Changing Restaurant Paradigms?

I remember when getting pizza meant going into town and sitting down at the Pizza Hut, where we had a waitress and a pitcher of Pepsi. There was a Space Invaders game, and if I had been good, my dad would give me a quarter to play a game while we waited for the pizza to arrive. Also, the Book-It program gave my family one more reason to go to Pizza Hut and gave me an incentive to get better grades

The model evolved and Carryout became more common. And we ate Pizza Hut more frequently. There was no pitcher of Pepsi and no Space Invaders at home, but we had pizza. Pizza that wasn’t as hot and fresh as we had it at the store, but my parents didn’t have to load us all up and drive into town.

Enter Domino’s and the delivery model. Even though my family lived outside the area where pizza delivery was practical, we knew the paradigm had changed. As time went by, the Pizza Hut lost more and more in-store business. They hired drivers and tried to compete on two fronts. Dine In and Eat at Home.

Now, for a chain pizza place to be solvent, delivery is a given. A dine in pizza place seems quaint, and it must have superior food and service to attract enough customers to stay in the black. The market has changed. The dining location for pizza is now the home, not the dining room.

My wife and I picked up dinner tonight at Biaggi’s, a family favorite. Due to the Wuhan virus, all dining must be done outside an eating establishment, otherwise we would have enjoyed the experience in the dining room. The waitstaff is always helpful and attentive. The drink refills come quickly, the specials are described, special orders are no problem, and so on.

Our dinner was not a disappointment at all. It wasn’t as hot as it would be due to the drive home and setup at our own kitchen table. To offset this, and to keep their business going in this environment, Biaggi’s gave us 20% off the order. At a first glance, that seems like a huge cut! Restaurant profit margins are usually pretty tight.

But there are expenses associated with running a restaurant. They didn’t have to pay their wait staff, the bartenders, the table bussers, the hostesses and other positions I’m unaware of. The dishwasher could focus on the kitchen utensils, without worrying about any customer dishes and silverware. The cost savings they experienced may or may not match the 20% discount they offered, but a businessperson would need to factor that in.

Now picture a restaurant in the same category as Biaggi’s but without inside dining. Better food (by far) than an Applebee’s, but without any need to cater to a dining room full of customers. No need to hire staff to seat them, to clean up their messes, to serve them really at all. And then factor in the much smaller customer parking you would require and the smaller taxes that would be levied on your establishment due to the smaller footprint.

I don’t think nice mid-range restaurants are a thing of the past. I couldn’t imagine that! People in the US will continue to look forward to an evening of being served, of eating freshly cooked food and not having any dishes waiting when they are done eating. But I could see a delivery and/or carryout option available for people who want a nice meal for a lower price than the mid-range restaurant and who don’t mind cleaning up after themselves.

As a hobby, I like to forecast market trends. Not anything specific enough to buy shares of this or that stock, but enough to look at macro trends and forecast what the next stage might look like. I’m no expert in this, but I could imagine some company coming up with an option like this. There are Americans who would like an upgraded dinner, but who may not want to pay the price for the upgraded experience or who just want to eat their restaurant meal in their own homes.

Most restaurants already offer carryout and delivery via GrubHub and similar third party services. This viral event has opened my eyes to a new business model that specializes in the cost savings of carryout/delivery and doesn’t even bother with the dining room at all. As long as these restaurants are seen as a new model and not as one that replaces the affordable once in a while visit to a family favorite, I think it could be a regular thing in a post-Coronavirus world.

And I believe the advancements that a specialized restaurant could make in this category could become something pretty special.

The New England Patriots and their Deal with…

What happened to all the quarterbacks already? Andrew Luck suddenly retired. Nick Foles is out with a collar bone, an injury he really needs to let heal rather than return this season. Ben Roethlisberger says he’ll return next year after his elbow surgery, and for what it’s worth I believe him. Eli Manning is no longer starting at the Giants, and if I were him I’d try to join the Jags post haste to close out the career with Tom Coughlin. Drew Breese will be out six games, making the Saints an unlikely playoff team. Sam Darnold is out with mononucleosis, which sucks, but at least he will return this season and the likelihood of his team making the playoffs is unchanged in that there is zero likelihood.

And what is the common thread in all of these stories? The New England Patriots.

It must be nice to walk between the raindrops every year. It must be nice to be in a division of ineptitude. It must be nice to get a first round bye and then play the remaining playoff games in front of your home fans every year. Gee whiz, what would need to happen in order for a team to get that sort of perpetual bliss?

Well you start by being in a division with the Jets, Dolphins and Bills. And I guess that’s really all you need. Let’s look at their schedule though. Week one was against the Steelers, a team built upon star players, having missed their two greatest players in the last two years and then not adequately replaced. Week two was against the Dolphins, a team that should be the subject of a class action lawsuit by their season ticket holders for tanking the season. Week three is the Jets. Will Sam Darnold be back from mononucleosis by then? Then comes the Bills, Redskins, Giants (sans Eli Manning), Jets, Browns, Ravens, then the Bye.

Going into the Week 10 bye, if the Patriots are 8-1, that will be perceived as more than just a little bit disappointing. And WHEN they are in the playoffs, most likely starting in the Divisional round, they already know that their biggest foes, the Steelers and the Colts, will not be around to challenge them. The AFC has become a dumpster fire with very few exceptions.

Can you name any real rival to the Patriots this year? Can you say with certainty that any other team is guaranteed to be in the Super Bowl? Heck, I’ll roll the dice here. The New England Patriots will WIN the Super Bowl this year and will do so convincingly.

