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Xero Updates Fixed Asset Depreciation Features

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-02-20 10:30

Online accounting software Xero (NZE:XRO), popular with small business users, has updated the Fixed Asset depreciation feature on the platform.

Xero Fixed Asset Depreciation

The Fixed Assets depreciation feature gives small businesses the ability to track fixed asset and value depreciation for tax and book keeping purposes.

In the U.S., the Internal Revenue Service sets acceptable thresholds for business costs that qualify as fixed assets able to be depreciated versus those that must be expensed.

Recently the agency has raised this threshold allowing things like computers and certain other kinds of machinery to be expensed. However, major assets like company vehicles and bigger machinery must still be depreciated.

In a post on the company’s blog, Xero’s product marketing manager Christian Newman also wrote that the feature updates will give users a single place to store all their tools and information, so they no longer have to switch between multiple pieces of software.

And because the new Fixed Assets update is built into the platform, there is no need to transfer data from other spreadsheets or software to do the necessary calculations.

“Because Fixed Assets is built right into Xero, it makes year end even more efficient,” Newman added.

According to Newman, the Fixed Assets feature has been much-desired in the Australian Xero community. The company is based in nearby New Zealand.

And with the new update, users can now easily manage their client’s bookkeeping, depreciation and other related needs all in one place.

Prior to the introduction of the new feature, Xero customers would have to use additional accounting software to calculate depreciation of fixed assets, but that’s no longer an issue it seems.

The updated Fixed Assets feature is now fully integrated with and provided as part of the Xero platform at no extra cost.

The company also says that small businesses with 20 or less registered assets will receive the new feature in the next few weeks while those that are not already using fixed assets feature will also be able to access it immediately.

Image: Xero

This article, "Xero Updates Fixed Asset Depreciation Features" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Legal Industry Is Finally Fixing Its Technology Problem

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-02-20 09:30

It may come as a surprise that one of the most competitive industries in the world has a technology problem. But the truth is that not all law firms have corporate clients with deep pockets. Many work in smaller leagues where money is tight. Without piles of cash lying around to invest in the business, mid-sized firms can struggle to pay for good technology.

Money is tight for a lot of reasons. One of them is that while technology is still incredibly expensive in legal circles, consumers have an array of legal technologies they can use instead of paying actual lawyers. Judicata, Rocket Lawyer, and Clio are a few of the services that consumers are opting for.

Compound that problem with a spike in state-sponsored hacking groups that target law firms and you have a near perfect storm of problems for smaller firms that are unable to spend money on expensive solutions. However, where there is a problem there is also an opportunity, and entrepreneurs have taken notice. The problem is, solving the technology crisis in the legal industry takes a special breed of entrepreneur.

Challenges of Developing Legal Technology

“We spent 10, maybe 15, years trying to move the legal profession from WordPerfect. Bankers moved to Excel faster,” explains Steven Sinofsky, formerly a Microsoft executive. “Part of the reason is that the legal profession is a very people-based process. It’s also one where the tools you use are also encoded in law. You can’t just show up in a courtroom and change how everything works.”

In other words, the necessary technology must be developed by people who thoroughly understand the demands of the legal industry. Law firms require specialized document management systems, e-Discovery that meets regulatory standards, robust cyber security, and more.

John Sweeney, President of LogicForce and one of the entrepreneurs stepping up to solve this problem, says the issue is an enormous one. “Many law firms do not know how much money they are spending on their technology,” says Sweeney. “It can be tens of thousands of dollars more than they think and much of it is unnecessary. The problem is that firms are forced to buy software one piece at a time, creating a tangle of different products that do not work well together and that quickly age out of relevance.”

Because developing the technology requires a legal pedigree and because of the enormity of the problem, solutions have been slow to develop. But midsize law firms are increasingly reaching out to find modern solutions.

Some of the technology that needs to be replaced is remarkably archaic. In a blog post by a Houston-based IT company called Citoc, fax machines made a short list of technologies that law firms needed to replace. This is a definite example of how badly the legal industry needs to upgrade its technology. After all, when was the last time you used a fax machine?

The Rise of Cloud-Based Legal Technology

Entrepreneurs are beginning to release legal technology solutions that are comparable to what has been available in other industries and even to consumers for years.

Cloud-based services are a crucial leap forward for midsize firms that cannot afford the capital expenditures of constantly buying new software when their old software becomes obsolete,” explains Sweeney. “By offering all of the same technology as a service, we help midsize firms scale and remain current with the most modern technology.”

However desirable the new solutions may be, the legal industry is slow to innovate. It is bound by rigid standards created by the American Bar Association and it does not have a culture of rapid technology adoption. If law firms want to grow their practice, these issues need to be resolved.

Gavel Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "The Legal Industry Is Finally Fixing Its Technology Problem" was first published on Small Business Trends

Qualcomm’s New WiFi Technology Should Boost Capacity for Small Business

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-02-20 08:30

One of the biggest differentiator’s between a home or small business and a larger enterprise is capacity. And in a world where speed is tantamount to efficiency, enterprises enjoy a commanding lead. However, Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) has introduced new 802.11ax WiFi chips that will reduce congestion on next-gen networks to deliver vastly enhanced connection, perhaps evening out the playing field.

