PF Chang’s offering free sushi, no purchase necessary

P.F. Chang’s is offering free sushi for dine-in guests, and you don’t even have to purchase anything. Free Sushi Day is Thursday, Oct. 26. Guests just need to mention the promotion to their server to take advantage of the offer of one …

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Google drones will drop burritos into people’s yards in Australia

Drones bearing piping hot burritos are about to start swooping down on the Australian countryside.

At least that’s the plan for Google affiliate Project Wing, which on Tuesday announced new tests of its drone delivery service with two Australian businesses, a Mexican taqueria chain and a drugstore company.

It’s not the first time the Project Wing team has used drones to send people burritos. It did that last year with Chipotle at Virginia Tech University, but that was “in an open field, not to a specific address or location,” said James Ryan Burgess, one of Project Wing’s managers.

The Australian tests are taking place in a rural community near Canberra, the national capital, where residents “face a 40-minute round trip in the car for almost anything, whether it’s a carton of milk, veggies for dinner, or a cup of coffee,” Burgess said in a company blog post.

Flying goods right into their yards is a great deal more complicated than navigating a field at Virginia Tech.

“With each delivery, we encounter a new yard space with its own layout of trees, sheds, fences, and power lines,” Burgess wrote.

The issues range from programming the devices to maneuver safely around obstacles like parked cars or outdoor furniture to following customers’ wishes to set down perishable food items close to their kitchens.

By bringing in Mexican food chain Guzman y Gomez and drugstore company Chemist Warehouse, Project Wing is adding to the challenges.

Its ordering and delivery system will need to handle hot food from Guzman y Gomez and retail goods of all different shapes and sizes from Chemist Warehouse’s extensive catalog of products.

“The information we gather from both of these test partners will help us build a system so that merchants of all kinds can focus on what they’re good at — like making food or helping people feel healthier — rather than being distracted by complex delivery logistics,” Burgess said.

Project Wing is the drone delivery unit working out of X, Google parent Alphabet’s so-called “moonshot factory” that explores emerging technologies.

Its endeavors in Australia are the latest move in the drone delivery race heating up among big brands.

Last year, Domino’s announced it would start using the devices to drop pizza off to customers in New Zealand. Amazon pulled off its first drone delivery in the U.K. last December with an Amazon Fire device and a bag of popcorn. And innovative drone initiatives are also in the works in Rwanda, Tanzania and Reykjavik in Iceland.

— Matt McFarland contributed to this report.

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Pizza Hut delivery is getting hotter … 15 degrees hotter

The next Pizza Hut pizza that arrives at your door should be hotter — up to 15 degrees hotter.

That’s the promise the chain made on Tuesday when it announced a brand-new delivery system that will keep its pizzas piping hot in transit.

How? With a pouch made of high-tech insulation and a ” re-engineered pizza box.”

Why? Because people love hot pizza.

“What consumers want more than anything else is a hot pizza,” said Zipporah Allen, vice president of marketing at Pizza Hut.

There’s more. Customers who order a pie between now and the end of October — and want to feel as toasty as a hot pizza — will be entered to win a “Pizza Parka” made out of the sames materials used to make Pizza Hut’s new delivery pouch.

The company said it has spent more than two years examining the “delivery ecosystem,” which includes the pizza box, the pizza box pouch and delivery from the locations.

This is not the first upgrade it’s made to that ecosystem.

Over the summer, the pizza purveyor said it planned to hire 14,000 new drivers this year for permanent positions. Nearly 7,000 have been hired so far, the company said. It’s also put into place a new algorithm designed to improve delivery service from Pizza Hut’s 6,300 locations.

At the beginning of the year, the chain said it would add up to 11,000 permanent pizza makers, delivery drivers, managers and servers in the U.S. ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.

Pizza Hut isn’t the only one upping its delivery game. Domino’s Pizza partnered with Ford in August to start testing out self-driving delivery cars, each of which comes equipped with an oven.

Pizza Hut is owned by Yum! Brands, which is also the parent company of KFC and Taco Bell.

Though Yum! is doing well — its stock has spiked by more than 20% this year — Pizza Hut is a weak link. The brand’s same-store sales fell by 3% in the first quarter of 2017 and 1% in the second.

