Restaurant Development & Design

JAN-FEB 2019

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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Tristano's view, has been casual-dining operators' various attempts to be what they're not and/or deliver what they're not equipped to deliver. For instance, as the fast-casuals ate their lunch in the post-Great Recession years, a lot of casual-dining operators "thought it would be a good idea to follow that herd and create fast-casual versions of their brands," Tristano says. "In most cases, that was a tremendous failure. A prime example is Red Robin with Burger Works." After five years of failing to gain traction, Red Robin pulled the plug on its fast-casual experiment in 2016. Of the 12 units that had been developed, 9 were shuttered and 3 were rebranded as Red Robin Express units, offering smaller menus and faster service than the full-service format but ditching the fast-casual build-your-own-burger element. One of those, in downtown Chicago, was converted in late 2017 to a delivery-only test unit. Meanwhile, Red Robin's core business continues to struggle as it, like many of its peers, grapples with how to meet growing demand for takeout and delivery without compromising the in-store expe- rience. After significant restructuring the past couple of years, and what looked like positive momentum beginning to take hold in its 2017 fiscal year, the chain's comp-store sales declined in each of the first three quarters of 2018. CEO Denny Marie Post admitted to analysts and investors that the in-store experi- ence, particularly during peak dining hours, suffered at the hands of grow- ing off-premise demand. She said the company is now renewing its focus on service fundamentals while aggressively marketing the brand's affordability, value and creative burger options. Applebee's, too, stumbled mightily when it made moves to reposition itself as something it isn't and never has been — a hip, cool concept targeted at Millennials. The chain added more expensive, foodie-oriented menu items and began marketing Applebee's bar as a modern and sophisticated happy hour and late night hangout spot. In 2016, it touted hand-cut steaks and installed wood-fired grills in all 2,000-plus loca- tions as part of its quest to woo younger, more food-savvy and affluent guests. For all of its effort and investment, Applebee's got little more than lost sales thanks to confusion among core cus- tomer groups and a collective eye rolling from the very customers it was trying so hard to attract. The chain closed more than 100 units in 2017, its parent com- pany's stock hit its lowest point in nearly a decade and the slump continued.

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