I ate at Nando’s, the famed South African chain, for the first time and was unimpressed despite its appealing decor and heart-shaped chicken

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

  • Nando’s is a chicken chain serving up South African-style cuisine and is known for its heart-shaped butterfly chicken.
  • Peri-peri chicken is the chain’s flagship dish with a tasty combination of spices.
  • Hundreds of locations exist around the world but some are being closed due to a chicken shortage.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The US has Kentucky Fried Chicken. And South Africa has Nando’s.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

The fast-casual chicken chain is known for peri-peri chicken, or chicken seasoned with spices including peri-peri chili.

Nando's chicken shop
Nando’s chicken shop.

Outside of South Africa, Nando’s is widely popular in the UK and Ireland. It’s so popular that it can’t keep up with the demand for chicken, closing the doors of around 50 locations.

Nando's chicken shop
Nando’s chicken shop.

Source: New York Times

Nando’s is also surprisingly popular in the US, with locations in Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. In fact, the first time I heard about Nando’s was from a friend who pointed it out while we were visiting Washington.

Nando's chicken shop
Nando’s chicken shop.

On a recent trip to England, I set out to finally eat at Nando’s after hearing about it for months. Here’s what dining at the restaurant was like.

Piccadilly Circus in London, UK
Piccadilly Circus in London, UK.

Unsurprisingly, Nando’s isn’t hard to find in the UK with four locations in Central London alone. I found a location just a few blocks from Piccadilly Circus while sightseeing.

Piccadilly Circus in London, UK
Piccadilly Circus in London, UK.

There was a bit of a wait at this location just off Regent Street but not more than five minutes.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

South African decor fills the restaurant and gives it a rather exciting ambiance.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

The dining room was moderately crowded with plexiglass partitions dividing some of the tables.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

I was glad to see the restaurant getting creative with the plexiglass, as evidenced by this butterfly chicken/heart-shaped partition at the cashier station.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

The restaurant smelled of delicious chicken and I was eager to finally try Nando’s.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

Paper menus were left at each table but all the ordering was done on the Nando’s website.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

QR codes encased in little hearts led the way to the ordering website. Luckily, there was WiFi since I had poor cellular service in the UK.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

Each table had a number to include in the order so servers knew where to bring the food.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

Much to my expectations, chicken was the primary item on the menu with few alternative options. Other items included burgers, salads, and dips but I had my heart set on peri-peri chicken.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

I ordered my chicken with mild spice and hoped for the best. It didn’t take too long for the meal to be prepared but the short time waiting was spent further analyzing the South African artwork.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

Soon enough, the star of the night appeared. The beautiful golden brown chicken came out in its iconic heart shape, accompanied by two sides.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

I was all set to dig in but waited just a bit longer to get some sauce. The server recommended peri-peri garlic sauce so that was what I grabbed.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

But there are other options including wild herb and lemon and herb.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

The chicken was perfectly cooked with crispy skin on the outside and gorgeous white meat on the inside.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

Next up on the taste test was the chips, or French fries for Americans. But these weren’t just any chips, they were “peri-salted chips” and had the distinct peri-peri seasoning on time.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

They were a perfectly cooked golden brown and crispy, but also just as spicy as the chicken. I almost broke out into a sweat just from the two items.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

Lastly, two pieces of garlic bread were served as the final side. It’s hard to mess up garlic bread and Nando’s certainly doesn’t as it was incredibly tasty.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

I will say that I didn’t immediately fall in love with the chicken to the degree to which I expected. A part of me felt that I could marinate chicken at home and then throw it on the barbeque to achieve comparable results.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

I also didn’t get much more flavor from the sauce, which was surprising.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

But even still, I cleaned my plate and the meal served its purpose of filling me up.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

All in all, it cost £12.25 or $17.02. For what I got, I found it to be just a bit overpriced.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

A butterfly chicken breast on its own cost $8.25, which I thought to be incredibly high priced. But this was Central London amid a chicken shortage, after all.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

I left satisfied with the meal but felt that the beloved Nando’s didn’t live up to the hype. I’d undoubtedly eat at the chain again but will change it up next time to try more of the menu.

