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My 5-Year (& Counting) Plan of Steel

“The Value of the Dollar is Rising in the American Restaurant.”

This was the first headline on Jimmy’s Daily Planet exactly five years ago on July 13, 2012. And the purpose of my debut blog post was to shine a light on the burgeoning reality of small bites and, therefore, lower prices per quality food item in American restaurants for still struggling restaurant owners and customers in equal measure.

We live in the era where a bag of skittles costs $1, a trip to the movies forces one to contemplate his or her finances and best of all, a large…I mean a venti, at Starbucks is almost $2.00! Who else remembers, “The best part of wakin’ up is Folgers in your cup.” Making our own coffee…it was a simpler time then.

The point is everyday expenses have skyrocketed well beyond reality. We laugh at our grandparents and parents for speaking nostalgically about getting a $.10 hamburger and an ice cream cone for a nickel…Today, it really gives new meaning to the term “The Greatest Generation.” Fear not, this is not an article about business finances related to the rising costs of food. This is about how White Castle has set the food trend that is here in to stay in America for a long, long, long time.

White Castle is famous for its sliders. Small burgers that alone may not be completely filling at around $.45 apiece, but when ordered in packs of four or more certainly can cure a hungry appetite. This is where we are now. Americans are in the “Slider Era.” I don’t mean that every food item will be a small burger, but the slider concept is alive and well and has taken on all sorts of variations. From burgers to lobster roll sliders, restaurants all over are creatively adapting. Chefs of all kinds have realized more than ever that their bottom line is directly linked to their customers. Eating out together today more closely resembles eating out together as a family going to McDonald’s when the Golden Arches first shined bright in suburban Chicago, Illinois, with the Dollar Menu as one example. To be clear, this is a great thing! We are in this together, and restaurants are stepping up.

From White Castle to a sushi joint to Ed’s Lobster Bar Annex in the lower east side of New York city, people are becoming increasingly aware that sharing a few small plates or appetizers together is more fun (economically and socially) than always ordering a large meal and an expensive drink. Order smaller items, but more of them.

At Yogi Perogi in Grandview, Ohio, each perogi ranges from $1.75-$2.50. With just two or three, that’s easily lunch. That not only could be a new lunch spot, but also an expanded palate, as was the case with me. With all prices relative to its location and quality, a lobster roll slider at Ed’s Lobster Bar Annex in NYC is $5, three lobster tacos are $12 and a lobster burger slider is $5. Again, three of these plus an order of fries ($6, but remember it can be split if you’re eating out with friends or family…and it’s quite a few fries) are sufficient for a meal. This is all especially good when you realize the signature lobster roll alone goes for $27.

Simply put: Less is more.

Has the reality I blogged about five years ago relating to the restaurant industry changed dramatically?

Interestingly, no.

It’s a bit surreal to reflect back to writing my first blog post on this new website I built using WordPress called Jimmy’s Daily Planet, which is a nod to Clark Kent’s human job as a reporter at The Daily Planet. There’s also the simultaneous gentle tip of the cap to Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen and my first name being Jimmy.

I couldn’t even think a couple years into the future, let alone five, to imagine what this personal hobby would or could become. What I do know is that I love writing and communicating in my own style and voice. There’s no point in writing or speaking like other people. And this blog has provided me with the amazing opportunity to engage in reporting and telling stories, as Frank Sinatra would say, my way.

Now, what does the future hold for Jimmy’s Daily Planet?

Much like writing each blog post Monday-Friday, I’ll figure it out as I’m writing and brainstorming new topics and ways to communciate with people with clever twists and, hopefully, a bit of insight.

The gift of the fifth wedding anniversary is wood. Although, steel seems more fitting in this case…but I digress. So, how does wood connect to writing a blog? Well, wood is natural and the instincts for creating and publishing content on this blog are natural and intuitive. In a forest, for example, there are tall trees, short trees, trees with majestic branches and trees with few branches. Some trees may look alike, but every tree has its own unique characteristics. I like to think Jimmy’s Daily Planet is similar to a wooded forest in this regard.

Simply put: Saying yes to a blog has been more rewarding than I could’ve imagined five years later.  

Rage with the Machine

I was in a Japanese restaurant several months ago and they offered my guest and me standard laminated menus. Then, almost instantaneously, the waiter placed an iPad with a stand on the table that turned out to be a digital menu. We were scrolling, tapping and searching through all the pictures of the sushi they made. With sushi, in particular, this was a great tool to use when choosing the right platter. While the iPad was only at our table for a short period, it was a nice alternative to a purely text-based menu. The use of an iPad as a menu is a growing trend in restaurants these days. There is definitely a coolness factor to it.

While on vacation in California, my family and I stopped in the hot, yet luxurious, Palm Desert. After walking inside one of the many stores, I asked the salesperson if they carried a particular polo. Instead of turning around and searching the store, looking at a paper with its inventory or rushing to the backroom, she turned and grabbed an iPad and tapped-scrolled and typed her way to discovering they did not have it in-stock. It took all of ten seconds. Even without having the shirt available in the store, she was able to have a picture with an option to order the exact polo I was asking about. She was ready to place the order for me on the spot, if I was so inclined.

Wow. Now that’s customer service.

Like restaurants, there seem to be more and more iPads/tablets used for businesses, from retail to the local cupcake shop Tin in suburban Columbus, Ohio. The convenience works both ways, for customers as well as employees.

U.S. citizens have been increasingly encouraged to file their taxes online (ie-paperless). While doing work online is certainly faster and more efficient in some ways (I’ve participated in this practice as an fyi), we can all recall the story of when hackers got their digital hands on thousands of sensitive materials from The Pentagon. If hackers can find their way into The Pentagon…

However tempting this convenience appears (and it is), we do need to remain cognizant of the risks.

The point is that we tend to be trending towards, however slowly, a paperless society. There are positives, without question, but also definite negatives to this digital evolution. It reminded me of a short clip from a show about this very reality occurring with the Millennials, my generation.