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October 04, 1990|CHARLES PERRY

The Pleasure Is Theirs

Once upon a time, people were afraid to go to fancy restaurants because they might show their lack of manners. There's nothing to worry about these days, though: Top-drawer restaurants now think of etiquette as a motif, sort of like Polynesian Night. To announce a special menu they send their "A" list customers formal invitations "requesting the pleasure of your company on Friday, the fifth of October, Nineteen Hundred and Ninety at eight o'clock in the evening," with a bold note in the lower right hand corner spelling out how pleasurable your company is going to be: Sixty-five Dollars.

We're not going to say anything about the restaurants that advertise "Complimentary Valet Parking, $2.50," because compliments are cheap. Well under $2.50, anyway.

A Surprise in Every Package

A company called Popcorn's Pac-N-Ship is promoting the use of popcorn as a cushioning material in packing. Unlike the familiar "plastic peanuts," proprietor Les Netterstrom points out, popcorn can be recycled as feed for birds and squirrels or used to mulch plants. However, a UPS spokesman observes that popcorn isn't a new packing material. It was widely used in the pre-ecology '50s but was abandoned for three reasons: It absorbs water, doesn't spring back when crushed, and tends to recycle itself even before delivery is made. The rodent and insect problems in store rooms were immense. For another popcorn problem, see H22.

Observe the Jaws

In a courageous move, the Red Lobster restaurant chain has become the national corporate sponsor of "Sharks: Fact and Fantasy," a museum exhibit consisting of a walk-through habitat with 17 life-size models of sharks.

Question No. 1: Does This Stuff Contain Caffeine? Does It? Does It?

Celestial Seasonings, the source of all those herbal teas with tender philosophical sentiments printed on the package, now offers a toll-free hot line dispensing nutritional information and consumer tips about tea. The number is 1-800-544-TEAS. Call any time at all--that's a 24-hour hot line.

Is American Food Awful?

A group called International Research Associates recently asked consumers in various countries whether in their opinion Americans have good food. The people who were most convinced we don't were the Japanese (more than 50%, just edging out the French). The country that was most positive about American food turned out to be India, where only 5% said our food was bad, but on the other hand 60% of the Indians said they didn't know. Probably the only American food foreigners are aware of, the report notes, is fast food.

Don't Bother About Accepting Those Japanese Cards, Though

Arby's plans to be the first fast-food chain to accept credit cards nation-wide. All the restaurants directly owned by the company will take plastic and a lot of the franchises (which account for 90% of all Arby's) are expected to do the same. The attraction: People spend 40%-60% more when they can charge it. The problem, of course, was getting credit card approval time (typically 20-45 seconds) up to fast-food speed (one second).

Chernobyl Milk, Sort Of

Here's the latest: a frozen milk concentrate that can be reconstituted like frozen orange juice, just mix with three cups of water. Technically it's a sort of filled milk, with oil substituted for butterfat, but it has a fresh milk flavor, says inventor George Bookwalter (plus, of course, no saturated fat). Bookwalter originally devised it at the request of international aid officials helping out at Chernobyl. And they say nothing good ever comes of a nuclear disaster.

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