan Mozzarella Cheese (small)

Miyoko’s doesn’t feel like it’s trying to directly mimic how dairy tastes (which seems impossible to replicate): Instead, it’s just trying to make a delicious, savory product that can expertly fill the role of cheese in whatever meal you make, whether as an artichoke dip base or a bagel-enhancing spread.

As an added bonus, I like that the ingredient lists aren’t too complex or full of lots of additives (a common critique of plant-based products). Miyoko Schinner, the company’s founder and CEO, previously published a vegan cookbook with simple, flavorful recipes, and it seems like Miyoko’s vegan cheese applies the same logic of prioritizing fewer ingredients without skimping on flavor.

And if you need any more ringing endorsements of this cheese, look at Schinner herself: Like me, she too was once obsessed with cheese. She loved it so much that she spent years creating plant-based substitutes before landing on Forbes’ 50 Over 50 list and acquiring $52 million in investments to expand Miyoko’s.

I’ll dunk a chip in cashew cheese dip to that.

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Instead of going to bars during the pandemic, my roommates and I started a weekly cocktail club – these 7 items are everything a beginner bartender needs to get started

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Four women holding wine glasses as part of DIY cocktail club
My roommates and I during one of our at-home cocktail club sessions.

  • My roommates and I made the most of turning 21 years old during the pandemic so we created an at-home weekly cocktail club.
  • We picked a theme, made two cocktails to rate and chat about, and played board games.
  • Our favorite items to use were a cocktail shaker set and a Polaroid camera.
  • Find out more about how Insider Reviews tests and reviews home products.

This content is intended for readers 21+. Please drink responsibly. If you or anyone you know is dealing with alcohol abuse, get help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) provides a free, confidential, 24/7, treatment referral, and information service.

I turned 21 years old during the pandemic along with most of my close friends. Since we couldn’t go to bars, we decided to do weekly themed cocktail clubs where we selected drinks, dressed up, and played board games. I don’t have a ton of context, but I think it was way more fun than going out to bars – and significantly cheaper. Plus, now we all know what kind of cocktails we prefer when we do go out.

Here is everything we used to create our cocktail club and make the most of turning 21 years old at home.

Mixology & Craft Bartender Kit

Mixology Bartender Kit

Bartender Kit (button)

One of my roommates’ mom loves sending her gifts in the mail so we were thrilled to receive this gorgeous gold cocktail shaker set. Some of our best (and worst) cocktails were made using all the fun tools attached to this set. 

Wayfair Degroot Acrylic Goblets

Wayfair Degroot Acrylic Goblets

Degroot 12 oz. Acrylic Goblets (button)

During each cocktail club, we made two cocktails to try so we needed all the drinkware we could get. These colorful glasses were a bright addition to our evening drinks, especially when we made fruity cocktails and added mini umbrellas

Mrs. Lilien’s Cocktail Swatchbook

Mrs. Lilien's cocktail swatchbook

Cocktail Swatchbook (button)

Mrs. Lilien’s Cocktail Swatchbook is our go-to cocktail book for creative drinks. Using the recipes from this book, we rated each cocktail from 1-10 based on taste, texture, and overall experience. While we didn’t love every recipe, we had a blast tasting all the concoctions.

Proof Citrus Sour Syrup

Proof Citrus Sour Syrup

Citrus Sour Syrup (button)

One of the most memorable cocktails we created was a sour candy-inspired drink. Adding the Citrus Sour Syrup to our drinks, the first sip made our lips pucker instantly. It tasted exactly like sour patch kids candy and was a 10/10 experience.

SMIRLY Cheese Board and Knife Set

SMIRLY Cheese Board and Knife Set

Cheese Board & Knife Set (button)

On occasion, we would pull out this beautiful wooden board and decorate it with salami, cheese, olives, and pepper jelly for a full-blown charcuterie board. We created beautiful spreads of snacks to match our themes and cocktails.

Fujifilm Instax Mini 11 Camera

Fujifilm Instax Mini 9

Instax Mini 11 (button)

After the drinks were mixed, we would snap a Polaroid photo to capture the theme and the cocktails of the evening. It was a priceless way to commemorate a year’s worth of cocktail clubs. We ended our 12-month lease with over 40 polaroid photos. 