According to Qualcomm, the new 802.11ax WiFi chips will be able to deliver speeds of up to 4.8Gbps. The company also says it is the first to announce end-to-end commercial solutions to support 802.11ax.

So What is 802.11ax?

Without getting too technical, 802.11ax mainly focuses on expanding network capacity instead of speed to get the best possible connection, and make better use of the WiFi spectrum. This is an important development because there is more variety in today’s networks. This variety overloads the WiFi spectrum and negatively affects the connection, and thus the spinning wheel of doom when you are trying to watch that cat video.

In the prepared statement released by Qualcomm, David Henry, senior vice president, home networking, NETGEAR, one of the leading manufacturers of routers in the world said:

“We are excited about the potential impact that 802.11ax will have in the home and small businesses, 802.11ax is not an incremental upgrade to keep pace with today’s demands. The technology will reset the bar for what matters most in networking, and will lay the foundation of network capacity for years to come.”

What Does it Mean for Your Small or Home Business?

Whether in your home office or retail store, your WiFi connectivity is going to be affected by the tens of thousands of things that will be part of the Internet of Things (IoT) in your vicinity all clamoring for bandwidth at once.  With 802.11ax, Qualcomm says connections will be seamless, dead spots will be reduced and harmful interference where there are many WiFi access points that overlap will be reduced. You will be able to stream 4K Ultra HD, video conference, collaborate, share and transfer files easily.

Qualcomm expects to toll out the chips in the first half of 2017, so it remains to be seen which manufacturer will incorporate this technology into its devices first.

WiFi Symbol Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "Qualcomm’s New WiFi Technology Should Boost Capacity for Small Business" was first published on Small Business Trends

What’s Different About Pursuing a Low Value Acquisition?

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-02-20 07:30

If you’re an entrepreneur, the odds that your company will be acquired at a low price, just to prevent bankruptcy, are far higher than the chances that it will sell at a high price, and make you rich. That’s just the story of entrepreneurship.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to learn how to handle a high value acquisition situation. It’s a lot more interesting for observers to write about how to sell a company to Google for $100 million than to sell to a small company for $700,000 in a fire sale. Moreover, few investors and founders want the world to know of their efforts to recoup ten cents on the dollar.

While much about selling a company is the same whether the acquisition would be seen as a success or a failure, there are five important differences:

Maximizing Value is Harder with a Low Value Acquisition. Getting a high price for selling a company is easier the more alternatives you have. When you are doing a low value exit, you will have fewer options. If you are running out of money, you will not be able to turn down low ball offers and continue to run your company, as you would if you were considering a high value acquisition. You also can’t easily turn to the alternative of raising more money because your company probably is not fundable. Finally, there are far fewer people interested in turnaround situations than in just riding an upward wave. All of this means that you have to work much harder to get competing offers so that you can create an auction for your business.

Comparing Offers is More Difficult with a Low Value Acquisition. When you are selling at a high price, you tend to get well funded buyers offering cash or public company stock. Potential buyers are unlikely to be underfunded start-ups or businesses looking for a sweet deal. Those types of acquirers know they will not be chosen when there are better alternatives. For a low value exit, however, you might be comparing an acquisition by start-up offering a stock swap to a business seeking to pay a fire-sale price with a two-year earn out. Such deals are tougher to compare than cash deals.

It’s More Difficult to Tell the Story of Why. To sell a company, you need to explain why the company is worth more to the acquirer than that company would pay for it. When a company is selling for a high price, that story is usually about strategic fit with the acquirer or how the buyer’s resources can be leveraged for growth. But for a low value acquisition, the logical story is that someone else would do a better job building the business than you. That’s tough to say.

You will be Dealing with Unhappy Investors. Getting agreement from your investors to sell a company for 10 times what they invested in it is far easier than for one-tenth of what they put in. Rational investors know that maximizing the value of a company is the same whether the marginal dollar is increasing a profit or cutting a loss, but investors rarely think rationally about money. Instead of focusing on getting the best possible outcome, many investors would rather criticize founders for their past mistakes. For low value acquisitions founders need to manage disgruntled investors.

It’s Probably Not Worth Your Time to Negotiate for More. Think about it this way. If you raise money for a business at a $1 million valuation and you have an offer to sell it for 10 times your money, negotiating for a 10 percent higher price makes sense. That gets you an additional $1 million for your time. But if you have an offer to sell the business for $100,000, a 10 percent higher price only yields an extra $10,000.