Eating at Nando's in London
Eating at Nando’s in London, UK.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Chick-fil-A CEO says 30% of people drive away because the chain’s drive-thru lines are so long

Chick-fil-A drive-thru review
  • Chick-fil-A CEO said that a third of customers drive away from the drive-thru because of long lines.
  • Putting another restaurant a few miles away doesn’t reduce demand, he said.
  • Chick-fil-A uses technology to keep drive-thrus moving efficiently.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chick-fil-A is one of the biggest players in the fast-food drive-thru game, but some of the success might actually be driving customers away.

“We estimate about 30% of the people are driving off, driving away, because the lines are so long,” exiting CEO Dan Cathy told the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The data shows that Chick-fil-A does have longer drive-thru lines than its competitors. The chicken chain had the longest wait time out of the 10 quick-service chains tested at 541 seconds, or about nine minutes, in the 2021 QSR drive-thru study. But long waits don’t tell the whole story, because Chick-fil-A also came out on top for customer service and order accuracy.

Through a spokesperson, Chick-fil-A declined to comment.

Drive-thru waits have gotten longer over time. In 2019, the average speed was 322.98 seconds, just over five minutes, and in 2020 the wait was 488.8 seconds, about eight minutes. Waits have nearly doubled since 2019, but customers don’t seem to care. The chain was the only business to get a 100% accuracy rating in the same survey, and also got the top spot for customer service.

The long waits aren’t surprising: Chick-fil-A is really popular. According to the survey, Chick-fil-A locations had an average of four cars waiting in line at any given time, well above the average of 2.2 cars at McDonald’s, the next highest. These wait times are a symptom of Chick-fil-A’s massive success; the average Chick-fil-A store does over $4.5 million in annual sales, compared to the average McDonald’s store with $2.9 million.

Chick-fil-A does have strategies to make drive-thrus faster and more efficient, like installing double drive-thru lanes and having workers take customers’ orders on tablets at their cars before they reach windows to reduce bottlenecks. Even with these measures, which are being adopted by competing chains, it’s not unusual for the drive-thru line to extend out onto the street or block entrances to other businesses, and at times require police help directing traffic.

One method to mitigate long lines is to open another Chick-fil-A location a mile or two away from a busy restaurant. “We found that doesn’t solve the problem. It is a huge well, which makes us realize how much growth potential we still have here in the US,” Dan Cathy said.

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

Read the original article on Business Insider

‘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.'”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I went to Texas Roadhouse for the first time and saw how it’s huge portions served with folksy charm have led to booming sales

Texas Roadhouse
  • Texas Roadhouse sales are surging well above 2019 levels.
  • I visited one location in Rochester, New York, and found the chain is homey and comfortable, with good food at relatively low prices.
  • I had a great experience, and I see why people are flocking to the restaurant.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.
I went to Texas Roadhouse on a Thursday evening, thinking I would be able to walk in and be seated quickly enough.

texas roadhouse

I knew the chain was popular, but I was still surprised to find a completely packed parking lot on a weekday evening.

Texas Roadhouse parking lot
Texas Roadhouse is doing better than ever.

The window advised customers to call ahead to reserve a seat, which I regretted not doing.

Texas Roadhouse exterior
Texas Roadhouse is doing better than ever.

The restaurant had updates hours posted over the door, one of many restaurants working on reduced hours right now.

Texas Roadhouse exterior
Texas Roadhouse is doing better than ever.

Upon walking inside, I realized the restaurant was even more crowded than I’d anticipated from the parking lot.

Texas Roadhouse lobby
Texas Roadhouse is doing better than ever.

I put our name in at the hostess stand and was told it would be about a 10 minute wait.

Texas Roadhouse hostess stand
Texas Roadhouse is doing better than ever.

I didn’t mind the wait. I used the time to take in the ambiance of Texas Roadhouse, which was unlike any restaurant I’d ever been to before. The restaurant was packed and I saw maybe two or three people wearing masks, while servers did not. I could almost forget we were in a pandemic.

Texas Roadhouse hostess stand
Texas Roadhouse is doing better than ever.

The walls were decorated with jerseys and uniforms from the local high school sports teams right above the hostess station.