Catan Board Game

Catan Board Game

Board Game (25th Anniversary Edition) (button)

When we finished rating the cocktails, Catan would often make its way out of the game cabinet. Anyone who has played Catan likely knows how fun but competitive it gets — or maybe it’s just my group of friends. Either way, it was always a solid way to end the evening.

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Taco Bell is testing a new taco subscription with unlimited tacos for $5, and it shows how the fight over customer loyalty is heating up

Taco Bell taco lover's pass
Taco Bell just introduced a taco subscription.

  • Taco Bell is testing a taco subscription in Arizona for $5 per month.
  • Subscriptions have been growing in the restaurant industry, pioneered by Panera and Pret.
  • The subscription also requires Taco Bell’s app, which can be a way to keep customers coming back.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Taco Bell is testing a new 30-day taco subscription, the chain announced on Monday.

Any customer who can get their hands on one of the Taco Lover’s Passes, which run for anywhere from $5 to $10 depending on location, is eligible for a free taco daily for 30 days.

To cash in on your taco, head to Taco Bell’s app where you can order a Crunchy Taco, Spicy Potato Soft Taco, Crunchy Supreme Taco, Soft Supreme Taco, Doritos Locos Tacos or Doritos Locos Tacos Supreme, according to the press release.

The trial went live on September 9 at 17 participating locations in Tuscon, AZ. It will continue through November 24, Taco Bell said.

Other chains have tested out subscriptions as a way to keep regular customers coming in and spending money in what some experts have dubbed the “subscription economy.” Restaurants are following the success of subscription models from Netflix and Amazon in the subscription sales industry, which is projected to hit $263 billion by 2025 according to Juniper Research.

Panera launched a daily coffee subscription for $9 per month in 2020, followed by Pret A Manger’s similar program in the UK, which offered up to five drinks per day for $26.60 a month. Both companies call the programs a success for bringing in new customers and keeping them coming back.

“We see businesses that are playing in subscriptions are out-competing businesses that are not,” Sean Keith, director of new business development at Eagle Eye, which powers Pret’s subscription, previously told Insider.

For restaurants, subscriptions go hand-in-hand with investment in apps and customer loyalty programs. The Taco Lover’s Pass is available exclusively through Taco Bell’s app, which also has special discounts and promotions on limited-time menu items.

Rewards programs have become nearly essential for fast food chains to attract and keep customers, so these deals are the incentive to get customers using them. Popeyes just launched a program that offers some freebies just for signing up. Starbucks has a popular app with customers so loyal that they sparked a backlash when the chain changed how rewards were calculated. Chipotle’s in-app rewards program has been a huge success, reaching 20 million members within two years of launching.

Rewards programs seem to be more important than ever as they incentivize return visits and give companies valuable customer data, and the Taco Lover’s Pass is just one more way companies can convince customers to download the app.

Do you have a story to share about a retail or restaurant chain? Email this reporter at mmeisenzahl@businessinsider.com.

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‘Virtual’ restaurant brands are all the rage. Here’s why stir-fry chain Genghis Grill created an almost-identical delivery-only brand.

Chefs Working in Kitchen
Demand for food delivery continues to surge.

  • Stir Fry Chef is a “virtual” delivery-only restaurant brand created by Genghis Grill.
  • All of Stir Fry Chef’s food is prepared in Genghis Grill kitchens.
  • Adding the Stir Fry Chef brand helps Genghis Grill reach different customers, an exec told Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Genghis Grill is a Mongolian restaurant chain that specializes in customized stir-fry dishes. Stir Fry Chef is a Mongolian restaurant chain that also cooks up stir-fry, minus the customization.

To the customer, they’re two completely different restaurant brands. Yet, the food comes from the same kitchens.

Genghis Grill and Stir Fry Chef are part of a growing breed of so-called “virtual” delivery-only restaurant brands that are run out of the same kitchens, by the same owners. Other examples include Pasqually’s Pizza, owned by Chuck E. Cheese, and Neighborhood Wings, owned by Applebee’s.

Genghis Grill launched its Stir Fry Chef brand in the summer. Doug Willmarth, Chief Brand Officer at Genghis Grill, told Insider that Stir Fry Chef was helping his franchisees to boost sales.

Doug Willmarth, Genghis Grill
Doug Willmarth, Chief Brand Officer at Genghis Grill.

Although Genghis Grill has some set dishes on its menu, it makes most of its sales from custom dishes where diners can choose which base, toppings, spices, and sauces they want. To many customers, the brand is primarily a create-your-own chain, Willmarth said.