Investing Photo via Shutterstock

This article, "What’s Different About Pursuing a Low Value Acquisition?" was first published on Small Business Trends

VW Group sales rise 5% in January despite China, Brazil losses

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-02-20 07:26
VW Group's global vehicle sales rose 5 percent last month as growth in Europe and the U.S. helped offset steep declines in China and Brazil.
Categories: Latest News

HFF Closes Sale Of Courtyard Boston Logan Airport Hotel In Boston, MA

Hotel Interactive - Mon, 2017-02-20 07:11
NEW YORK-–Holliday Fenoglio Fowler, L.P. (HFF) announced today that it has closed the sale of Courtyard Boston Logan Airport, a 351-room, ...

Mumford Company Completes Sale Of Crowne Plaza Marina Hotel Of Hampton, VA

Hotel Interactive - Mon, 2017-02-20 07:08
NEWPORT NEWS, VA-—Mumford Company, a full-service hospitality brokerage advisory firm since 1978, announced today they represented the affiliates of Sotherly Hotels ...

Ohio Congressman Says Tax Code Stunting Small Business Growth

Small Business Trends - Mon, 2017-02-20 06:00

House Committee on Small Business Chairman Steve Chabot voiced his concerns the complexities of the tax code are stunting small businesses and start-ups from growing during a hearing Wednesday.

There are provisions in place that penalize entrepreneurs for taking risks with their businesses, according to Chabot.

“Entrepreneurs simply aren’t taking the kinds of risks they once did and this will have serious economic consequences, both in the short-term and in the long-term,” he said. “America’s entrepreneurs are crying out for tax relief, and we are listening to them as we take action. They want a tax code that is simpler, fairer and flatter so they can start and grow their businesses and turn their dreams into reality.”

Tim Reynolds, the president of Tribute Inc., a small accounting software business based in Hudson, Ohio, testified he feels it would be “irresponsible” to do his own business’s taxes, fearing he would “inadvertently run afoul of the law.”

“‘My company pays our accountants more than $14,000 each year to prepare our taxes,” he told the panel. “In addition, we spend about 40 hours a year preparing various forms and making various estimated payments required to comply with tax law.”

Heritage Foundation senior fellow David Burton argued the complexities of the policy currently in place impose high compliance costs on start-ups.

“Although there are many reasons that entrepreneurs are struggling, the tax system is a major contributing factor,” he said in his testimony. “This is both because of the direct impact of the tax system on small and start-up firms and because of its adverse impact on the economy overall. The current tax system reduces the incentives to work, save and invest.”

House Republicans are hoping to have tax reform legislation in place before Congress recesses in August.


This article, "Ohio Congressman Says Tax Code Stunting Small Business Growth" was first published on Small Business Trends

Ford's big Russia gamble pays off as sales finally rise

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-02-20 05:06
Ford has become the first major foreign automaker in Russia to see sales grow after three bad years, potentially vindicating its decision to double down on a notoriously volatile market after rival GM decided to quit.
Categories: Latest News

Freshii raises $96M in IPO

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-31 23:24

Freshii Inc. raised $96 million in an initial-public offering in its home city of Toronto on Tuesday in what some hope will jumpstart an IPO market that has been stalled for well over a year.

The Toronto-based healthy fast-casual chain sold 10.9 million shares at $11.50 Canadian — raising $125.4 million in Canadian dollars, or $96 million U.S.

Freshii will receive $38.5 million in U.S. dollars from the offering, while shareholders will receive $57.7 million. The stock rose 6 percent on Tuesday, or $12.22 per share in Canadian dollars.

“The IPO is not the finish line for us,” the chain’s founder and CEO, Matthew Corrin, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “This is just the starting line. We plan to triple our store count by the end of 2019. Freshii will continue to execute our brand mission to make healthy eating convenient and affordable to all. Our mission is our North Star.”

No restaurant company went public in 2016, and it’s been more than 18 months since an industry IPO, the longest such drought since Bravo Brio Restaurant Group’s 2010 offering broke a more than four-year dry spell. Chuck E. Cheese operator CEC Entertainment Inc. also is said to be considering an IPO this year.

Corrin opened the first Freshii location in Toronto in 2005. The fast-casual chain has since grown to 244 locations in 15 countries. Franchisees primarily operate the restaurants, which have staked a claim in the rapidly growing market for healthier, fast-casual fare. 

The company has also used an attention-getting marketing strategy, once offering to co-brand with McDonald’s Corp. and offering franchise to owners of frozen yogurt shops. 

In an email interview Tuesday, Corrin said that the company plans to support demand to open more restaurants. The company also plans to invest in mobile technology and its Meal Box effort. The Meal Box provides three meals and two snacks in a box. Customers either pick the boxes up or sign up for delivery. 

“Both initiatives help make our healthy choices more convenient to people on the go,” Corrin said.

He also described his marketing strategy as “grassroots.” The company doesn’t spend anything on franchise advertising. 

“News-pegging has been and always will be a key marketing strategy for our brand,” Corrin said. “We don’t spend a dime on franchise advertising and receive over 4,000 franchise applications in a year. We rely on our creative, bold marketing campaigns to catch the eyes of qualified, potential new franchise partners as well as to increase foot traffic to our stores and convert new guests to become Freshii fans.”

