Category: Business

Chipotle Cools after E. Coli

chipotleIt grieves me to say that Mexican fast-food chain, Chipotle, has recently been linked to outbreaks of E. Coli across the country and a norovirus outbreak in California that happened last August. Since the very first time my taste buds encountered Chipotle, it has been one of my favorite restaurants. Previous to the incidents, the Mexican restaurant chain maintained a pristine public perception, but it is now undergoing investigation by a grand jury for the norovirus outbreak and was served a subpoena in December. Not at all surprisingly, this has severely damaged Chipotle’s sales and the downward trend is expected to continue.

Sadly, these things do happen from time to time. Taco Bell spawned a similar outbreak of E. Coli back in 2006. If history serves as a guide, Chipotle might expect their plunge to continue for at least a year or more, like Taco Bell’s which lasted for five quarters. Fortunately for the chain formerly beloved by so many, Taco Bell and other restaurants that suffered similar dives in the past have all typically made full recoveries, though it often took a couple of years.

For Chipotle, these outbreaks could potentially prove to be damning in ways that Taco Bell’s E. Coli outbreak was not. The company has poured all of its marketing efforts into building a reputation as a fast-food restaurant committed to using better ingredients and making its food fresh.

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Watch Out for Driverless Cars

Google's_Lexus_RX_450h_Self-Driving_CarFord has recently announced that they will begin testing driverless cars in 2016. If you haven’t been keeping up with the development of driverless cars, that may seem exciting. If you have been keeping up, you may be wondering what took Ford so long. The auto company is just one in a long string of companies that includes Google, Tesla, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Delphi, Bosch, Nissan and Cruise Automation, who which have all been test driving – or rather test-not-driving – their own autonomous vehicles around Palo Alto, California.

Ford had previously been working on driverless technology for a while, but this will be their first step toward trying out fully autonomous cars. The company has been testing their driverless tech at Mcity, a fake town designed specifically as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles by the University of Michigan. The town attempts to simulate a wide variety of realistic driving conditions that will put the cars through their paces.

Netflix – Evolve or Die

NetflixStreaming platforms have become so popular that they are becoming bywords. Netflix has been the subject of numerous internet memes and is notorious on college campuses for its ability to distract students for hours on end. It’s pretty common to hear people recommend TV shows and then mention that they are available on Netflix, making the assumption that just about everyone has access to an account. Sites like Netflix seem to have become integrated into our popular culture.

I explained in a past article how streaming services can offer a convenient way of saving a little money on your media intake. This is one of many reasons people are starting to favor internet streaming over cable for watching their favorite shows. Streaming is also far more convenient in that it allows for control over one’s viewing experience; no more pandering to TV’s rigid schedule or flipping through channels endlessly to find that there’s simply nothing good on. Streaming allows viewers to watch what they want, when they want, and to watch as much of it as they want. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of digital content which is a package that’s hard to beat.

Even as Netflix has reached meme status, its foothold could be slipping. In much the same way that Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services have undercut cable and started eating into that market as cheaper alternatives, Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire TV Stick are beginning to challenge the growth of streaming services by offering even cheaper options. It just goes to show that you should never get too comfortable, resting on your laurels. That’s why Netflix is currently working on implementing a couple of new plans to adapt to the competitive nature of the industry.

Undaunted by competition and potential threats, the streaming company has been gradually making the shift towards producing its own original content. Several recent Netflix original shows have reached mainstream popularity, and are well-loved by critics and fans alike. With sites like YouTube steadily increasing in popularity and viewership over the years, people generally seem more open to original content produced solely for the internet than they might have been just a few years ago. Netflix appears to be the first major streaming service to move in this direction, which could grant them the advantage of seniority.

Their tech people have also been working on new methods for encoding their content that could cut data usage and give them a little boost in speed and efficiency. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a layman’s explanation of encoding is that it’s the method used to store media as digital information that can then be transmitted. Currently, Netflix uses algorithms to choose bit rates at which to stream, based on their users’ connection speed. The new algorithms also take into account the complexity of the video being streamed. This means that content with lower complexity can be streamed at a higher quality than more complex content at the same bit rate. Streaming through Netflix with these encoding algorithms would be optimized for each individual piece of content as well as for network conditions, which should lead to a better streaming experience all around.

Only time will tell if Netflix’s moves to stay ahead will pay off. It’s hard to imagine that something as ubiquitous as Netflix could die off, but remember that MySpace was once relevant too. Netflix seems to be forward-thinking and hopeful, despite share prices that have been slipping.

Don’t Push the Big Red Button!

pizza buttonIt’s here, and it’s just in time for the holidays! Domino’s has unleashed a quick order button housed in a micro-sized pizza box. Amazon already unveiled their Dash Button, which allows customers to order frequently purchased items through Amazon Prime at the touch of a button. It was only a matter of time before the pizza gods would bless us with the same kind of convenience and fun; no one can resist pushing a big button.

The first batch of buttons is slated for release in the U.K. this December, with a second batch scheduled for February. Domino’s has said that they will let the public know when plans are finalized for releasing the button in other places.

Three Cheers For Craft Beer!

red_ales

A flight of red ales from craft brewery, Black Shirt Brewing Company

I’ll admit it. I’m a complete sucker for craft beer and all the hype surrounding it. Beer has been a mainstay beverage in global civilizations for centuries. Everybody knows that there’s no better way to spend a friday night than enjoying an amber pint at your favorite pub with a couple of friends, relaxing after a grueling week of work. So what’s the big deal with craft beer, and why are so many willing to pay more for it than the Big Beer brands? The answer to those questions depends upon whom you ask. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can detail a few of the commonly given answers and explain why I enjoy drinking craft beer.

Some see it as a moral battleground. A theme commonly discussed among craft beer nerds (but little talked about by anyone else) is the fact that most of the beer consumed in the world is produced by a handful of giant corporations. Anheuser-Busch (AB inBev), one of these titan brewers, has recently been bidding on a merger with one of their biggest rivals, MillerCoors (SABMiller). The merger would purportedly make AB inBev the brewer of a third of the world’s beer.

Tipping the Scales

14876811184_e694b850bb_oJoe’s Crab Shack has just decided to experiment with forgoing tips at a few of its locations. Tipping is a longstanding American practice that has recently been called into question. It has been largely done away with in other parts of the world, but has been standard practice at sit-down restaurants in America for a very long time. But some people are now starting to question the practice, with many taking to social media and posting opinions and anecdotes about their tipping experiences. As you can imagine, the debate has been lively and passionate.

A criticism raised against tipping is that it usually correlates with employees being paid very low wages, leaving them to fend for themselves to make much needed extra money. The meritocratic logic in support of tipping says that good employees will be rewarded for their work and earn a lot from tips, and that bad employees will be incentivized to work harder to earn more in tips.

Those in favor of tipping would argue that it encourages good service because employees are forced to earn tips. It also teaches customers to evaluate their service and reward good service when they get it. Common sense suggests this should promote good service. The counter-argument is that employees are completely at the mercy of unpredictable customers and their varied moods. A customer who might have had a particularly glum day, and is in a bad mood (or who is just a jerk), might decide not to give a tip, whether or not they were actually provided good service.