Off the menu: al fresco dining provides expansion operating capacity at low cost

Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent proposal to extend outdoor dining permits beyond the June 15 end of the current state of emergency raises interesting questions for restaurateurs and the restaurant public.

Give the current “honor system” regarding the “fully immunized” status, more than a few restaurant patrons may exercise caution and choose outdoor seating, even though their preference would otherwise have been to eat in the shelter sun, street smells and annoying bugs.

There also appears to be public support for the kind of culinary experience in the streetscape that the pandemic has spawned. In a poll touted by the National Restaurant Association in March of this year, 84% of those polled online believed restaurants should be able to permanently offer expanded outdoor seating.

Most restaurateurs are in favor of outdoor seating, as it can represent a relatively inexpensive expansion of their operating capacity. This is especially true when they are allowed (or even encouraged) to take possession of a public good in the form of a sidewalk or street space free of charge.

Ultimately, of course, market forces will determine the future importance of outdoor dining. Customers (and their dollars) will make their preferences known by choosing to stay outside or retreat indoors in air-conditioned dining comfort.

As vaccine-backed “normalcy” appears to be looming on the horizon, major restaurant chains are considering future expansion.

Among the more ambitious are KFC, the brand of fried chicken. During what has been dubbed “World Investor Day” at the end of May, KFC management announced plans to expand the chain from 25,000 units worldwide to a possible target of 75,000. outlets, most of which will be in emerging markets such as India and the Middle East. and Africa.

Envisioning what they described as “buckets of growth” after the pandemic, KFC plans to drive its future expansion by leveraging technology – digital control platforms, augmented reality training for employees, and robotics. The brand is also engaged in the testing of a herbal product dubbed “Beyond Fried Chicken”.

On the Border has refined its menu and drink offerings.

The kitchens of the casual Tex-Mex restaurant chain now offer “Bolder Border Bowls” which can be ordered with grilled chicken, portobello mushrooms, shrimp or steak.

An aperitif assembled at the table, “Melted Queso Fundido”, has also been introduced; it incorporates processed cheeses mixed with caramelized onions, poblano peppers and chorizo. Flour tortillas are provided for dipping.

The chain’s mixologists are now concocting a trio of “Bold Pineapple Margaritas”, with smoky and spicy versions complementing the basic pineapple cocktail.

There is a border location on Riverdale Street in West Springfield and Silas Deane Highway in Rocky Hill, CT.

Skyline Beer Company in Westfield recently announced dinner hours, with its Southwick Road taproom and beer garden now serving 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. pm on Sunday.

This spring, Skyline opened a new patio dining area, with outdoor service provided, weather permitting.

Skyline’s menu currently promotes ‘heartwarming favorites’ like a platter of smoked bratwurst and baked macaroni and cheese that can be personalized by adding bacon, chicken, grilled beef brisket, pork or grilled vegetables.

Sweet treats for dessert include blueberry and cherry chips and a bacon chocolate chip cookie baked to order.

Daily specials are also available.

Advance reservations for dinner at the Skyline are strongly encouraged; they can be done by calling (413) 378-3333.

Teresa’s restaurant in Ware brought back a summer favorite from last year in the form of its “Italian Ice” frozen martinis; spoon cocktails are available in lemon, watermelon and orange cream flavors.

The restaurant has fully reopened its banquet hall and accepts reservations for weddings, banquets and parties of all kinds.

Their phone number is (413) 967-7601.

The Publick House Historic Inn in Sturbridge has fully reopened its dining operations, offering dining inside as well as on the patio Monday through Thursday, 12pm to 7pm; Friday and Saturday 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For the start of the summer season, the inn has created a specialty cocktail menu that includes “A Toast to Paige Hall” (raspberry vodka, Chambord and sparkling wine) and “The Ballroom”, a libation made up of tequila. , elderberry liqueur and fresh lime.

The Inn’s Bake Shoppe continues to offer prepared and ready-to-reheat meals and sides daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Options include ‘Publick House’ roast turkey dinner, meatloaf, pot roast and more.

The Publick House Historic Inn answers (508) 347-7323.

Even as things are “opening up” in Western Massachusetts, Sunderland’s Blue Heron Restaurant continues to offer a full menu of curbside take-out.

The options available change from week to week, but a recent menu featured dishes such as chicken breast stuffed with ricotta and goat cheese, pan-roasted duck, and spring vegetable fettuccine.

Family-style packs that serve four or five are also available; these must be pre-ordered.

The weekly take-out menu is available at and orders can be placed online.

The Blue Heron restaurant answers (413) 665-2102.

While curbside delivery and pickup may have been the salvation of many restaurants during pandemic closures, one unfortunate side effect has been tons of trash to take away.

With predictions that the delivery and pickup of family packaging could continue to be important in the future, many restaurateurs, aware of the environmental cost of all that food packaging waste generated by these services generates, are looking for ways. more “green”.

One company that already has a solution tested is r.Cup, a Minneapolis-based company that previously specialized in closed-loop recycling of beverage cups at entertainment venues and sporting events.

The company launched r.Ware, a recycling program for restaurants that provides reusable hard plastic containers. R.Ware is designed as a turnkey program, with the company providing a return station and a smartphone app. Customers are encouraged to return used take-out containers through a loyalty program that rewards them based on the number of items returned.

Like other recycling solutions of this type, the key seems to be “scale”, a level of volume sufficient to justify the cost of the system. Currently, a restaurant’s expense of a container of r.Ware is estimated to be three to four times higher than that of a single-use disposable, and this cost will need to be factored into menu prices. for take-out.

The unknown about these recycling and reuse efforts is whether customers will be willing to pay for the environmental benefits they provide.

Among fast food chains, Taco Bell has at times made a name for itself with its “LTO shuffle,” a menu development practice that brings new items in and out of the brand’s restaurant menus.

The most recent such change was the brief return of Quesalupa, a cheesy and puffy tortilla stuffed with seasoned beef. Originally introduced in 2016, the Quesalupa quickly became a Taco Bell favorite, but that didn’t stop the chain from pulling it several years later.

This spring, as part of the deployment of another new element, the Quesalupa returned, only to be quietly eliminated again last month.

At the same time, Taco Bell brought back the Naked Chicken Chalupa, an item in which a marinated and breaded chicken breast serves as the tortilla shell. Naked Chicken Chalupa has also been a recurring menu item, following a short run in 2017, a booming reintroduction in 2018, and phasing out several months later.

While Taco Bell spokespersons are coy about future menu innovations, it seems likely that product brewing will continue to be used as a marketing ploy at Yum! Brand subsidiary.

Hugh Robert is a faculty member in the Hospitality and Culinary Arts program at Holyoke Community College and has nearly 45 years of experience in catering and education. Robert can be reached online at [email protected].

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