Stir Fry Chef’s menu is, on the other hand, made up solely of pre-set dishes. This helps the business cater to a different group of customers, Willmarth said: customers see Stir Fry Chef as “a regular restaurant where I can just order off the menu.”

Stir Fry Chef dishes are made in 40 of Genghis Grill’s 51 kitchens across the US, using the same equipment and similar ingredients, but slightly different recipes, Willmarth said. It costs existing Genghis Grill restaurants less than $1,000 to kit out their kitchens so they can make Stir Fry Chef food, he said.

“Both our stores and our franchisees can leverage existing food they have in the restaurant, the labor and cooking skills that are in the restaurant, the equipment they have,” Willmarth said.

Genghis Grill Korean BBQ bowl
The Korean BBQ bowl from Stir Fry Chef.

More and more restaurant chains are creating virtual brands amid high demand for food delivery.

Brody Sweeney, CEO of Thai chain Camile Thai, told Insider that virtual brands were created to “sweat assets better.”

He said that Camile Thai was operating a virtual brand called Shanghai Sally in London, and its dishes share the same core ingredients as Camile Thai. This makes it easier to operate both brands in one kitchen, Sweeney said.

Some virtual brands are ran out of ghost kitchens, which don’t have dining rooms and cook food solely for delivery. Hot-dog chain Dog Haus has, for example, launched a slew of virtual brands including Plant B and Mutha Clucka, which are run out of both brick-and-mortar restaurants and ghost kitchens.

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit told Insider it’s even opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant for Wing Boss, which it first launched as a virtual brand.

Genghis Grill’s Willmarth said that physical restaurants were “certainly is a consideration” for Stir Fry Chef, but not for a while.

Rather than launch virtual brands themselves, some restaurants have instead hosted them for other companies. Franklin Junction, for example, matches restaurants with spare kitchen capacity to brands looking for space to prepare delivery-only food.

“Restaurant kitchens are very multi-purpose vehicles,” CEO Rishi Nigam told Insider. “They’ve artificially been limited by putting a $5,000 sign out front that says: ‘We only make this kind of food.'”

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A doctor breaks down what apple cider vinegar actually does to your body

Following is a transcript of the video.

Benji Jones: Wait, how zoomed-in are you? The internet is good for many things, but providing trusted advice on natural remedies is definitely not one of them, especially when it comes to apple cider vinegar. A quick Google search will show you that people use it for everything from cleaning their teeth to curing yeast infections. So if people on the internet are doing it, it’s worth trying, right? Definitely wrong. Because not only is there little evidence to support most of the uses for apple cider vinegar, but some of them are straight-up bad for you. Apple cider vinegar is basically just fermented juice. Yeast turns the sugars in apple juice into alcohol, and bacteria then turns that alcohol into acetic acid, the chemical linked to most of cider vinegar’s alleged benefits. But here’s the thing: This process isn’t unique to apple cider vinegar. In fact, acetic acid is in all types of vinegar, from white wine to balsamic. The main thing that makes cider vinegar different is that it might be easier to swallow than a straight-up swig of balsamic. And if you are so inclined to gulp it down, there’s at least one benefit you can look forward to. Research shows that drinking cider vinegar after a meal may help lower your blood-sugar levels.

Edwin McDonald: So studies have demonstrated that when people eat a high-starch meal and follow it with a little bit of apple cider vinegar, the blood sugars after eating those meals may not go up as much compared to when you eat placebo.

Jones: That’s doctor and trained chef Edwin McDonald. He says that ingesting as little as 20 grams of apple cider vinegar has been shown to slow the release of food from your stomach into your intestines. That’s where your body breaks down starches like pasta into sugars, and as a result…

McDonald: You’re not gonna absorb those sugars as quickly. So when you don’t absorb sugars as quickly, your insulin levels really don’t rise as much, and your blood sugar doesn’t rise as much.

Jones: And that’s great news for anyone who’s diabetic or pre-diabetic. Now, despite what you read online, it probably won’t help you lose weight.

McDonald: I also run a weight-management clinic, and this question comes up all the time.