In May, Yum! entered into a $130 million transformation agreement with Pizza Hut franchisees to help boost the brand.

At Taco Bell and KFC, same-store sales went up in both quarters.

— CNNMoney’s Julia Horowitz contributed to this story.

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Delray Beach woman put glass in her food to get free meals at restaurants, police say

A Delray Beach woman accused of putting shards of glass in her food to get out of paying for meals at restaurants has been arrested.Kaitlyn Murphy, 31, was arrested Tuesday by Stuart police. She faces a charge of scheme to defraud.Police said Murphy vi…

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Starbucks shuts down its online store

Starbucks is closing its online store to focus on its thousands of locations and its popular app. But some loyal online customers are inconsolable.

The online store sold coffee lovers’ essentials like blends, teas, mugs, tumblers, pressers and espresso machines, but Starbucks announced in August that it planned to shut it down on Oct. 1. The site held a 50% off clearance sale leading up to the closure.

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson described a “seismic shift” in the retail world on a July investors’ call. The decision is part of the company’s effort to focus on customer experiences in stores and purchases through its growing mobile app — which accounts for 30% of all transactions in the U.S.

The company is “doubling down” on its mobile app and rewards program, said spokesperson Maggie Jantzen.

“Integration of these digital and mobile customer connections into our store experience is among the highest priorities for us,” she said.

Coffee and company-branded merchandise is still available in stores, Starbucks wrote in a note on its website. However, it said it could not “guarantee availability of any product in stores.

“Products are also still available on the app, in grocery stores and through company partners such as Amazon.

But Starbucks is facing some blowback on social media for going offline. “Where will I buy my pods and mocha powder?” one customer asked on Twitter.

The company also said it would discontinue selling syrups and sauces that people use to make coffee at home, leading one customer to say she was “inconsolable” that she couldn’t buy vanilla syrup anymore.

“My world is ending,” another said on Twitter after she found out that Starbucks was ending peach syrup.

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Walmart’s Jet launches private label brand for Millennials

Cost conscious consumers in the ‘burbs can already buy cheaper private label products from Walmart under the names Great Value and Sam’s Choice. There’s even a Walmart-branded Dr Pepper soda clone called Dr. Thunder.

But the retail giant’s unit is getting ready to roll out its own brand of goods for young adults in big cities looking to save some money, too. Jet announced a new brand called Uniquely J on Friday.

The Walmart subsidiary said Uniquely J will target “Millennial metro consumers.”

Some of the first items to be launched include food and beverage staples like coffee and olive oil. Household products such as laundry detergent and paper towels will also be available. Jet did not disclose how much any of these products would cost.

But private label goods tend to be less expensive versions of top brand names. Other big retail chains, such as Kroger, Costco, Wegmans and Trader Joe’s already have thriving private label businesses. Walmart does, too.

So does Whole Foods, which is now a unit of Amazon.

According to a recent report from research site One Click Retail, Amazon has had early success getting customers who use its Prime Pantry, Prime Now and Amazon Fresh services to buy private label products from Whole Foods online.

But Jet is stressing that consumers aren’t just looking for lower prices. They also want items that look cool. Jet said it is paying particularly close attention to the design on the packaging.

A box of single serve coffee pods has an illustration of a tiger on it that looks like it could easily be made into a tattoo.

And a carton of otherwise mundane snack bags features a cute little squirrel munching nuts with the words “Nom Nom” above it and a hipster-looking peanut vendor.

The new items from Jet are yet another sign of how Walmart is looking to shake up its image and portray itself as a company on the cutting edge of retail.

Walmart bought Jet last year for more than $3 billion and put Jet CEO and founder Marc Lore in charge of all of the company’s e-commerce operations.

Since then, Walmart has made several acquisitions to bolster its digital operations, specialty sites like Modcloth, Bonobos, Moosejaw and Shoebuy.

And just last week, Walmart announced it was testing a new delivery concept that would allow customers to order groceries online and have the drivers come in and put the food away. The drivers will access a one-time code on a smart lock made by August.

Jet also has a deal with another smart lock company, New York-based Latch, that allows urban consumers to get deliveries when they are not home.

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