My Happy Birthday (Literally)

On the subject of my birthday, which just so happens to be today, let me tell you a little something about my birth.

In 1973, my mom’s water broke during the 1st trimester. The doctors were planning a D&C after that weekend, but stopped when they detected a heartbeat using technology that was new at the time. Instead of my life ending that day, a surgery was performed to assist my mom in carrying me as long as possible. She was warned that I still may not make it. She was told that if I did make it I would likely be deformed or experience mental challenges. She was placed on bed rest the remainder of her pregnancy. She prayed for me.

I was born premature because my mother walked up a half flight of stairs to use the restroom, rather than pull my dad from a volleyball game on his birthday. Once I was birthed, I was rushed out of the room to an incubator. About a week later, my parents brought me home. Technically, I’m normal. You can use your own judgment on that though. I don’t mind.

Heartbeat = life. Yes, it’s personal. Abortion = murder. Yes, it’s personal. 

There was a gun scare in my community this week and I’m angry

Yesterday an alert was sounded that a white man wearing black clothes with a backpack and holding a rifle was seen in the vicinity of a Waukee school. This caused the schools to be put on lockdown, an outdoor elementary track and field event to be moved from the High School track to the elementary facilities, uneasiness among the faculty and students, and more. News reporters converged on the town. Everybody had a sense of dread, waiting for the next bit of news.

And as the information trickled in, I began to become angry. Why aren’t they giving us more information? Why isn’t this all over the news outlets? Why haven’t they hardened the schools against attack yet? The day continued on, more or less a normal day, and our daughter got out of school and spent some time with her grandparents.

When we picked her up, I asked her about the event and she didn’t seem too upset about it. But she said that she heard through the grapevine that this gunman had been seen in close proximity to the school by students. When asked why that hadn’t been reported she didn’t know, and honestly I didn’t expect her to know. But then I asked if they got any pictures of this guy, who was walking near the school, but not firing his gun or taking any offensive posture toward anyone. She said no. They stood at the window and watched him for a few minutes, but not a single one of these children thought to pull out their smartphones and take so much as one picture.

That’s odd. These kids are addicted to their phones. And they take photos and videos of everything. Maybe not in a fight or flight situation, but if they are staring out the window at a bunny in the grass, they’re getting photos of it. Probably with Instragram filters. And a whole group of them didn’t think to reach into their pockets to take any pictures. The only rational conclusion of this is that the gunman was Bigfoot.

My spidey sense started tingling.

Fast forward to today, when I first saw this story about a local mother who is also angry. I echo the sentiments of Sara Coen. The fear, the vulnerability, the unknowing, those were very frustrating. The confusion was disorienting and the reports after the fact, while clarifying the situation somewhat, have also sparked some emotion. Anger.

Seriously, the terrorists have won. Does that sound like hyperbole? It did to me until I looked up “terrorism” in the Google. Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

This gunman, assuming there ever was one, did not use violence or intimidation according to this news report. There was only one report made, and from the released information it was a report of a man spotted near Stivers Ford with a rifle. No information has been forthcoming about what kind of rifle, not that it matters, or whether the rifle was secured in a case, which matters only on a societal base in Waukee, Iowa. Oh, we do know that the man had fair skin, which doesn’t matter, and we do know that he was wearing dark clothes and had a backpack. None of this is illegal in any way. Had he been on school grounds as described, the possession of any weapon would be a felony. But he wasn’t on school grounds. In fact, he wasn’t near any school grounds. 

The closest landmark to the scary man that Google Maps recognizes is Stivers Ford, a great place to buy a Ford vehicle. The closest public school to Stivers Ford is Prairieview school, a transitional school for 8th and 9th grade children, which semi-shares the High School parking lot. Using Google Maps, I routed a drive from Stivers Ford to Prairieview school and found that driving the 2.3 miles under normal conditions would take 5 minutes. But the man was said to be on foot. I need to adjust my calculations here. So make that 34 minutes walking 1.7 miles.

I’m all for safety in our schools. I have some reasonable ideas on how to improve that safety. Perhaps I’ll share them someday. But let’s think about this rationally. A single man with a gun was reported miles away from any school. Nothing this man was reported to be doing was threatening or illegal in any way. And events in the school were transferred to other locations because of this. The learning environment was disrupted. The parents were placed into a state of fear.

And for what? Maybe this guy was returning home after visiting the local gun club. Local what? The New Pioneer Gun Club is located inside the city limits of Waukee. And they’re easy to find when you’re in town. Just listen and head toward the sound of shotgun shells. I’m not saying this guy had been at the gun club. I am saying that the caller who sounded the alarm didn’t know if he had been there or not. They allegedly saw a gun in the community and reacted the only way they knew how.

So the terrorists are winning. But the terrorists, by definition, are not who we may think they are. Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

There was no violence here. Put that word out of your mind. There is intimidation. It was made against civilians. It was made in the pursuit of political aims. Until Google changes the definition of “terrorism” I can’t say much else about it. Was the Waukee Police Department right to follow up on a report? Yes. Was it appropriate for the schools to be locked down over an unverified report of law abiding activity? No. Were the students placed in fear over this? Yes. Was the fear directed at an inert object, possessing no inherent faculties of good or evil? Yes.

So who is the real terrorist here? I’ll let you come to your own conclusion. It’s not like anyone in this country is listening to any facts that don’t already agree with their presuppositions anyway.