Texas Road House decor
Texas Roadhouse.

An extremely large moose head was mounted alongside the uniforms. I don’t know what mooses have to do with Texas, but it did add to a homey, country theme.

Texas Road House decor
Texas Roadhouse.

Other walls are adorned with neon beer brand signs, including Budweiser and Blue Moon.

Texas Road House decor
Texas Roadhouse.

Nearly all the walls in the massive restaurant were decked out in decor, like these caricatures of some classic country artists.

Texas Road House decor
Texas Road House.

I also got some time to check out the butcher station with hand-cut steaks, which is one of the signature features of the chain.

Texas Road House steaks
Texas Roadhouse.

Above the steaks are the chain’s iconic rolls, staying warm under a heating lamp.

Texas Roadhouse  rolls
Texas Roadhouse.

Another neon sign gets at the heart of Texas Roadhouse: beer and beef.

Texas Roadhouse  sign
Texas Roadhouse.

Underneath the sign, waitstaff ran in and out of the kitchen, ferrying rolls to the full restaurant.

Texas Roadhouse kitchen
Texas Roadhouse.

There were posting all over advertising that the restaurant is hiring, likely a symptom of the labor shortage impacting just about every restaurant right now.

Texas Roadhouse hiring
Texas Roadhouse.

Even the waitstaff wore shirts saying “I
Texas Roadhouse kitchen

Texas Roadhouse.

After a wait of probably closer to 25 minutes, I followed a waitress, holding the coveted rolls, to my table.

Texas Roadhouse table
Texas Roadhouse.

A menu advertised Texas Roadhouse’s drinks, including margaritas that I’d heard I had to try.

Texas Roadhous table
Texas Roadhouse.

The restaurant is even bigger than it looks from the outside, and it seemed nearly full as I walked to my table.

Texas Roadhouse
Texas Roadhouse.

As I walked through the rest of the interior, the decor was consistent throughout.

Texas Roadhouse
Texas Roadhouse.

There were probably at least a dozen animal heads mounted on the walls, included a classic Americana jackalope.

Texas Roadhouse
Texas Roadhouse.

The decor is kitchsy, in a way that I found unexpectedly appealing.

Texas Roadhouse
Texas Roadhouse.

Cactuses perched on booths and counters were reminders that the restaurant was supposed to be Southwest-themed.

Texas Roadhouse cactus
Texas Roadhouse.

I sat down and opened up a massive menu, which was overwhelming with all its choices.

Texas Roadhouse menu
Texas Roadhouse.

Back at the table, the waitress recommended this massive blue margarita, called Kenny’s Cooler after Kenny Chesney.

Texas Roadhouse margarita
Texas Roadhouse.

For $7.25, it was huge and could easily be shared by at least two people.

Texas Roadhouse margarita
Texas Roadhouse.

Because we told the waitress we’d never been to Texas Roadhouse before, she brought us a sampler of some dishes to test out: green beans in bacon grease, loaded mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon, pulled pork, and chili topped with cheese and red onions.

Texas Roadhouse samples
Texas Roadhouse.

We ordered the combo appetizer to try out a few different dishes, including boneless wings, potato skins, and rattlesnake bites, which were fried jalapenos and cheese.

Texas Roadhouse appetizers
Texas Roadhouse.

We went through the appetizers all too quickly, and all agreed that the dipping sauces and spreads were a highlight of the experience. From the horseradish sauce that came with the rattlesnake bites to the cinnamon butter for the rolls, they went perfectly on the dishes they came with.

Texas Roadhouse appetizers
Texas Roadhouse.

Our entrees came, and the sheer amount of food was staggering. I had no idea how we’d even start to finish it.

Texas Roadhouse meal
Texas Roadhouse.

I got the country-fried chicken, covered in a creamy white gravy. It was delicious, though I could hardly make a dent in it after the appetizers and rolls.

Texas Roadhouse chicken
Texas Roadhouse.

The entree also came with two sides, which themselves were huge. I chose the mashed potatoes and green beans, which I knew I’d like from the sampler.

Texas Roadhouse sides
Texas Roadhouse.