Freshii initially wanted to sell shares for $8.50 to $1, Canadian, but raised the price this week — a sign of high demand in the offering.

CIBC Capital Markets, Jefferies Securities Inc., RBC Capital Markets and Robert W. Baird & Co. were the lead underwriters in the offering.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze

Hooters franchisee to open fast-casual spinoff

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-31 23:06

Would customers go to Hooters without the chain’s famous waitresses?

“We’ll find out soon,” Neil Keifer, CEO of Hooters franchisee Hooters Management Corp., or HMC, which is set to open a fast-casual version of the casual-dining chain in Cicero, Ill., in mid-February.

Hoots, A Hooters Joint, and will serve some of Hooters’ most popular items, including chicken wings, fries and crab legs. Customers will order at a counter, get their food and eat in or take out. The 2,800-square-foot location will have 75 seats and employ 30 people.

Unlike a fully counter-service concept, it will also have a bar area with 12 full-service seats. 

“It’s sort of a flex model,” Keifer said. “But it’ll be predominantly fast casual. We’re anxious to see how that works.”

Keifer was part of the Original Hooters group that opened Hooters in Clearwater, Fla., in 1983. Hooters of America acquired the brand and remains the franchisor and brand operator. Keifer’s company operates 25 locations in three markets, including Florida, Chicago and New York City. 

Keifer said the chain is working with the franchisor on the concept, which could be expanded if the first location succeeds. 

“We are very supportive of this initiative,” Hooters of America CEO Terry Marks said in a statement. “It’s a logical extension of the brand and will provide more people with more opportunities to enjoy our world famous wings. We have a lot to learn, but we are excited about the potential.” 

Hooters is among several casual-dining chains developing fast-casual concepts, with varying degrees of success.

Pizza Inn developed the fast-casual pizza concept Pie Five, which has grown to be among the biggest in its segment. Family-dining operator Cracker Barrel is incubating its Holler & Dash concept. And Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. has invested in a pair of fast-casual concepts, PizzaRev and R Taco.

It’s easy to see why: Casual-dining traffic has fallen in 21 of the past 22 months, and has declined for the most months in at least the last five years, according to MillerPulse. So casual-dining chains have worked to hedge their bets on the segment by taking a page from fast-casual concepts, which have been growing more rapidly in recent years. 

But Hooters is different. The brand was a pioneer in the so-called “breastaurant” segment — bar-and-grill concepts that employ attentive, scantily clad waitresses. That attentive service is vital to the sector, at least theoretically.

Still, Keifer remains proud of the food, and said it can be the centerpiece of a concept that is more flexible — especially given the struggles casual dining has experienced in recent years.

Indeed, his own company’s thriving take-out business gives him plenty of evidence that a waitress-free Hooters could work.

To-go orders represent 14 percent of sales at HMC. And three of the company’s 12 Chicago restaurants do 25 percent or more take-out business. 

Why has takeout worked so well at those locations? 

“I don’t know,” Keifer admitted. “It’s piqued our interest for years. So we thought we’d give it a try.”

And most Hooters customers do order food. 

“About 72 to 73 percent of our sales are food,” Keifer said. “We’ve only had hard liquor on the menu for 11 years. For the first 20 years it was just beer and wine.”

“We’re pretty proud of our food,” he added. 

Keifer said planning for Hoots has been in the works for about three years. The idea would give his company a more flexible model that can translate to more locations than a traditional Hooters, he said. That includes densely populated areas where quicker service and more to-go orders are in higher demand. 

The model is also cheaper.

“This will help us get into neighborhoods where we can’t find a site big enough,” Keifer said. “When you look at the price of real estate, this allows us to be a little more flexible.”

And the owners of HMC are willing to take a risk.

“Being privately owned, and not the franchisor but a perpetual licensee, we are a little more nimble, and we’re still entrepreneurial,” Keifer said. “This is a new venture. We’re cautiously optimistic. We’ll give it the old college try, so to speak.”

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

New tools for employee retention

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-31 22:26

Retaining workers in a tight workforce requires human resources departments to deploy old and new tools more effectively, panelists at the TDn2K Global Best Practices Conference said Monday.

From text-message surveys to old-fashioned handing out of business cards to competitors’ employees, human resources professionals assessed that state of recruitment and retention during the HR Summit at the conference, sponsored by the business analytics firm Sunday through Wednesday in Plano, Texas.

“There’s not much pixie dust here,” said Tom Gathers, chief people officer for Red Lobster. “It’s not that easy. There’s an inverse relationship between the economy and the capacity to hire people.”

“You have to focus on the basics: It’s blocking and tackling,” Gathers said. “I started in this business right out of college 40 years ago. They taught me at the time: hot food hot, cold food cold, smile at the customers, keep the bathroom clean and get the money to the bank.”

Forty years later, Gathers added, it’s the same tactics, “but now you have to use a computer.”

Intent-to-stay interviewers are one tool that companies can deploy to help retain workers, Jamie Griffin, founder of the Good Workforce consultancy and formerly with Raising Cane’s.

