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News Briefs for December 14, 2011

December 14, 2011

•A majority of consumers in the U.S. plan to decrease spending on dining out over the next six months, according to a recent Harris poll. Of the 2,499 adults surveyed in November, 61% of respondents said they were planning on spending less at restaurants. This marks a modest improvement on a poll done at the same time last year, where 66% of respondents indicated a planned decrease. In addition, 58% of respondents from this year’s poll indicated that they will cut back on entertainment costs.

•Darden Restaurants’ Seasons 52 concept will introduce a new winter menu and beverage alcohol offerings beginning December 20. Seasons 52 will add two new cocktails to its offering—the Ruby Red Grapefruit Martini (featuring Phillips Distilling’s Prairie Organic Vodka) and Skinny Chocolate Espresso Martini (featuring Voli Vanilla Espresso Vodka)—as well as feature two new wines—a Mauritson Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon and a Ramey Russian River Valley Chardonnay. The new winter menu will focus on fresh ingredients and root vegetables like butternut squash and golden beets, prepared through “natural cooking techniques” like wood-fire grilling and brick-oven cooking and roasting.

•Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) will launch a new Michelob Ultra line extension across the U.S. market next April called Ultra 19th Hole Light Tea and Lemonade. Described as a “light alcohol beverage,” the 4%-abv extension has 140 calories per can. The launch gives ABI the chance to compete in the fast-rising hard teas and lemonade category, which saw sales increase 54% in 2010, according to ABI.

•Google has acquired Clever Sense, a mobile application developer, for an undisclosed amount. Clever Sense created the “Alfred” app for iPhones, which launched in July and works like a digital butler by recommending restaurants and bars based on the user’s location, tastes and preferences. Since buying Clever Sense, Google has launched the Alfred app for Android smartphones.

•Dave & Buster’s, Inc., operator of restaurant, bar and arcade hybrid chain Dave & Buster’s, reported positive revenue gains for its third quarter ended October 30, 2011. The company’s third quarter revenues totaled $120.3 million, up 3.2% from $116.6 million in the year-earlier period. The increase was driven primarily by a $4.7 million rise in non-comparable store sales. Adjusted EBITDA increased 15.4% to $15.1 million this year, up from $13.1 million over the same quarter in 2010. There are more than 55 Dave & Buster’s locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, including two recent openings in Nashville, Tennessee and Braintree, Massachusetts. Another location is slated to open in Oklahoma City in 2012.

•LRI Holdings, Inc. posted increased net sales and a decreased net loss for its first quarter of fiscal 2012 ended October 30, but negative same-store sales due to weakened traffic and higher commodity costs at its Logan’s Roadhouse casual-dining chain. Although the company’s net sales rose 6% in the first quarter of 2012 over the same period in fiscal 2011, same-store sales were down 1.7%, compared with a 2.6% increase last year. The company plans to open 13 new Logan’s Roadhouse units in fiscal 2012. LRI Holdings currently operates 208 Logan’s Roadhouse restaurants and 26 franchised units nationwide.

•Upscale Chinese restaurant business Hakkasan Ltd. is expanding in the U.S. with four new outposts planned for New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Owned by Abu Dhabi-based firm Tasameem, Hakkasan is known for its high-end atmosphere and Asian-themed cuisine and cocktails. The new restaurants join Hakkasan’s first U.S. unit in Miami, as well as locations in London, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Mumbai. In addition to its namesake brand, Hakkasan also owns two London-based restaurants, Yauatcha and Sake No Hana, and has announced plans for a new, upscale Japanese concept next year.

Acker Merrall & Condit has begun a 12-day, 12-lot global wine auction to mark the holiday season. Known as the “Twelve Days of Christmas” gift selection, the sale includes a range of large, rare lots including 100 cases of 2006 Chateau Lafite (valued at $1.61 million), 15 18-liter bottles of Chateau Cheval Blanc with vintages from 1995–2009 ($1.73 million) and, on the final day, 250 cases of 2007 Bordeaux First Growths from Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux and Chateau Mouton Rothschild ($2.07 million).

•The Pennylvania House of Representatives’ Liquor Control Committee has approved a bill that would partially privatize the state’s wine and spirits control system. Under the proposal, beer distributors and grocery stores would be permitted to add wine to their offerings. State-owned liquor stores, however, would remain the sole off-premise retailers of spirits. The measure offers a slimmer alternative to a recently defeated privatization proposal, which aimed to shut down all state-owned wine and liquor stores and auction off their licenses to private retailers, including supermarkets and big-box chains. The reworked bill is currently awaiting a full House vote, which could take place by the end of January.


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