Jones: But lowering your blood sugar after a meal is just about the only benefit of drinking apple cider vinegar. Research does suggest that acetic acid can slow down the accumulation of body fat and prevent metabolic disorders in mice and rats. But there’s little evidence that it has the same effect on humans. In one weight-loss experiment, 30 volunteers drank two tablespoons of either apple cider vinegar, malt vinegar, or a placebo drink, twice a day, for two months straight, and none of them lost weight. In an older study with a similar design, participants did lose weight, but only about a third of a pound each week, which McDonald says isn’t much. But if not for weight loss, what about using cider vinegar to whiten your teeth?

McDonald: I caution people against that.

Jones: That’s because cider vinegar is an acid. In fact, most brands have a pH between 2 and 3, which is similar to stomach acid, so swishing it around in your mouth can over time wear down the enamel around your teeth, leaving them feeling rough to the touch and more susceptible to cavities and decay. Yikes. Then there are the people who use apple cider vinegar as a shampoo replacement. And as it turns out, there’s actually a pretty good reason for that. Because cider vinegar is so acidic, Dr. McDonald says it can kill some of the microbes that make your hair stink, and it can also limit the population of a type of fungus that can lead to dandruff. But there’s a flip side. Because cider vinegar is so acidic, it can also burn or irritate your scalp. So you should always dilute it with water. Oh, and despite what you read online, cider vinegar is not effective against head lice. In fact, one study found that among six home remedies that people use to eliminate lice, like olive oil and mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar is the least effective. None of them worked though. The claims of what apple cider vinegar can do don’t stop there. Just keep in mind that at least for now, none of them is supported by a large body of scientific research. Now, of course, we’re not talking about taste. When it comes to cooking, there’s no uncertainty: Apple cider vinegar is delicious. I use it all the time when making dressing, pickles, and sauces. Yes, I cook. I just don’t walk away from meals thinking I’ve just swallowed some ultimate cure-all.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in June 2019.

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I’ve tested more than a dozen air fryers and this is one of my favorites

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Cosori Smart WiFi air fryer use
The Cosori Smart WiFi air fryer connects with an app.

  • A high-quality air fryer browns food quickly using minimal oil.
  • The Cosori Smart WiFi Air Fryer is dishwasher safe, cooks quickly, and is Wi-Fi-connected, though I didn’t find this feature as useful as it could be.
  • If you’re looking for more options, check out our guide to the best air fryers.

Table of Contents: Masthead StickySmart Wi-Fi Air Fryer (small)Related Article Module: The 5 best air fryers we tested in 2021

An air fryer is essentially an energy-efficient, fast-cooking convection oven that fits on your counter. They’re relatively affordable and convenient to use, making them especially helpful in apartments and small spaces. They use heated air to produce the Maillard reaction that gives deep-fried food its distinct browned exterior while keeping the insides moist. Air fryers do this with a fraction of the oil, making them a healthier alternative to the deep fryer.

Though air fryers have been on the market for a decade, they still require you to manually set the cook time. I tested the Cosori Smart WiFi Air Fryer, which has Wi-Fi connectivity for a more convenient way to cook.

Design and specs

cosori air fryer

The Cosori Smart WiFi Air Fryer is Alexa- and Wi-Fi-enabled through the VeSync app available from Google Play and the App Store. This gives you remote control of the appliance, intelligent monitoring, delayed start, and access to more than 100 recipes.

Though it has a relatively large footprint – 13 inches high by 11 inches deep by 11 inches wide with a drawer handle that juts out two inches – the Cosori WiFi-enabled air fryer has a spacious 5.8-quart interior that can fit up to 6 pounds of food. Plus, the unit fits easily under most cupboards.

The air fryer has a temperature range of 170 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and features 11 presets for cooking seafood, desserts, bacon, frozen foods, and more. The timer runs for up to 60 minutes, which should be more than enough for most uses. About halfway through cooking, a light pops on to remind you to shake the food in the basket for even cooking. Or, you can choose to receive a notification on your phone.

Setup process

Within 10 minutes of opening the box, I was making tater tots using my phone. The setup process is painless and intuitive. You just remove the packaging, wash the drawer and basket, plug the unit in, download the VeSync app, and connect to the air fryer. The whole process was seamless, and I didn’t hit any hitches, which is impressive since smart devices occasionally have trouble connecting or require lengthy firmware updates.