In addition, some new tools like text-message exit interviews with hourly employees, “which is pretty phenomenal,” Griffin said.

“Staffing for success is really important across the board,” he added, which includes measurements on staffing levels and the stability of managers.

Surveying employees through annual “climate studies” can measure engagement, he said, but they are hampered by low response rates. Griffin said he might suggest a simplified survey.

“I might move to six to 12 very specific, very short surveys that were based on business problems,” he said. “If I had to get rid of one of those, I’d get rid of the annual and move to, say, five questions right now and ask how we could take action on that and respond to our teams to increase our engagement and satisfaction.” 

Lynne Bartusek, panel moderator and executive vice president for human resources at Cheddar's Café, said her company recently sent out a three-question Survey Monkey poll on Hot Schedules.

“We were hearing a bunch of noise on uniforms,” Bartusek said. “We got 2,500 responses in four days from our team members.”

By comparison, she said, a longer annual survey with “too many questions” yielded only 1,500 responses over two weeks.

Bartusek also said a recently acquired franchise group’s approach to human resources was “to treat employees like volunteers.”

“People notice everything in the way you treat them,” she said. “In our role, we have to have extra-sensitive people to catch those things.” 

Lori Van Holmes, who before becoming vice president of talent development at United Health Group worked with Buca di Beppo for 10 years, said human resources departments must evaluate legacy processes and jettison those that are no longer useful or germane.

A successful company culture that helps foster retention depends on sharing responsibility, she said.

“How can everybody feel they have a shared responsibility for the organization, from the busboy to the host to the counter worker to the prep cook?” Van Holmes asked. “Everybody is leaning in toward the customer to make sure we are serving them.” 

And Gathers said first-day training and exit interviews remain important to a company’s hiring culture overall. 

“There’s a certain magic as to how people are treated in your business on their first day,” Gathers said. How employees are treated creates the company culture, he said, adding that how the team is treated translates to how guests will be treated.

How employees are handled on their last day is also crucial to the culture, Gathers said, as that shows how a company treats people in general. 

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

4 ways restaurants can win over Gen Z

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-31 17:39

Joseph Szala is a restaurant branding expert based in Atlanta. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Restaurants have traditionally been a means to an end. But due to mountains of options, they’ve surpassed the basic utility of satiating hunger, and have created new need and want states.

This phenomenon is especially prevalent among Generation Z. For them, brands have evolved into cultural and social statements. Translation: Restaurants are no longer here to simply satisfy hunger.

In today’s world, young diners and would-be brand ambassadors want brands that reflect and contribute to their shared values. Great products and superior customer service are table stakes.

Restaurants that help exert and receive influence among this generation’s peer group get their attention, and eventually their loyalty. The culmination of brand experiences has to be more than just purely transactional. They must connect with authentic participation as the catalyst.

A recent study conducted by iris Worldwide looked at shopping behaviors of Millennials and Gen Z. Overall, this group looks for brands that deliver a unified and genuine message that aligns with every experience, including the transaction of buying. They want seamlessness in all the ways they communicate. After all, these brands do the talking for the consumer.

There are brands that are ahead of the curve and understand this evolution, and others that must innovate or perish. Here are four things restaurants should consider in cultivating more meaningful relationships with Gen Z:

  1. Celebrate communities that share the same values. Focusing on core influencer groups within your market is a stellar way to gain traction and build buzz. Celebrate the things that get them excited inside and outside your four walls. Aligning with their passions will position you as a “friend” and spark more opportunities for word of mouth, social chatter and buy-in from those who have a much larger reach and loudspeaker.

Freebirds World Burrito does a stellar job of connecting the brand to a cause that resonates with the same values as their audience. The chain’s program leverages the power of locality with the help of “tribe members” — staff members who are engaged in the local communities. This effort is honest and effective at aligning the brand with the values in each community.

  1. Present your brand and food within their culture. Too often, restaurants only consider the experience inside their four walls. Instead, they need to consider the potential for their brand to be a lifestyle, not just a hunger cure. This happens outside the four walls and within different subcultures. So ask not how the culture of Gen Z fits into your brand, but how your brand fits into their culture. They want real, authentic experiences that aren’t afraid to be human. That means fessing up to mistakes, listening to people and having a personality.

Many local, independent restaurant brands excel at community integration by having strong showings at local events large and small. It’s more genuine than throwing money at sponsorships and calling it a day. These brands get face to face with the people in their market and create connections with each other and the brand.

  1. Help them experience your brand in their channels. The restaurant industry has been stuck in a rut with old-fashioned dining experiences. Gen Z is tech savvy and tech dependent, and, in the traditional sense, they don’t always want someone to take their order, provide suggestions and interrupt their conversations to ask them how their meal is. They’re well versed at handling the process — and complaining when something isn’t right.

Brands like Domino’s in the U.K. allow customers to build their own pizza with any toppings of their choosing. Then they name them and promote their creation through social media. This example hasn’t only proven engaging — it has driven sales.

