Major U.S. equity indexes were mixed for the day as investors sorted through economic data and concerns over the stocks of retailers. Today, the Dow gained 45 points, with 15 of 30 components advancing; the S&P 500 Index fell 2 points; and the Nasdaq was 31 points lower. Advancers led decliners by more than 10 to 9 on the NYSE, while decliners led advancers by 6 to 5 on the Nasdaq. The prices of 10-year Treasuries weakened while the prices of 30-year Treasuries strengthened. Gold futures gained $1.30 to close at $1,329.30 an ounce. The price of crude oil added $0.59 to settle at $49.89 a barrel.

In other business news:

  • Initial jobless claims in the period running from September 3 to September 10 were 284,000, down from 298,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said. Claims had surged at the end of August to a two-and-a-half year high after Hurricane Harvey puts lots of people in the Houston metropolis out of work. Claims in Florida could surge in the next week following Hurricane Irma, analysts said. New claims count people who apply for unemployment benefits after losing their jobs, those who are unable to work temporarily for no fault of their own.
  • The consumer price index (CPI), or cost of living, surged 0.4% last month to mark the biggest increase since January. Economists had forecast a 0.3% increase. Rents and gas prices increased, while medical care costs grew at the slowest rate since 1965. The CPI increase in August lifted the yearly increase in inflation to 1.9%, just below the Federal Reserve’s 2% target. The so-called core index, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, edged up 0.2% in August, but the 12-month core growth rate remained at 1.7% for the fourth month in a row.
  • The Bank of England held its benchmark interest rate steady at 0.25% following its September policy meeting, but the rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee said in a statement that a majority of officials on the nine-member panel believe borrowing costs will soon need to rise, for the first time in the U.K. in almost a decade, to bring annual inflation back to its 2% goal. The pound rallied against the dollar and euro.
  • In the wake of weaker-than-expected Chinese economic data, the prices of copper and other base metals declined in London trading. Chinese industrial production and urban development data fell short of consensus expectations. Monthly industrial production numbers for August showed the slowest increase since December, and fixed-asset investments grew at their lowest rate since December 1999. Traders awaited Chinese monetary supply and credit data due out before the end of the week.

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The restaurant business is notoriously tricky. Squeezing a profit out of a plate of food served to a fickle customer base with tastes and preferences that change with each fad can bring even the most skilled, creative chef and dedicated service staff to their knees. News reports underline the challenges restaurateurs face.

  • In October, some Dunkin’ Donuts shops will cut certain sandwich products, muffins and bagels, bakery items, and caramel flavor shots (of all things) from its menu to speed up operations. Customers think the current menu is “too complex and confusing,” the company said. In my neck of the woods, many Dunkin’ Donuts share space with gas-stations and mini-marts. At busy times, lines of car drivers waiting to fill their stomachs are indistinguishable from lines of cars waiting to fill gas tanks. Here’s hoping simpler menus streamline my trips to the pumps.
  • Chili’s Grill & Bar also is reducing menu items. Later this month, about 40% of menu items will disappear in order to feature burgers, ribs, and fajitas more prominently. Chili’s current menu unfolds like a U.S. national road map to reveal about 125 appetizers, entrees, desserts, cocktails, and add-ons. Chili’s says it is done chasing consumer trends. Turning away from what the consumer wants seems counter intuitive, but what do I know?
  • DineEquity Inc. is cutting the number of Applebee’s and International House of Pancakes (IHOP) shops, as casual-dining restaurants have struggled because customers are gravitating toward quick-service restaurants. According to USA Today, DineEquity plans to close about 135 Applebee’s restaurants and 25 IHOPs while opening 125 new Applebee’s and IHOPs, mostly abroad, where presumably the market segments they are suited to are still viable targets.

Despite these changes, customers are still spending money to go out to eat. Bankrate reports that 29% of millennials (defined as those as being born from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s or early-2000s) say they buy brewed coffee at least three time each week, 51% go to a bar at least once a week, and 54% eat out at least three times a week.

How does the restaurateur assure that the doorway these diners pass through leads to their kitchens? Well, that is the same question creative chefs and dedicated service staffs have asked themselves for hundreds of years. I guess this is another instance where the old saying still applies: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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