EMP whispers, Ghost boos, Infatuation rates, Fast raises, and more...
Family Meal - Friday, January 28th, 20222
Heads up: Last Tuesday’s Family Meal is copy/pasted below for non-paying subscribers as usual, but there will be no Family Meal this coming Tuesday, on account of the Lunar New Year holiday here. The Year of the Water Tiger is nearly upon us, and I hope it is outrageously prosperous for each and every one of you. Or, at the very least, I hope that we all avoid more war, disease, and suffering. That would be a nice win.
Let’s get to it…
The Hike – Breaking down Eleven Madison Park’s imminent return to tipping this week, Eater NY’s Ryan Sutton says: “The current price of dinner… is $335, or $729 after tax for two. When the tipping policy returns, that same meal, if you leave a 20 percent gratuity, will clock in at $863.” He calls it a “Stealth Hike,” and takes EMP to task for more or less hiding the new fees from guests: “Unless you drill down to the middle of the ‘frequently asked questions’ link — a document that’s about as compelling as [airline safety manuals] — you probably won’t realize that service is no longer included until after you’ve made your non-refundable, prepaid reservation.”
Meh. Most guests will be fine. What the restaurant needs to worry about are staff. EMP said very clearly in their email to customers that this change will allow them “to increase the wages for all of those in our kitchen.” Imagine my surprise when several former EMP staff messaged me this week to say some version of: “Yeah. That’s what they said last time….” Food media loves a big, verifiable promise from a restaurant with a “Best of the Best” target on its back!
The Hike Too – Obviously, price points at the fast food level are not all that informative on the mid-upper range restaurant side of things, but still worth knowing what’s lining drive-thru pockets these days: “Price increases [of about 6 percent] on Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets and other food items helped McDonald’s more than offset sharp rises in food and labor costs and propelled the company’s revenues for 2021 to the highest level since 2016. McDonald’s said in a financial report on Thursday that global revenues topped $23.2 billion last year, a 21 percent jump from 2019... Profit soared 59 percent from a year earlier, to $7.5 billion.” Details via Julie Creswell in the NYT.
The Critics – The Infatuation has rebooted their website a bit, with what EIC Hillary Reinsberg calls “a pretty solid Covid-era glow up.” That glow up includes a return to rating restaurants on a scale of 1-10, which The Infatuation paused way back in 2020 (when there was that pandemic that came and went and was forgotten by all). FYI, Reinsberg says a big ratings update is ongoing: “Every rating you see on The Infatuation today is based on or verified by a visit that happened during the past year, most of them during the second half of 2021 or later. We’re launching with well over 2,000 new ratings, with more being added daily.”
But don’t worry. If you get a bad review, there’s a chance no one will ever see it. The new site has apparently decided against a search bar?
The Critics Too – SF Chronicle critic Soleil Ho took down three big ghost kitchen concepts this week: DJ (and Benihana heir) Steve Aoki’s Pizzaoki; YouTube star Mr. Beast’s MrBeast Burger; and DJ Khaled’s Another Wing. It’s a brutal review. Sample quotes:
Re Another Wing: “I hoped that the attempts would reveal that, yes, DJ Khaled did have some talent somewhere, if not in music then perhaps in the kitchen.” Nope.
Re Pizzaoki: “It was actually insulting to have to try so hard to eat something so bad.”
Re MrBeast Burger: “The doughy burger seemed to shrink away in shame as I looked at it.”
Maybe all fish in a barrel there, but I’m interested in what wasn’t in the review: Who made (assembled?) the food. I reached out to Ho, who says all three of the places they ordered from were working out of commissaries, so no restaurants had to take the fall this time. But not hard to see a ghost kitchen’s kitchen SEO getting dragged down in the future by association with bad ingredients (“black olive that stank of aluminum”) and shoddy cooking (mangled buns and “carelessly cut” pizzas) or worse. Sell out at your own risk.
And Last but not Least – Here’s Turkey and the Wolf’s Mason Hereford on Instagram this weekend: “I have some wild and unfortunate cookbook news so bizarre that it warrants using lowercase text. I’m sorry to say the Turkey and the Wolf cookbook won’t be shipping out in February as planned. There was a container collapse on the cargo ship that contained the Turkey and the Wolf books. The good news is that there were no critical injuries, as can happen in these situations. But the bad news is the books might be in a cargo container at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.”
His weren’t the only ones. NYT Food’s Melissa Clark said her Dinner in One cookbooks were also on that ship and probably lost. Releases for both books were pushed back a few months, and everyone seems to be greeting the news with a mix of sadface sympathy and fish puns, but I believe I speak for all of us when I say, buuuuuuullllshiiiiiiit. The ocean ate your homework? Your excuses are like your sandwiches, Mason; bologna.
(I’m glad no one was hurt. I hope all turns out well. I regret using the word bologna in a deeply uncool way.)
And that’s it for today! Except, of course, for Tuesday’s Family Meal, which is copy / pasted below as usual.
Oh, and if you’re keeping up with the BrewDog saga (as described below) I highly recommend heading to Dave Infante’s Finger’s newsletter this week, where you’ll find a link to a non-paywalled version of the BBC exposé and a solid analysis of its potential (maybe muted) impact.
