Monday, March 21, 2011


AMERICA'S NEXT GREAT FAST CASUAL CONCEPT


Review of the third episode of NBC's America's Next Great Restaurant.


Any restaurant operator watching NBC's American’s Next Greatest Restaurant this week would have gone absolutely nuts watching the contestants trying to pull off a lunch rush service at a busy Chipotle. It was excruciating as they botched orders and the line backed up outside. Steve Els deserves credit for giving them some time and letting the contestants actually try to make the business run. Thank goodness he jumped in and helped. It was great to see Steve rollin’ burritos and great exposure for his brand.


My real criticism of the show is why did they need to throw a bunch of restaurateurs wantabees into a lunch rush line-up to see how they serve food they have never been trained to serve? It doesn’t make for a good operator or restaurant owner—it isn’t a valid measurement. They should be focused on the menu development aspect—each contestant needs to think out their fast casual concept. If the investors want a fast casual concept then each of these contestants needs to create a menu that can serve people with food and be rung up within 20 minutes. Right now these contestants wouldn’t know a fast casual concept if it hit them on the head.


Here are my comments for each of the eight remaining contestants and the one that left.


Revolution Tacos—This angry counter-culture contestant seems like a great plant to add drama and the element of controversy on the show. I’m sure in a future episode there will be a big blow up with this guy. I get the idea of his fusion tacos, but do we really need a taco place with an attitude? Haven't they heard of Chronic Taco's in Southern California? How about Rubio's Fish Tacos?


Spice Coast—This Indian concept could be one of the next top fast casual concepts in the country. Indian food is moving up main stream menus and Slumdog Millionaire and Bollywood movies are exposing and popularizing this culture and cuisine. If this contestant continues to listen to Steve Els and Bobby Flay and they can get his menu figured out, this could be a final three contender.


Compl-eat- This contestant resisted changing the name of her concept yet couldn’t explain it or even know what her brand stands for since she doesn’t have a menu. There is an idea here with portion control meals—getting just the right calories of food to stay on a well balanced diet, however, it needs a well-thought out menu with measures and tests and items that are intriguing and unique. She has nothing except the Calorie counter and Eat This Not That book to check the calorie totals instead of focusing on the food. If they can help her figure this out…this is a top three concept but I’m not holding my breath.


CHAO –This stir fry girl was a cute contestant and probably chosen for her nice smile. She changed the name of her stir fry concept, (which she still didn’t quite know what it meant), to CHAO and how ironic, she’s gone. She should have named it Ciao! The concept is already out there besides...it's called Pei Wei Asian Diner and it is a fast casual Asian Stir-Fry concept!


Grill Billie’s-This young and creative couple remind me of some franchisees I have met over the years in the restaurant business. They will end up killing each other after one year if they actually do open a restaurant. I don’t think their concept or the two of them can make it.


Soul Daddy-This contestant has it going on. His flavor is hot and if the investor-team can guide him a bit more, he is eager and is a top three contender. Another positive for him, he is a struggling dad and, already seems to be the sentimental favorite and tugging on viewers’ heartstrings. Winning could mean everything to him and viewers will bring in the ratings!


Meltworks-Love this concept, but not sure grilled cheese can go it alone. If he can create some signature sandwiches and stick to them without over complicating this could work. He seems to have what I call “stick to the knitting” phobia--creating endless menu items and combinations without a main signature selection. I also think his sandwiches need something surprising—the way it is served or its size—this could be a final winner concept.


Saints & Sinners—This is an interesting concept and is a way to cancel the guest veto vote. Most every menu in America already has sinners and saints on the menu—salads and low calorie potions along with ice cream sundaes. This concept isn’t a winner, but the contestant is a really good operator as you could plainly see in this episode, and her point is well taken…every restaurant should welcome both sinners and saints.


Saucy Balls- This is one of those kitschy menu items that could actually be turned into a concept. But Fast Casual Balls? I need to taste the saucy balls to know how this concept stands to fare. If this contestant can figure out a way to do fast casual Italian with saucy balls as the main dish I say more power to him.



Review by Linda Duke, chief executive, Duke Marketing, LLC, a restaurant marketing expert with and founder of a full service marketing communications firm specializing in multi-location and franchise restaurants. She is a board member of the National Restaurant Association's Fast Casual Industry Council and the California Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

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