Friday, September 18, 2009

Hooters - The C Student Of Restaurant Chains.

Oh, Hooters. The concept is pretty solid, use something guys love to sell them other things that they love. Hot girls in tight outfits and nice cleavage bringing you beer and wings while you watch sports.

This concept was red hot in the late 80's/early 90's. The news would often have a piece on how the community disapproves of the Hooter girls and woman's groups cried misogynist, saying the women were being objectified. What we see now is a place trying to cling to it's former glory while slipping in many key areas that leave the chain vulnerable to food safety, quality, and service issues. Hooters can make an A, but prefers to rest on it's laurels.

First off, let's get the uniforms out of the way. I hear an argument for the uniform, citing it's tackiness as a part of the concept. If tacky is what you aim for, why not hire sloppy, dejected Wal-Mart patrons and put them in high heels? No, you put them in the uniform because it was pretty hot and racy at the time and it turned heads and garnered press coverage. The trouble now is that our culture has caught up with Hooters in terms of sleaze. High school sophomores now wear more offensive outfits during the summer than what you see in Hooters. The Hooters uniform was a solid 8 or 9 on the skank meter, but through the passage of time, that same outfit is a 4 at best.

My solution goes in one of a couple different ways. First is to stop trying to be racy. Listen Hooters, men can now get porn instantly on their computer or text to their phones. We are no longer seeing anything special and we're desensitized to it. So one solution would be wearing Hooters t-shirts or polos and nice shorts. This would not only reduce the obvious fire hazard, but it will make the waitresses, 'the girls next door' you claim they are. The other solution would be to play to the sports theme. Make Hooters jerseys for football basketball, baseball, and hockey. Hell, you could even do a UFC style design. Make the color scheme highly customizable to the area. In Columbus, the 'OO' in Hooters could be OSU themed block O's and the colors could be scarlet and gray. In Cincinnati, the colors could be red/black.

OK, enough of the Project Runway crap.

Operations in the back of the house leave much to be desired. We have issues that make the food less appealing, less tasty, and less safe.

The food prep and plating is done in plain sight of the bar. I have no problem with this, but you really need your A-game to avoid looking dirty. That goes for both the employees and the actual kitchen. I see employees frequently wear their own personal hats that are cocked to the side, pants sagging, and a non work shirt. It isn't cool, and you can give a laid back vibe through chatter with the bar patrons without looking like total douche-bags.

The kitchen is rarely clean. Flour, sauce, shortening, and crumbs make their way all over the prep surfaces. Cross contamination is commonplace in any Hooters I have ever visited and sat at the bar. One time, I was in the Hooters on Dublin-Granville Rd in Columbus and saw a guy carrying raw wings in a tub. The cook lifted the tub to shoulder height and carried it over the prep table as juices from the wings dripped over people's plates. I have seen cooks wearing vinyl food prep gloves, but sweating to the point that the sweat from their arm ran down to the elbow or wrist and dripped onto the prep table. I've seen cooks working with just one glove because the other one had flour on it and they didn't stop and wash their hands. Then, I have seen flagrant cross contamination when people with floured arms and gloved hands takes off their gloves and handles plates of food with their sweaty hands and the arms were still full of flour. I've seen the cook with the sag in his pants stop, pull up his pants, text on his phone, and continue plating someone's food without ever taking off his gloves and washing his hands. I've also seen managers helping out, but without proper hair restraints which, by this point in the story, seems kinda unimportant.

It isn't just the way in which the employees interact with the food that causes food safety issues, but how the food is situated and prepped. The sauces that Hooters uses is poured into stainless steel round inset pans, ladled into mixing bowls with the chicken/shrimp, tossed together, then poured out onto the plate. The sauces are not refrigerated while being used, which isn't a big deal in and of itself because the sauce has a high enough acidity and low enough free water to keep out most micro organisms. The problem is the sauce that languishes in the mixing bowl with the breading from the wings, juices from the meat, and oil from the fryer. This is a potential breeding ground for a massive amount of M.O. All it takes is one under cooked shrimp or errant droplet of sweat and the bacteria will spread like wildfire.