Utilizing new features on popular social platforms can also work towards building your brand. For instance, Instagram’s new “shop now” capabilities can quickly convert a passive viewer into a potential customer. It just takes some extra thinking and an attention to creative opportunities.

Many restaurants saw the value in emerging platforms last summer, when Pokémon Go hit like a tidal wave. By setting up PokéStops and using the platform’s lure item creatively, they were able to draw in people quickly, effectively and inexpensively. 

  1. Make dining super simple and super social. Many full-service brands have been hesitant to implement a kiosk or a digital-forward approach to ordering. The rationale usually includes the lack of personal touch and the ability to upsell. However, the industry continues to fail to reinvent the way we grow with ever-changing consumer needs and wants. Rethinking how customers order and engaged could be the disruptive game-changer, akin to Uber’s overhaul of personal transportation. It wasn’t that personal transportation wasn’t available before Uber; it’s that Uber made it simple and intuitive.

For instance, Taco Bell is constantly pushing its cultural relevance by simplifying and streamlining the way customers order tacos. From ordering using taco emojis on Twitter, to simple message-based ordering on popular communications platforms like Slack, Taco Bell obviously understands that simplicity is king.

Attracting Gen Z isn’t an enigma. These customers aren’t mythical beasts that require magic to be found. Above all, they require authenticity from brands across the board. By following the four points above, you can conform your brand to their will and wants effectively. After all, their buying power is only growing. Those who choose to stay ahead of the curve will win.

Joseph Szala is a restaurant branding expert based in Atlanta. His acute understanding of how restaurants operate, where they fail and how to build them into successful brands has launched him to expert status. Szala is currently senior creative for iris Worldwide - Atlanta and principal of Vigor, a restaurant branding studio.

A peek at restaurant 2017 Super Bowl ads

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-31 16:22

Restaurants are Super Bowl-ready with showstopping ads aimed to capture fans' attention.


Must-see videos: Wendy’s touts fresh beef hamburgers

Nation's Restaurant News - Tue, 2017-01-31 13:59

NRN editor-in-chief Sarah Lockyer, executive editor Jenna Telesca and senior food editor Bret Thorn introduce The Power List, a definitive guide to the most powerful people in foodservice. See what the 'Othr Guyz' don't want you to see in Wendy's latest fresh vs. frozen beef commercial. McDonald's iconic Big Mac is now being offered in three sizes for a limited time. Panda Express shares the Chinese New Year experience as Z and her family explore new traditions and the true meaning of the holiday. Subway is offering unlimited $6 footlong sandwiches for a limited time.

Inside the making of The Power List

Wendy’s touts fresh beef hamburgers

McDonald's: There’s a Big Mac for that

Panda Express celebrates Chinese New Year

Subway announces Footlong Fest

Guy Fieri revamps sandwich counter at Orlando Planet Hollywood

Nation's Restaurant News - Mon, 2017-01-30 22:51

Chef, restaurateur and TV personality Guy Fieri has developed a special menu to be served at the refurbished Planet Hollywood that’s part of the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.

The overall menu at the 845-seat restaurant, dubbed Planet Hollywood Observatory, which reopened last week after a yearlong closure, is similar to those at other Planet Hollywood locations in London, New York, Las Vegas, Paris and London, but the sandwich-and-burger section has been developed by Fieri and his team. 

Special sandwiches include the Pimento Grilled Cheese, which comes triple stacked with six-cheese mac & cheese, Fieri’s signature SMC, or “super melty cheese,” and pimento cheese on garlic-buttered sourdough. Also on the sandwich menu is a Championship Pulled Pork, made with pork in bourbon-brown sugar barbecue sauce with coleslaw, pickles, fried onion straws and “donkey sauce” (mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, roasted garlic, mustard-salt and pepper) on garlic-buttered brioche. The menu also has a Cajun-spiced grilled-chicken sandwich; a fried-chicken sandwich with ranch dressing, pickles, cheddar, coleslaw and honey hot sauce; a chicken BLT; and a turkey sandwich with cranberry relish, Swiss cheese, barbecue kettle chips, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and donkey sauce.

Burgers include The Mayor of Flavortown topped with pastrami on a pretzel bun; a Tatted Up Turkey, which is topped with roasted poblano peppers, smoked gouda, Swiss cheese, caramelized onion jam, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle on a garlic-buttered pretzel bun; and Morgan’s Veggie, which is a scratch-made vegetable burger of black beans, white beans, chickpeas, oats, artichokes, roasted red peppers and garlic with cilantro aïoli, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles on a toasted wheat bun.

Planet Hollywood founder and CEO Robert Earl said he teamed up with Fieri because the space, built in a dome and intended to resemble an observatory, requires a larger-than-life personality. What is more, celebrity chefs attract customers. 

“Because of the frequency that they’re on TV, the demand to actually frequent something that they’re involved in is very, very high,” said Earl, who had worked with celebrity-chef Gordon Ramsay at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, where Ramsay has a burger concept.

