The idea of a national $9-per-hour minimum wage has spurred debate in the restaurant industry among workers trying to make a living and operators worried that higher labor costs could put more pressure on profit. Many chains are staying mum on the subject, as Nation’s Restaurant News reported, while one analyst is predicting which ones would feel the biggest pinch.

In general, chains with most of their units in higher-wage labor markets are likely to feel less pain from an increase in minimum wage than those concentrated largely in lower-wage states, says Sharon Zackfia of William Blair. “We estimate the overall unit-level labor pressure resulting from a minimum-wage hike could range from as high as roughly 21 percent for Sonic to as low as 14 percent for BJ’s [Restaurants], assuming a $9 federal minimum wage,” she wrote in a research note.

Both sides of the debate can look at past increases to shore up their arguments. (read more…)

Approaching 400,000 views, “Fast Casual Nation,” a Web documentary series that highlights innovative concepts and restaurants in the fast-casual segment, is wrapping up its first, 10-episode season. Host Paul Barron, who was first to identify the restaurant segment with his launch of FastCasual.com in the mid 1990s, has traveled to cities interviewing personalities in this quickly growing sector. We’re giving you a behind-the-scenes look into what makes these brands fast-casual innovators.

Burger art

Taking a standard concept and turning it into something more cutting edge is something Josh Spiegelman and Lynn Gorfinkle, owners of Roam Artisan Burgers in San Francisco, do very well. Roam offers sustainable patties, including 100% grass-fed beef, elk, bison and venison. Though the restaurant offers customization, the menu includes signature combinations, such as Sunny Side, a burger topped with an organic egg, and French and Fries, which is topped with truffle Parmesan fries. Roam makes its own soda and milkshakes: Salted caramel, mint chip and seasonal flavors such as Mexican chocolate are customer favorites. (read more…)

In the weeks since news broke that frozen burgers and other beef meals at U.K. supermarkets were found to contain horse DNA, the scandal has spread from the original processing plants in Ireland to include food from major companies including Nestle.

For many Americans, the thought of eating horse is as unthinkable as serving up the family pet on a plate. It’s the same for many in Britain, where meals labeled as beef likely would have languished on shelves if the packages advertised horse. But for others in Europe, horse meat is a delicacy that’s in high demand, including at Khublai Khans Mongolian Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, as shown in this Deadline News video.

The scandal has proved positive for traditional butchers in the U.K., as consumers used to spending a significant portion of their food budget on processed and prepared meals turn to them in search of transparency and a safer beef source, according to CCTV International. (read more…)

The Restaurant Social Media Index top 10 brand rankings from the fourth quarter are in, and there’s been quite an unexpected shift. Tracking more than 4,000 brands, 41 million U.S. consumers and more than 60,000 industry terms in 179,561 locations, the RSMI has become the most comprehensive index of its kind and continues to become increasingly competitive. Restaurant and food brands are stepping up on social and dishing out innovative strategies of all kinds to connect to consumers.

The top 10 restaurant brands

10. Taco Bell remains a consistent brand in the RSMI and continues to show improvement. The fast food brand is up from No. 14 in Q3. The last time Taco Bell was in the Top 10 was in Q2 2012 at No. 8.

9. Although Red Mango is one of the smallest concepts in the Top 10, the brand’s interesting leadership with Dan Kim, who also plays the role of master tweeter, is fun, fresh and punchy. (read more…)

Assortment of winesWine is everywhere these days, from high-end cellars to Walgreen’s shelves, but the growing ubiquity isn’t necessarily translating into higher consumption, according to Nielsen data. Wine sales volume increased 1.5% last year compared to a 4% rise in 2011, Advertising Age reported, while beer and liquor saw 2% increases.

Brewers reversed a 0.8% decline the year before and saw 44% growth of beer sales at bars and restaurants, most of it coming from new and improved brews. During the same period, wine sales at the same venues rose 32%, and there seemed to be a shortage of hot new wines to take the place of formerly uber-popular malbecs and moscatos, Nielsen Vice President Danny Brager told AdAge.

But just because beer may be catching up on the innovation front, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing new under the sun when it comes to wine. And there’s also the adage that everything old is new again — it fits when it comes to the Alois Lageder wines from Italy’s Alto-Adige region, which the family make using biodynamic techniques perfected in the 1920s, as The Miami Herald reported. (read more…)