The toppings and pickles used are not refrigerated either. Sandwich toppings are stored in pans, that are set in ice baths. This is ok for short periods, but is far from acceptable as a means to control the temperature. First off, the ice melts because it's 88 degrees in that kitchen area. Second, the ice water only cools the submerged part of the pan, and not very well. Many times I see plastic pans used for the lettuce/onions/tomatoes. Plastic is not a good conductor of heat, therefore not as much cold gets to the product.

Then there are the quality issues...

The food isn't that bad, but the cooks aren't doing it any favors. Wings routinely sit in the fry basket, above the fryer for several minutes, or they'll do the move where they re-fry it for 10 seconds to heat it up... just long enough for the shortening to soak through the breading. The other extreme is when they don't give the wings any time to drain off excess shortening and it gets tossed with, and emulsified into, the sauce. When the wings are sauced, they have the remains of whatever was tossed before, as we already discussed. When you get your wings, you have all of these tag along crumbs going for the ride. It makes the food seems heavy and oily. Also, stop acting like it's a big deal to not get fixins, beans or a pickle on my sandwich plate. The juice from the pickle soaks into the bun and it's all a waste anyway, all because the hooter girl didn't assert herself and makes sure the food is as ordered before bringing it over.

The service isn't great, but it's slightly better than the sanitation. Servers at Hooters are encouraged to entertain and mingle which my brain hears and converts to flirting. It's great if you are the one getting all the attention, but chances are, you're not. The people they are hanging out with are regulars that they probably give free fries to or refill a beer without charging. Meanwhile, new customers get to sit and wait till the girls are done before they get to order. This can lead to long waits to just order a drink. Plus, the girl just wasted all her spunk and mojo on the 48 yr old construction foreman that reminds her of daddy that ran off when she was 10 and thus, is very short with you.

So what to do...? I already put in my 2 cents on the uniforms, but here is the rest.

Cook staff:
Gloves are mandatory while handling raw food.
When going from raw to cooked/ready to eat, hands must be washed and dried thoroughly.
Hats. Hooters logo. Bill must be forward facing.
Any personnel working in the kitchen must wear a hat.
No sagging pants.
Hooters shirt only.
No cigarette behind the ear (yes, I really saw this).
Apron must be changed when soiled.
No cell use while handling food.

There must be some degree of separation between the breading area/fryline and where cooked food is plated.
The kitchen must be cleaned, swept, and mopped after every rush.
Coldwells for fixins and maybe a closed off system for the sauce(squeeze bottle, pump) is mandatory.
Bowls must be swapped out for clean every 15 minutes, no exceptions.
All fryers must have timers with buttons programmed to add 30 seconds of drain time after the initial product timer goes off.
Fryed product must either be used immediately or transported to a 160 degree holding cabinet and marked with the appropriate hold time

Hooter girls must check food before taking it to the customer. Incorrect orders that reach the customer are complimentary.
No boyfriend/girlfriends hanging out without purchasing food.
Hooter girls have 1 minute to greet a sitting customer and 2 minutes after that to bring their drink order.
At least 2 call backs are required after the entree is served.
All customers deserve an equal amount of service and attention.

Implementing these changes would at least make Hooters relevant and an A student.

If anyone else wants me to tell them how to run their business... I'll listen to any reasonable job offers.

You're welcome.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cross Pollanation

Let's say that you were on a strict allowance. Instead of getting a certain amount per week, however, you get a daily allowance.

Let's say you are allowed $100 a day, every day. Now if you spend less than that, you will have saved money, but you will go into debt if you spend more. This means that you owe someone money. You must now underspend by that amount over a certain period of time to pay that debt.

This is how the relationship we have with calories works. Food and drink is the delivery method for those calories. In that scenario, imagine that you start overspending by a lot... what do you do? Do you ban quarters because they account for 25% of every dollar? Do you ban pennies because they are so ubiquitous that they must be to blame for the debt you face? No. Those solutions would be ridiculous.

Why then, do we do this with food? If someone consistently over-consumes by 500 calories a day, is a ban or tax on pop the solution? Isn't the problem, too many calories? This issue ties in with what the conservatives call, personal responsibility. Food Hysterics like journalist, Michael Pollan seem concerned with what is being done to the American people. People like him think that old white men in suits are conspiring to get us to eat more. He recently wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times linking health care reform with the food industry. I linked the title of this blog to that article and will be referencing it throughout this post.