He added that some celebrity chefs are more approachable than others, and “Guy fits in with the profile of our guests,” he said. “They feel so comfortable with him that they’d like to hang out with him, that they’d have something to say to him, and they’re just very comfortable being associated with him.”

Earl also said he enjoyed the new menu items.

“It’s really tasty and gooey and healthy. I was joking about the last bit,” he said.

Fieri also has experience working for larger companies: He has restaurants on Carnival Cruise Lines ships among more than 50 other locations throughout the United States.

Fieri said at Planet Hollywood he wanted to offer a variety of different styles, “knowing we’re going to get a melting pot of people coming in,” he said.

“This is a worldwide destination, and with that in mind I wanted to make sure we had a creative offering of burgers on the menu that were going to give people a chance to try something they maybe hadn’t tried before.” 

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Debate rages over Andy Puzder’s labor secretary nomination

Nation's Restaurant News - Mon, 2017-01-30 22:35

A coalition of conservative groups has come to the defense of CKE Restaurants Inc. CEO Andrew Puzder, as labor activists continue to fight the executive’s nomination as labor secretary. 

In a letter released early Monday, the conservative groups said that Puzder “can foster and encourage the business formation that makes job creation possible.”

The letter was signed by 17 conservative groups, including Kent Lassman, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

“For the past eight years, the Labor Department has overwhelmed job creators with burdensome regulations, creating immense uncertainty for employers,” the group wrote. “This has led to subpar economic recovery, including gross domestic product growth that has averaged less than 2 percent under President Obama.”

The letter was released amid intense opposition from liberal groups who have made Puzder’s nomination among the business battles over President Trump’s cabinet nominees. The groups said they believe Puzder would work “for the interests of big business over the interests of working people.”

Confirmation of Puzder as Secretary of Labor has been delayed multiple times and is now set for next Tuesday, according to the Washington Post. The approach of the hearing has led for the intensification of the debate over Puzder, and how he would operate the Department of Labor.

A coalition of more than 75 liberal organizations and labor activist groups released its own letter on Monday opposing Puzder’s nomination, saying that it is “rife with conflicts of interest.”

“Puzder’s company has faced numerous Department of Labor violations for failing to pay the minimum wage or overtime: 60 percent of inspections of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants found labor law violations and Puzder has opposed both raising the minimum wage and enforcement of overtime rules and mandatory sick leave,” the group claimed.

“Puzder’s confirmation would ensure that the interests of the fast food industry — and its large meat and food industry suppliers — would prevail over the needs of hard working people in the food system who face some of the highest rates of food insecurity due to low wages and poor working conditions.” 

Restaurant executives and industry groups have largely cheered Puzder’s nomination because it puts one of their own at the top of the federal department responsible for enforcing labor regulations — restaurants employ nearly 11.5 million people and added about 240,000 jobs over the past year. 

Conservative groups believe that the department was overly aggressive in enforcing labor regulations under Obama and believe that Puzder would ease that regulatory burden.

“Under the Obama Labor Department, for the first time in 35 years, more American businesses closed than launched,” the conservative groups wrote. “This decline in entrepreneurship and opportunities has made it harder for people to find work and many Americans have simply given up looking for jobs altogether.”

Puzder, the conservative groups said, would bring “real world experience” to the department.

The labor activists, however, believe that putting Puzder at the top of the department would do little to help improve working conditions in the restaurant business. They said that workers would have to “rely on vocal opponents of labor regulations to protect their basic workplace rights.”

“These workers face disproportionate rates of poverty, discrimination and sexual harassment and deserve a Labor Secretary who believes that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘All labor has dignity,’” the labor groups wrote.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanmaze

Activist takes aim at Fiesta Restaurant Group

Nation's Restaurant News - Mon, 2017-01-30 22:18

This post is part of the On the Margin blog. 

JCP Investment Management LLC nominated three people Monday to the board of Fiesta Restaurant Group Inc., complaining about the decline in value at the owner of Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana in recent years.

The investment firm, which owns 7.1 percent of Fiesta stock, says the company needs new board members before it sells the company or hires a new CEO. JCP nominated its managing director, James Pappas; John Morlock, chief operating officer of Sbarro; and private investor Joshua Schechter.

The nominations promise a proxy fight at Dallas-based Fiesta.

JCP said it has tried to reach a resolution with Fiesta, but the board and management team “have refused to engage meaningfully with us, leaving us little choice but to nominate a competing slate of director candidate.”

“JCP is concerned by the massive decline in value that Fiesta stockholders have suffered over the past several years,” the activist said in a press release.

The move by JCP, which first indicated its activist investment in September, continues what has been a tumultuous several months at Fiesta, which has closed restaurants, seen its CEO go and announced plans to sell Taco Cabana, only to pull them back.

Fiesta was once a highly regarded company on Wall Street. It was spun off by Burger King operator Carrols Restaurant Group in April 2012, and quietly enjoyed a strong run that saw its stock price go from $12.50 per share to more than $60 per share by March 2015.