Our review of the Cosori Smart WiFi Air Fryer

As you’ve gathered by now, the Cosori Smart WiFi Air Fryer is unique in that it’s supported by the VeSync app that connects to the appliance over Wi-Fi. The app has dozens of recipes for breakfast foods, appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. Once you select a recipe, the app gives you step by step instructions for making the meal, including controlling the air fryer when appropriate.

Within the app, you can access the history of recipes you’ve made and save your favorites. When your meal is done cooking, the VeSync app sends your smart device notifications to let you know.

Another smart feature is the ability to plan your meal up to four hours in advance. So, provided the ingredients remain safe at room temperature, you can load your creation into the basket and set the air fryer to cook at a later time.

There are a few recipes I use to test how well an air fryer works. First, the toast test tells me how evenly and quickly the air fryer cooks. I simply place a slice of bread in the air fryer and check on it every minute. In this test, the bread was evenly toasted and ready to eat after four minutes, which is very good.

Next, I made two pounds of French fries from scratch using Yukon gold potatoes. After 30 minutes of cooking, the fries were crispy and golden. My kindergartener couldn’t get enough of them.

The third recipe is blackened chicken. I rub Cajun seasoning on two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and air fry them. I keep wireless probe thermometers in the breasts so I immediately know when they’re done. After 25 minutes, the internal temperature was safe. And, the chicken was moist and juicy.

Another sign that an air fryer works efficiently is that the exterior stays cool to the touch while cooking. This was certainly the case with the Cosori air fryer. The only spot that felt hot was by the vent in the back. Other than that, the appliance appeared to be using all of the heat it produced to cook my meal.

Though I generally handwash kitchen items to increase their lifespan, I just don’t have the time and energy sometimes. I like that I can pop the basket and drawer of the Cosori Smart WiFi Air Fryer into the dishwasher. And, when I’m inspired, washing these components by hand is also a breeze.

Cons to consider

Call me a Luddite, but I found the voice control to be overkill. It’s kind of fun to command my smart thermostat to tell my air fryer to start/stop cooking, but in my time testing the Cosori unit, I never felt the need to control it vocally.

While the app had useful recipes and the remote functions worked as advertised, I didn’t find the remote cooking features all that useful. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have these features at your disposal for those rare circumstances when they might help, especially considering the virtually identical “non-smart” Cosori Air Fryer costs just as much. If you happen to see that that non-smart version is less expensive, I’d recommend that one instead.

Manually setting the time and temperature on the Cosori could be a pain. I don’t like that there’s a button for toggling between time and temperature. This was done so that the same plus and minus buttons could be used to adjust both settings, but I found it to be an inconvenience.

The bottom line

Cosori Smart WiFi air fryer tray handle
Cosori Smart WiFi air fryer tray handle is easy to grip.

Despite these negatives, we think the Cosori Smart WiFi Air Fryer is an excellent appliance for fast, efficient cooking of healthy meals. The middle-of-the-pack price tag is more than worth it for the capacity and high-end features.

Unless you are a major techie and need to have the latest smart home gadgets, I wouldn’t recommend buying this exclusively for the Wi-Fi connectivity. I see limited use-cases for smart features. However, this is still an outstanding air fryer at a reasonable price and I would recommend it to anyone interested in trying a healthier alternative to deep-frying.

Pros: Wi-Fi-connected, Alexa-enabled, dishwasher-safe, large capacity, many safety features, cooks quickly

Cons: Manual operation is sometimes a pain

Smart Wi-Fi Air Fryer (button)

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A Michigan restaurant owner relies on friends to pick up shifts because she can’t find enough workers to wait tables: report

waitress New York coronavirus
The hospitality sector is shedding jobs.

  • A Michigan restaurant owner is asking friends to wait tables because of a labor shortage.
  • Without enough staff, customer service is suffering, she told local news site WSBT.
  • She said it’s becoming harder to compete with bigger chains that offer bonuses and cash incentives.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A Michigan restaurant owner is relying on friends to pick up shifts because she can’t find enough workers during the labor shortage.

Karina Fernandez, the owner of Maple Café in Edwardsburg, told local news site WSBT that service at her cafe is suffering because of the staff shortage. Friends who are helping say it’s impossible to give good service because there aren’t enough staff to wait tables.

It’s getting harder for small businesses like hers to attract workers, Fernandez said, because larger chains are offering cash incentives or bonuses.

“We’re competing with corporations that are giving incentives to start up to $1,000, I can’t afford that,” she said.