I’m not a big fan of steak, so I wanted to bring along someone who could really evaluate Texas Roadhouse’s signature steaks. My fiance, Joe, ordered this giant steak, with perfect grill marks.

Texas Roadhouse steak
Texas Roadhouse.

The steak was extra rare and smelled amazing.

Texas Roadhouse steak
Texas Roadhouse.

It was served smothered in mushrooms and onions, with a loaded baked potato as one of the sides.

Texas Roadhouse steak
Texas Roadhouse.

My sister was also game to test out the food, so she got a burger and fries.

Texas Roadhouse burger
Texas Roadhouse.

The Smokehouse Burger, one-half pound of beef with mushrooms, onions, barbecue sauce, and mounds of gooey cheese, was delicious, according to her.

Texas Roadhouse burger
Texas Roadhouse.

The giant burger and fries were a huge amount of food for the $11.49 price tag.

Texas Roadhouse burger
Texas Roadhouse.

The 16-ounce ribeye, plus two sides, was $25.

Texas Roadhouse steak
Texas Roadhouse.

My fried chicken was just $12.99, an even better deal considering I ate it for three meals.

Texas Roadhouse chicken
Texas Roadhouse.

We finally gave up and admitted there was no possible way we’d finish this food in one sitting.

Texas Roadhouse meal
Texas Roadhouse.

As we packed our food into takeout containers, our server even offered to bring us more rolls, with little covers so we could take the butter, too.

Texas Roadhous table
Texas Roadhouse.

I’m not the only one who had a good experience at Texas Roadhouse. Sales are exploding at the chain.

Texas Roadhouse sign

Same-store sales are up over 80% over 2020, which was of course low because of COVID-19, and they’re up 21.3% over 2019 levels. Visits are up too, according to Placer.ai, indicating more customers are visiting the chain and they’re spending more money.

Texas Roadhouse skull

Source: Insider, Nation’s Restaurant News

The chain’s sales are booming, and I can see why. Good food in huge quantities, plus a sense of normality by returning to a well-known restaurant, are more appealing than ever in 2021.

Texas Roadhouse bar

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

Read the original article on Business Insider

Meet 3 people who quit food-service jobs during the labor shortage: ‘Every day that I went to work, there was this significant dread’

Cristian Cardona standing in front of McDonald's
Cristian Cardona in front of a McDonald’s. He quit his McDonald’s position in June.

  • The pandemic has been tough for people working in restaurant and fast-food chains.
  • Insider talked to three workers who left or took a break from the industry during the pandemic.
  • The industry needs better pay and more respect if it wants to attract new workers, they said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Cristian Cardona was a shift manager at a corporate-owned McDonald’s in Orlando, Florida, until he left the fast-food chain a few months ago.

He was one of 722,000 restaurant and hotel workers who quit in June, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest quit level for these workers during the pandemic and the second-highest level since December 2000, the first month the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey series was tracked. Openings in the industry continue to increase and were over 1.4 million in June, according to the bureau.

“I believe workers are sick and tired of being underpaid, overworked, underappreciated by these companies, not being protected, having to risk their lives,” Cardona told Insider.

He and two other former food-service workers told Insider why they quit and what needed to change for them to come back.

Management and customers need to treat their employees better

The food-service employees we talked to all said that customers didn’t always treat them with respect, even though they put their health at risk during the pandemic.

“Especially now, no one goes to Starbucks to sit for an hour to relax,” said a former Starbucks barista to whom we granted anonymity and whose employment has been verified by Insider. “People go to Starbucks to get in and get out. So everyone has this frenetic energy when they come in, and they are extremely rude and demanding.”

He recalled one customer who called him “stupid” and “lazy.” He said she wanted a decaf Americano and didn’t tell him that she wanted steamed nonfat milk and stevia in it.

“She didn’t tell me all the things that she wanted, and then she literally expected me to read her mind. Like, that was her expectation. And when I didn’t, that’s when she berated me and belittled me,” he said.

“She will never remember to this day that interaction, but I’ll always remember that interaction and how little she made me feel,” he added.

Cardona similarly said customers weren’t always the friendliest.

“I noticed that customers were starting to act almost like they we’re taking stuff out on us,” he said. “They would get upset, angry. Sometimes, they would get violent, yell stuff at us, and it made it a hostile environment for us a lot of times.”

David Goldberg, who was an executive chef and general manager of 169 Bar in New York, said customers should treat restaurant and hospitality workers with respect. He left in November.

“I just felt like I’m anxious. I’m kind of stressed – I’m dealing with customers that don’t want to wear masks. I’m just kind of over it, and I’m just going to take a break,” Goldberg said.

He recalled one incident when the bar had only outdoor dining. One customer was told she couldn’t come in to use the bathroom without a mask but came in anyway.

When she left the bathroom, Goldberg came out of his office to talk to her.

“I said, ‘Listen you cannot come back. You got to leave. You’re endangering other patrons. You’re endangering the staff. You got to leave,'” he said. “What does she do? She calls her boyfriend, husband, and he comes down, threatening me with a fight. This is what people in the restaurant industry are dealing with.”

The former Starbucks barista said he had worked different restaurant positions but working at Starbucks was the worst and most demanding. He left without a new job to fall back on but now works in a different industry.

“Every day that I went to work, there was this significant dread that I would have because it’s nonstop,” he said.

“You are not just doing one job – you are doing probably four jobs, the labor of four people,” he added, giving the example of balancing working at the register and making drinks.

“They have to staff better, and they actually have to support their staff,” he said.

Insider’s Mary Meisenzahl reported Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said the company’s “retention numbers are good,” but some workers she talked to said there was high turnover.

The industry needs higher wages

Cardona, who’s also a member of the Fight for $15 and a union, started at McDonald’s in 2017, working his way up to manager. He made about $11 an hour, rising to $13 right before he left in June.

Cristian Cardona
Cardona.

He said his pay didn’t reflect all the work and hours he was putting in as a manager. He now works at Universal Studios, which bumped up its starting pay to $15 on June 27.

“After a long search, I was able to find a job that gave me $15, which made me happy because it made it easier to survive. Going from $11 to $13 and then $15 is a big jump,” Cardona said.

While many people are quitting the industry, Cardona said he thought some might not be able to leave their jobs “because they’re in a trap where they are making starvation wages and they can’t afford to move or get transportation to a better job.”

McDonald’s recently increased its minimum pay to $11 to $17 an hour for entry-level workers and $15 to $20 an hour for shift managers, depending on location. Insider’s Kate Taylor reported that McDonald’s expected average hourly wages of company-owned restaurants to be $15 by 2024. CEO Chris Kempczinski said after the company’s announcement, “We’re getting close to full staffing levels.”

Goldberg agreed with Cardona that there needed to be a federal minimum wage of $15.

“People need to be paid what they’re worth, and it’s just not like that in the restaurant industry,” Goldberg said. He added that unemployment benefits weren’t keeping Americans from looking for work right now.

Cardona agreed. It’s not that people receiving unemployed benefits instead of working are “lazy” and don’t want to work, he said. Rather, it’s because “companies aren’t paying their workers enough,” he added.

In Florida, where Cardona worked, a minimum-wage worker would not be able to afford a two-bedroom rental apartment. A full-time worker would need to make $24.82 an hour to afford a two-bedroom and without spending more than 30% of their income, according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

It seems that the food-service industry is taking note and raising wages. In May, average earnings for nonsupervisory workers in restaurants crossed $15. As the following chart shows, average earnings in full-service restaurants is over $17 and just above $13 for limited-service restaurants, such as fast-food places.

Goldberg said management in the industry needed to “make the job more appealing and more attractive, more rewarding, more growth, and you’ll be very surprised about how easy it is to staff.”

He is returning to the industry that he has been a part of for roughly 14 years with a plan to open up his own rooftop bar. He said he was hoping to be the owner that the industry really needs right now.

Have you left the food-service industry or are a business that is struggling to hire workers? Email this reporter at mhoff@insider.com.

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Sweetgreen CEO appears to blame obesity for hundreds of thousands of COVID deaths in the United States

Jonathan Neman, Co-Founder and CEO, sweetgreen, participates in a panel discussion during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.
Jonathan Neman, Co-Founder and CEO, sweetgreen, participates in a panel discussion during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 29, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.

  • The CEO of upscale salad chain Sweetgreen seemingly blamed obesity for US COVID deaths on Wednesday.
  • “78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are obese and overweight people,” Jonathan Neman said on LinkedIn.
  • As of September 1, 634,320 people in the US have died from COVID-19 according to the WHO.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The CEO and cofounder of the nearly $2 billion upscale salad chain Sweetgreen seemingly blamed overweight people for the high death toll in the United States from the coronavirus pandemic.

“78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are Obese and Overweight people,” Sweetgreen CEO and cofounder Jonathan Neman said in a LinkedIn post this week. “Is there an underlying problem that perhaps we have not given enough attention to? Is there another way to think about how we tackle ‘healthcare’ by addressing the root cause?” he said.

As of September 1, 634,320 people in the United States have died from COVID-19 according to the World Health Organization.

Obesity is among many medical conditions listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as especially at risk of getting “severely ill” from a COVID-19 infection, resulting in hospitalization and potentially death..

“COVID is here to stay for the foreseeable future,” Neman said in the post. “We cannot run away from it and no vaccine nor mask will save us.”

Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman posted this on LinkedIn regarding the pandemic deaths. He later removed it.
Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman posted this on LinkedIn regarding the pandemic deaths. He later removed it.

Though Neman noted that he is vaccinated and encourages others to do the same, his subsequent suggestions to curb the ongoing pandemic each focused on individual health over the broadly recommended solutions like masking and vaccinations.

“We have been quick to put in place mask and vaccine mandates but zero conversation on HEALTH MANDATES,” he wrote. “All the while we have printed unlimited money to soften the blow the shutdowns have caused to our country. What if we focused on the ROOT CAUSE and used this pandemic as a catalyst for creating a healthier future??”

He also cited mask and vaccine mandates as “government overreach” while calling for new taxes on processed foods.

“We clearly have no problem with government overreach on how we live our lives all in the name of ‘health,’ however we are creating more problems than we are solving,” he said.

Read more: Liberals keep underestimating right-wing politics because they ignore the vast, influential propaganda machine driving popular conservative ideology

Neman deleted the post on Wednesday afternoon after it was picked up by Vice, but not before people began commenting.

“This post is disgusting,” one commenter wrote. “Yikes, this is incredibly fat-phobic,” another person wrote. “Have you considered how our healthcare system systematically underserves people who are considered to be in those groups?”

Neman said the commenter made “some good points” and he didn’t intend to be fat-phobic with his post. “We have work to do to make healthy food more accessible and affordable.”

Sweetgreen salads start at $9.95 and cost as much as $14.95.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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An Oregon McDonald’s is so desperate for workers it hung a huge banner outside calling on 14-year-olds to apply

McDonald's hiring 14 and 15 year olds
McDonald’s is turning to younger workers.

  • An Oregon McDonald’s is looking to hire young teen workers.
  • Other chains have turned to recruit minors as the labor shortage continues in fast food.
  • Some restaurants around the US have had to close their dining rooms over lack of workers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A McDonald’s in Medford, Oregon has a banner out front advertising that it is hiring 14 and 15-year-old workers.

“There are always staffing issues, but this is unheard of,” the Biddle Road restaurant operator, Heather Coleman, told Insider. She said the situation is unique in her family’s 40-year history operating McDonald’s franchises.

The young workers have been “a blessing in disguise,” Coleman said. “They have the drive and work ethic, they get the technology. They catch on really quickly.”

While raising the minimum wage to $15 didn’t bring in as many applicants as she’d hoped, opening the doors to 14 and 15-year-olds brought in about 25 new applications in two weeks, she said.

Coleman’s restaurant isn’t the only one looking for younger workers as fast-food chains are facing a shortage of workers with high turnover and low levels of applicants.

Texas chicken chain Layne’s Chicken Fingers is promoting workers in their teens and early 20s into management positions paying more than $50,000. CEO Garrett Reed says he’s relying on 16 and 17-year old workers to run new stores because he was so short on older, more experienced staff.