Kung Hei Fat Choi! Happy New Year! And I’ll see everyone back here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or talent somewhere, if not in music then perhaps in the kitchen to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!
Here begins Family Meal that went out to paying subscribers on Tuesday, January 25th, 2022:
Inflation station, BrewDog customs, Molnar gone, TV time, and more...
And hello to paying subscribers only! If you got this as a forward and wish you were getting Tuesday editions on Tuesdays too…
Let’s get to it…
The Rock and the Inflating Place – Headline in the Washington Post: “Inflation is wiping out pay increases for most Americans.” But not all Americans, according to Abha Bhattari: “The only sector where pay increases outpaced inflation last year was in the leisure and hospitality industry, where workers generally make the lowest hourly wages of any sector. Workers there saw a 14 percent average raise from about $17 an hour to more than $19.50, according to an analysis of Labor Department data.”
Great for staff! But if I’m a restaurateur hoping Congress will refill RRF, I’m wondering how to convince constituents (who are watching cable news stoke inflation fears) that they should give a big aid package to the industry with highest wage growth in the country right now…
For the Bar – A Scottish investigative reporting show is out with another round of accusations of bad behavior at BrewDog this week. The full show is currently streaming only for UK-based TV license holders (and the lying liars who steal remorselessly from the British Broadcasting Corporation), but print reporting gives me the impression we’re looking at a case of…
Not only: “BBC Scotland's Disclosure programme has been told that staff at [BrewDog’s] Ellon brewery in Aberdeenshire knew that two of its flagship products, Elvis Juice and Jet Black Heart, contained extracts which were not approved in the US… One US-based importer said they had been deceived by Brewdog. In a social media post on Wednesday, CEO James Watt admitted to ‘taking shortcuts’ with the process.”
But also: “Brewdog chief James Watt accused of inappropriate behavior.” In this case, Watt denies the allegations, which involve several different ways he purportedly made (especially female) staff uncomfortable in their workplaces in Ohio and elsewhere.
For the Somm: Some Sad News – “Nicholas Molnar, a vintner who helped pioneer fine wine in the now-famous Napa County region of Carneros, died on Jan. 11. He was 94.” Per the SF Chronicle obit from Esther Mobley, beyond moving wine country borders, Molnar was also responsible for opening minds to new cooperage terroir, bringing Hungarian Kádár barrels to CA wineries for the first time in 1993.
And Last but not Least: For TV Fans – Here comes Top Chef Season 19. Yesterday’s Bravo TV press release says the 15 contestants “ready to mess with Houston, one dish at a time” are: Ashleigh Shanti (Asheville); Buddha Lo (NYC); Damarr Brown (Chicago); Evelyn Garcia (Houston); Jackson Kalb (LA); Jae Jung (NYC); Jo Chan (Austin); Leia Gaccione (Morristown, NJ); Luke Kolpin (Seattle); Monique Feybesse (Vallejo, CA); Nick Wallace (Jackson, MS); Robert Hernandez (SF); Sam Kang (NYC); Sarah Welch (Detroit); and Stephanie Miller (Bismarck, ND). Links go to their Bravo profiles, and there’s a trailer on the main page too.
There will be the usual cameos from a lot of the usual Top Chef suspects, plus Houston flavor from “Ope Amosu, Aaron Bludorn, Irma Galvan, Greg Gatlin, Robert Del Grande, Christine Ha, Trong Nguyen, Hugo Ortega, Monica Pope, Chris Shepherd, Kiran Verma, and Chris Williams.” And on the media side: “Hunter Lewis, Editor-in-Chief of FOOD & WINE, joins the judges for the final challenge.”
Good luck, all!
And for those of you working on cookbooks, there’s also a new Jamie Oliver show coming out in the UK that “will offer budding cookbook authors a deal with a prestigious publisher as its prize… The show will be a blend of cooking challenges devised to test and judge recipes, and publishing challenges devised in part to push the contestants and, according to [Penguin managing director Louise Moore], to ‘demystify’ an industry frequently criticised for its narrowness of scope and reliance on existing networks.”
Eater’s James Hansen has details on the show, but a broader profile on Oliver’s cookbook career in The Times (paywall) has more on the business side of things. There are very big numbers — Oliver’s cookbooks have brought in over $255M in revenue so far, almost $175M more than Nigella Lawson’s haul — and very small numbers: “More than 5,000 cookery titles were released into the UK market in 2020, but only 556 sold more than 100 copies and only 48 sold more than 5,000.”
There is also a throwaway line that went viral in good faith and bad: “These days Oliver employs ‘teams of cultural appropriation specialists’ to ensure his books don’t land him in hot water.”
And then there are the critics: “Marina O’Loughlin, [The Times’s] restaurant critic, owns between 500 and 700 recipe books, despite the main dish she cooks being toast.”
And that’s it for today!
I’ll see you here Friday for next Family Meal.
And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and send tips and/or extracts which were not approved in the US to email@example.com. If you like Family Meal and want to keep it going, please chip in here. If you got this as a forward, sign up for yourself!