"That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry."

Exercise and eating the proper number of calories will bring health costs down, not stopping the food industry from making food. How can the food industry stop people from overeating? Has anyone thought about how insane this sounds? Here is some more conspiracy talk...

"There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry."

Fast food causes disease? I can only assume he can be referring to type 2 diabetes and heart disease linked, in part, to high cholesterol. Fat. However, he doesn't qualify that statement by associating any amount to the fast food. The way he makes the statement, it's as if any fast food will lead to disease. He is a professor of journalism, so perhaps it isn't a mistake that he wrote it this way. Perhaps he wants people to stop eating anything he calls fast food and has twisted the science on this until it becomes a lie. Fast food does not cause disease, too many calories and calories from fat, and cholesterol can lead to some diseases. He does more calculus with the english language here...

"Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are."

He places in your mind the notion that all diseases not linked to smoking are linked to diet. Of course, he only lists smoking as a 'for instance', but the way he structures his sentence starts off by conceding a little, then placing only one non-diet related disease, then going from many to most. All the reader is left with is disease = diet, except for smoking. I don't think I'm being hard on Michael Pollan, and I don't think he wrote in this way as an accident. Keep in mind that he teaches writing for a living.

"To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup."

This is the old HFCS myth, a favorite of foodies, Whole Foods Liberals, Food Hysterics, etc, etc, etc. Whatever you want to call them. They blame HFCS for obesity as well as diabetes. One study in 2007 hypothesized that pop with HFCS contained more potentially reactive carbonyls than simple sugar did. This study has been challenged, however, and you never close the case on an issue with one study.

"AGRIBUSINESS dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted away most efforts at reform."

Of course agribusiness is going to be active in the Agriculture committees. This was, quite possibly, the dumbest sentence I have ever read. The ag talk continues...

"But what happens when the health insurance industry realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes?"

What a huge leap in logic...right off the intellectual cliff. Farm subsidies prop up the prices of things like corn and soybeans, which make them more expensive to the food industry. Does Pollan think that the food industry is included in the farm bill?

"...and in time the industry would come to see that the development of regional food systems, which make fresh produce more available and reduce dependence on heavily processed food..."

Perhaps the most important sentence, because it reveals where all of these food hysteric mantras are coming from. Ready?

Misinformation, panic, and ignorance breed more of the same. Good people are misled into thinking we have this huge problem and start investing much time and resources into solving it. The problem is that their solutions are based on myth and non-problems and non-science. They can't turn off what they've started, because what they've started has become it's own institution. Now there are people getting paid based on these assumptions.

I'll list some ideas and how they all come together.
Local food.
Minimally processed.

The only thing I listed that has any sense to it is the idea of sourcing foodstuffs locally. This will cut pollution associated with transporting food across the country. Aside from that, the Hysterics claim that locally grown is healthier, the same claim made for organic. Both of these things generally involve small scale operations. Hmm, watch a pattern emerge, here. Minimally processed or food that hasn't been processed at some factory because it has to be bad, right? Vegetarian, because cows have feelings too, and meat has to be bad because the big corporate giant processes the meat and owns the farms... right? Just say no to GMO's, because the big businesses develop those so they can make big money and we'll probably grow an extra eyeball.....right? Hello? Don't you get it?

It all starts to revolve around this idea of a huge evil corporations. If a report came out tomorrow about how organic food contains high traces of fecal material and e. coli, would these Food Hysterics be up in arms? I guess it depends on the size of the company growing the organic food.

Michael Pollan and those like him are all victims of a vicious cycle that starts with misinformation and a hatred of corporations, and ends with a need to justify their existence. In that justification, they mislead others and their numbers grow. The public sees this as a consensus of public opinion and starts to ignore facts. Facts are important. Facts, as it turns out, are not democratic. I don't care if 5.5 billion people feel the way Michael Pollan does, if the facts are not on his side, he is still wrong. In the meantime, the web grows and the Food Hysterics Cross Pollanate with one another.