“We’re so thin at leadership that we can’t stretch anymore to open more locations. I’ve got a good crop of 16- and 17-year-olds, but I need another year or two to get them seasoned to run stores,” Reed told The Wall Street Journal.

A 16 to 19-year-old can expect to make $28,860 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but 19-year-old Jason Cabrera makes $50,000 as the general manager of a Layne’s Chicken Fingers location, along with the potential bonuses linked to his performance, Anna Cooban reported for Insider.

Earlier this year, a sign at an Ohio Burger King that said “Do you have a 14 or 15-year-old? Do they need a job?? We will hire them!” gained traction online.

Labor laws for minors vary by state, but the Department of Labor set 14 as the minimum age for non-agricultural jobs. At ages 14 and 15, children are allowed to work in restaurants and quick-service businesses, and the number of hours and times of the week are specified by law.

Minor workers are entitled to be paid the same minimum wage as other workers, but workers under 20 can be paid as little as $4.25 an hour for up 90 days of training. If a state has a higher minimum wage, that would supersede the minor wage.

According to one expert, hiring younger workers might be a smart strategy to get through an especially difficult period. “It’s really tough times for staffing, why wouldn’t you try to figure out how to hire people?” Kalinowski Equity founder Mark Kalinowski told Insider. “Over time we’ll get back to normal,” but until then, this might help restaurants survive.

For restaurants, the alternative to finding new pools of workers is closing. Three Chick-fil-A restaurants in Alabama had to close their dining rooms over lack of staff, though they continued to make food for delivery.

“We, along with many businesses, are in the middle of a hiring crisis,” the Calera, Alabama Chick-fil-A restaurant said in a Facebook post. A McDonald’s location in North Carolina made a similar move, closing the dining room while keeping the drive-thru running.

Two more Chick-fil-A locations in northern Alabama have started closing early because they don’t have enough workers, Grace Dean reported for Insider.

Restaurant workers continue to quite the industry at record rates, moving to jobs where they don’t have to interact with angry customers.

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

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Starbucks is leaving America’s dying malls and focusing on drive-thrus

FILE PHOTO: People sit in a Starbucks cafe in a mall in Beijing, China, January 29, 2019.   REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: People sit in a Starbucks cafe in a mall in Beijing

  • Some Starbucks employees report their mall stores are closing.
  • Last year Starbucks said it was updating its strategy to focus on drive-thru and pick-up store formats.
  • Starbucks says it will still have some stores in malls.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The suburbs are making a comeback, but malls are getting left behind as Starbucks wants out, too.

Three Starbucks employees in three states, whose employment was confirmed by Insider, shared that their mall-based stores closed in the last month. They all requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

One barista in a Texas mall said he was “blindsided” at the news of the closure. All the baristas Insider spoke to were offered transfers to other locations.

Closing mall kiosks is part of Starbucks’ strategy of investing more in drive-thru and pickup locations. Last summer, Starbucks announced it would close 400 US stores to “strategically optimize” its portfolio, with the greatest changes in urban markets.

Read more: How a tiny food-tech startup convinced industry heavyweights like Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell to rely on it to fight a labor shortage

“Starbucks continues to make meaningful progress to reposition our US store portfolio through this trade area transformation, which is now nearly 80% complete. In the past 12 months, we have opened 554 new stores combined with in-store seating and drive-thru service, repositioning our store portfolio to create a blend of traditional Starbucks stores with convenience-led formats,” a Starbucks spokesperson told Insider.

Fast food and fast-casual brands across the country have optimized drive-thrus over the last year as they became crucial in the age of COVID-19. Drive-thru orders have grown across the fast-food industry since the pandemic closed many dining rooms. On-the-go orders, meaning drive-thru and pickup orders, made up 80% of Starbucks orders prior to the pandemic, Starbucks told Insider, and increased more than 10% over pre-pandemic levels in the first quarter of 2021.

Starbucks has invested in new technology and formats as drive-thrus become even more critical to the brand. The coffee chain has started adding double drive-thru lanes, along with implementing video ordering capabilities and handheld tablets for baristas to take orders. These developments can all decrease wait times and make drive-thrus more efficient by reducing bottlenecks, Kalinowski Equity Research founder Mark Kalinowski previously told Insider.

