Restaurant Development & Design

JAN-FEB 2019

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3 6 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 9 The State of Casual Dining Last year, however, led by Dine Brands CEO Stephen Joyce and Applebee's president John Cywinski, the brand gave itself a hug and got back to basics in its own neighborhood, focusing again on offering an affordable, approachable, family-friendly, middle- America bar-and-grill experience. Relying heavily on data analysis to guide its efforts, the chain has reintroduced top-selling limited time offers, combo meals and traffic-building deals such as all-you-can-eat riblets and chicken tenders. Last September, Applebee's announced a new national delivery partnership with DoorDash and, just in time for the holidays, launched a new catering program as part of its efforts to boost off-premise sales. It is also better leveraging the bar, with highly successful monthly drink promotions, including the Dollarita, DOLLAR JOLLY, $2 Dilly Dilly (Bud Lite) and Dollar L.I.T. (Long Island iced tea). Indeed, the focus on the bar in casual-dining operations is greater than ever, with many in the segment adding extensive tap beer programs and with a focus on microbrews. "The focus on adult beverages has been a big success in this segment," Tristano says. "They have the space and the ability to offer 20, 30, 50 different types of beer, for example, tapping into the popularity of local and microbrews. A lot of the polished-casual brands are doing more with wine programs. Many of these brands have been able to cre- ate a really nice experience, a solid draw for guests and at a high profit margin that takes them from happy hour into late night." The one caveat: With so many casual-dining operators now touting those same types of bar experiences, lack of differentiation is again becom- ing an issue. "Yard House and Buffalo Wild Wings were unique when they came out, but as they've grown and as others in casual and polished-casual dining have learned from them, they're not all that unique anymore. Everyone's Crafthouse "It seems everyone in the industry has been trying to rush to fast casual, but I think that they're overlooking casual dining. There are still a lot of people out there who want to go to a restaurant, sit, relax, be waited on, and have a good time with friends and family," says Evan Matz, founder and CEO of Crafthouse Franchising LLC. "Crafthouse fits that need. It's a social gathering place as well as a place for corporate events and private functions." Matz founded Crafthouse in 2017 and quickly grew it to three units in Vir- ginia. But he's just getting started. Initially targeting North Carolina, Michigan, Virginia and Maryland, the brand plans to develop 100 new franchised locations over the next 5 years. Seeking to buck the sameness and lack of differentiation that has long plagued casual, bar-and-grill-style chains, Crafthouse focuses its menus sharply on local specialties and on fresh, from-scratch preparation. As the company gears up for franchising, it has landed on an ideal end-cap or in-line unit size of 4,000 square feet plus generous outdoor patio space. Freestanding buildings will be closer to 5,000 square feet. Matz describes the brand's interior decor and ambiance as rustic and warm, with stone and wood finishes and a mix of booths and high-top tables. Crafthouse bars are large, with roughly 50 beers on tap and another 100 to 150 available in cans and bottles as well as a selection of 40 to 50 scotches, bour- bons and whiskies. In addition to local, he says, the company is keeping a sharp focus on quality. We don't need to have every beer in the world and a 15-page menu," Matz says. "We're more interested in quality and in differentiating ourselves with lo- cal. We'll be listening very closely to our customers and to our franchisees as we grow to make sure we get it right." Concept: Casual bar and grill HQ: Fairfax, Va. Founded: 2017 Units: 3 With 3 units open in Virginia, Crafthouse has secured $250 million in funding and plans to develop 100 franchised units over the next 5 years. Image courtesy of Crafthouse

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