She was fully staffed before the pandemic began, but it’s been difficult to recruit workers since because people want more secure jobs, she said.

“Everybody’s too afraid to come to a job and then not have it in a couple [of] weeks or a week later,” she added. “Before the shutdown we were fully staffed and it was working right, but when the second shutdown happened everybody went to factories because they had something secure.”

Many food-service businesses are struggling to hire workers. The US jobs report from August showed that the number of people working in food services and drinking places dropped by 42,000 that month, the first drop since April 2020 and the largest drop overall across all nonfarm industries.

Some workers are switching careers to get higher-paying jobs, including in the retail and food-service sectors. For example, a demotivated dollar-store worker quit retail after an impressed customer told her to apply to a law firm, and now earns $3 an hour more, plus benefits.

Others are using the labor shortage to boost their careers. Keith Lane told Missouri newspaper the Springfield News-Leader that he’d used the labor crunch to rise up the ranks quickly at Domino’s, taking on extra hours to bring in more cash.

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The CEO of a smoothie company with nearly 1,000 stores is bucking a huge industry trend by shunning ghost kitchens

Tropical Smoothie Cafe interior
Tropical Smoothie Cafe is set to open its 1,000th site next month.

  • Tropical Smoothie Cafe doesn’t intend to open any ghost kitchens soon, its CEO Charles Watson said.
  • Instead, the company plans to open hundreds of brick-and-mortar cafes, many with smaller footprints.
  • But Watson still expects more than half of the company’s revenue to come from digital sales by 2024.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe is bucking the trend of restaurants and cafes opening ghost kitchens during the pandemic.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe CEO Charles Watson
Charles Watson told Insider the company doesn’t have plans to launch any ghost kitchens.

The smoothie chain is eyeing huge bricks-and-mortar expansion and is set to open its 1,000th location next month – but CEO Charles Watson told Insider it didn’t have plans to launch any ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens are food establishments that don’t have dining rooms and just prepare orders for delivery.

“I don’t think many brands need ghost kitchens,” he said.

“I am not a big proponent of ghost kitchens for Tropical Smoothie right now. I’m a little bit on the other end of that,” Watson continued.

This is despite the proportion of the company’s business that comes from digital sales growing massively during the pandemic. Around 35% of the company’s sales come from digital orders – via its website, app, and third-party delivery services – compared with 24%, pre-pandemic.

Watson expects this figure to grow to more than 50% over the next three years.

Read more: Here’s what it takes to open and run a Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Jack in the Box, Noodles & Company, and others

He said that the company has hundreds of new cafes in the pipeline. The company’s existing locations have average annual sales of around $840,500.

“I’m gonna go open 750 real kitchens,” Watson said. “We are headed smaller in terms of footprint … That’s my ghost kitchen.”

One major advantage of ghost kitchens is that they have much smaller real estate needs than full-service restaurants because they don’t need space for dine-in and customer parking and toilets.

“They are effectively a highly efficient real estate model,” David Bloom, chief development and operating officer at Capriotti’s and Wing Zone, told Insider.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe
The company’s cafes are on average 1,600 square feet.

But Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s locations are small anyway. Its cafes, which make around 65% of their sales from smoothies, are on average 1,600 square feet, with seating for between 20 and 30 customers, Watson said. This is less than half the square footage of the average freestanding McDonald’s restaurant.

“I don’t think for our brand, I don’t think ghost kitchens do much of anything,” Watson said.

“If we were to use them at all, it would be to seed a market,” he said. Other brands like Noodles & Company and Wendy’s have similarly said they planned to use ghost kitchens as a cheaper way to test out new markets before moving in with full brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Other restaurants, like The Halal Guys and Marco’s Pizza, told Insider they’re using ghost kitchens to expand delivery capacity in areas they already have brand recognition.

“I see ghost kitchens as a test vehicle, but not an expansion vehicle for Tropical Smoothie Cafe,” Watson said.

Smashburger is also shunning ghost kitchens for the time being.

Most ghost kitchens are located in industrial areas away from where customers actually live.

Smashburger president Carl Bachmann told Insider that this means take-out orders have long delivery journeys which affect their quality. Instead, the company can opt to build smaller restaurants in areas where orders heavily skew towards take-out or delivery, he said.

Do you work in the restaurant industry? Got a story? Email this reporter at gdean@insider.com.

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