The coronavirus pandemic sped up the shift to pick-up and to-go locations, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said in an earnings call in 2020.

Despite the shift in strategy, Starbucks says “high-traffic areas like malls, airports, campuses, and our other licensed locations will remain a key pillar of the Starbucks experience.” This reiterates the chain’s earlier statement last year, saying “Our vision is that each large city in the US will ultimately have a mix of traditional Starbucks cafés and Starbucks Pickup locations.”

Starbucks decision to focus on drive-thrus and other formats over some malls makes sense. The retail apocalypse has made headlines for years, as some malls die a slow death and retail vacancy rates hit new highs. More than 12,000 stores closed in 2020, many of them crucial anchor stores that once kept malls afloat. The list of 2021 closures is still growing.

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

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A Manhattan restaurant said business dropped up to 25% in a week – and its owner blames NYC’s vaccine mandate

Mooyah Art, Nick Depole
Art Depole and his brother Nick own the Mooyah restaurant in New York’s Times Square.

  • The owner of Mooyah said business fell by up to 25% after NYC introduced its vaccine mandate.
  • He said that he doubted rising Delta cases had caused the drop.
  • The vaccine mandate was “very polarizing” in comparison with past mask mandates, he added.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The owner of a burger restaurant in downtown Manhattan said business plunged by up to 25% in a week – and he blamed it on New York City’s vaccine mandate.

Art Depole, who co-owns the Mooyah Burgers, Fries, and Shakes restaurant in Times Square, told Insider that the mandate was deterring people from visiting his establishment.

This loss in business could cause his restaurant to raise prices, he said.

Read more: A top consulting firm just announced one of the strictest vaccine mandates yet: Get vaccinated or don’t get paid

Under rules introduced last week, people need to provide proof of at least one COVID-19 shot to eat at restaurants in New York City. Depole estimated that sales at his restaurant were between 20% and 25% down that week, with lunchtime and weekend traffic hit the hardest.

Rising cases of the Delta variant could also be putting people off from eating out, Depole said. Sales have dropped at Mooyah restaurants in tourist-heavy areas because the Delta variant has deterred people from traveling, Natalie Anderson Liu, vice president of brand at Mooyah, told Insider. And tourists usually make up just over half of all visitors at the Times Square location, Depole added.

But he said that he didn’t think worries about the Delta variant could have caused the sudden drop in sales because Delta cases were already high anyway.

“The previous week in which the Delta variant was still spreading was far better in sales then last week was,” Depole said.

“I believe, from speaking to people, that it’s more because of the mandate,” he said.

The vaccine mandate was “very polarizing” in comparison with past mask mandates, he added.

Restaurants that voluntarily enforced their own vaccine mandates told Insider that some customers had left bad reviews and threatened to spit on and cough at staff over the policy.

“I never had one incident with a customer who gave me a hard time when they were asked to wear a mask,” Depole said.

The restaurant industry is ‘the easy target’

The restaurant industry is ‘the easy target’

Depole said he understood the reasoning behind the vaccine mandate, but that the restaurant industry was “the easy target” and being “unfairly picked on.”

“We’re being singled out as someone who has to enforce this mandate while other large retailers aren’t having to go through the same type of requirements that we are to allow customers to enter,” he said.

An analysis published in Nature found that the majority of COVID-19 infections early in the pandemic could be traced to “superspreader” locations, which included restaurants.

“The places that are the riskiest are restaurants, gyms, cafes, and hotels,” the study’s co-author Jure Leskovec told Insider. “These are all places where people are relatively densely packed together for a long period of time.”

But Depole said his restaurant is safe. “We have had zero cases of COVID linked to our restaurant,” he said.

Anderson Liu said that Mooyah introduced a COVID-19 checklist for all its restaurants at the start of the pandemic, which includes sanitizing restaurants every 15 minutes and screening staff for the coronavirus.

“So I can tell you that almost with a 100% certainty that our restaurant is safer than most of the retail outlets that are not affected by this,” Depole said.

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

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