But since hitting an all-time high of nearly $67 per share that month, Fiesta’s stock has tumbled, losing more than half of its value. 

A handful of issues have dogged the company in the past couple of years. The biggest was the failure of Pollo Tropical in Texas.

In 2014, Fiesta opened its first Pollo Tropical unit in Texas, hoping to make the company’s headquarters state a major market for a chain that had been wildly successful in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

But that didn’t happen. The restaurants struggled, far from a market where consumers best know its Caribbean menu. In October, the company closed 10 locations, eight of them in Texas

“A prime example of stockholder value destruction is the board’s misguided decision to allocate more than $70 million for Pollo Tropical’s failed expansion into Texas,” JCP said in the release.

The investor also argued that existing management has failed to capitalize on the Taco Cabana brand. “We … believe that Taco Cabana has significant value and growth potential, which the incumbent board and management team has apparently failed to recognize or, at a minimum, to capitalize upon,” the investor said.

Back in February, the company announced plans to split the chains into two. By September, Fiesta scuttled that plan, saying that, “continued brand ownership is in shareholders’ best interest.”

That came a month after Fiesta announced that CEO Tim Taft would retire by the end of the year. Danny Meisenheimer has been interim CEO since September, while the company looks for a permanent chief executive.

JCP said since Taft’s departure, “stockholders have been left with a company without a permanent CEO that is being run by a board with minimum share ownership and scant restaurant operating experience.”

Jonathan Maze, Nation’s Restaurant News senior financial editor, does not directly own stock or interest in a restaurant company.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

How Ruby Tuesday upgraded its Garden Bar

Nation's Restaurant News - Mon, 2017-01-30 21:51

Ruby Tuesday Inc. CMO David Skena is shedding light on the casual-dining chain’s path to upgrading is signature Garden Bar after more than a year in test.

The Maryville, Tenn.-based operator rolled out the revamped Garden Bar on Jan. 17, after smaller market tests showed it was an important brand differentiator. 

“The Garden Bar is really the cornerstone of where we want to take the brand and where we want it to be in the lives of our guests,” Skena told Nation’s Restaurant News. “We can be a restaurant concept with better choices on the menu for people to make. We love having the grill-and-bar menu, but we can be more.”

Skena said the customer response has been very positive, but the executive team was unsure when it first tested the upgraded Garden Bar in November 2015. 

“We did a single-unit test near our headquarters, sort of as a proof-of-concept test to see if we could pull it off,” he explained. The company then did a full-market test in Atlanta in early 2016, and expanded it to St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., in May.

“Altogether, we had a million visits to the Garden Bar,” Skena said. “But in each market, we would vary a price point or vary a selection. By the end of it, we had the ‘Goldilocks Garden Bar’ — it was just right.”

In surveys of more than 6,000 customers, Ruby Tuesday found that 84 percent of Garden Bar users visited specifically because of that offering, Skena said, adding that close to half of all Ruby Tuesday customers get the Garden Bar. 

“It’s a critical part of the restaurants,” he said. 

Labor was a chief concern in rolling out the Garden Bar systemwide, as were some increased food costs, he added. 

The upgrade offers a more contemporary selection of ingredients, Skena said. 

“You have things like artichoke hearts that weren’t there before,” he said, adding that other items include spicy roasted broccoli, pico de gallo, banana pepper, wasabi peas and candied walnuts.

“It’s not that our Garden Bar before didn’t have all the basics that you needed to make a good salad, but this takes it up another notch,” he said.

And because many products are now made in house, labor costs were also a factor in the rollout, Skena said.

“You are making your dressings in house, hand-squeezing the lime juice. It takes time,” Skena said. “That’s for all eight of the dressings, so it has to be done right. It was finding the balance between things that delight the customers and things we could prep right.”

Capital costs for the Garden Bar rollout were minimal.

“It required some small stuff, minor things,” he said. “We needed to update some small wares.”

With each layer of the tiered test last year, the company conducted customer satisfaction surveys, especially to get the pricing correct, Skena said. 

“We make sure we are sensitive to our target customers,” he said. 

The company ended up getting rid of the free side substation of the Garden Bar in favor of an upcharge. Reactions varied by competitive geography. 

“Folks who were in markets where they were used to going to a salad concept — Salata or Tender Greens — they thought this was an incredible value. Other folks in markets where there isn’t that competition, they were more sensitive to the pricing,” he said.

The enhanced Garden Bar also takes aim at Ruby Tuesday’s target customers: families with children.

“We know moms want better, more healthful options,” Skena said. “They want to be at place where they can make good choices. That’s a real feather in our cap.”

Ruby Tuesday is marketing the new Garden Bar through traditional television ads and billboards, but is layering on other media as well, such as a storytelling video called “Shy Girl” on YouTube, Skena said.

As of Nov. 29, Ruby Tuesday owned or franchised 613 Ruby Tuesday restaurants in 42 states, 14 countries and Guam.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless