Some of the most popular casual restaurants in America are in crisis mode, struggling to fill seats amid increased competition from fast-casual chains.
The situation is particularly bleak for Applebee’s, with more than 1,800 locations nationwide.
Big changes are coming to Applebee’s
Founded in 1980 in Atlanta, the corporate website describes Applebee’s as a classic bar and grill restaurant chain with reasonable prices and quality service.
But many people — including company executives — say Applebee’s seems to have lost its way.
With a new leader at the helm since March, Applebee’s has reported a 7.9% drop in comparable same-restaurant sales in the first quarter of 2017.
On a May 2 earnings call, Applebee’s president John Cywinski said it’s his job to work with franchisees to repair the brand.
He said some of the chain’s recent sales erosion has been self-inflicted, and it will take time to fully implement a plan to win back the support of former customers.
Even as the transformation takes shape, 40 to 60 locations will be closed this year.
Where did Applebee’s go wrong?
When asked about the missteps that drove customers away from this iconic brand, Cywinski mentioned three primary mistakes made over the last 18 months:
ON BRAND IDENTITY: “There was an attempt to kind of reposition the brand in a somewhat aspirational manner around a modern bar and grill, and it’s very clear from the data that we may have alienated some core guests in the process.”
ON PRICE: “This is a brand that’s always had a strong heritage around value. We are an affordable indulgence, plain and simple — and a pretty accessible and approachable one. Candidly, I think we’ve taken our eye off our core value proposition over time.”
ON GUEST SATISFACTION: “There’s a lot of variability today across 1,800+ restaurants in terms of how we satisfy our guests. We have some exceptional partners and some outstanding restaurant results, but on the other end of that spectrum, we also have too much variability.”
This is what customers have been saying all along…
Interestingly, these are points some of Clark’s Facebook followers have made over the past few months. They say chain restaurants need to improve quality, value and service.
Debbie Dunn: Applebee’s has gone downhill. Bring back some of the old favorites.
Dawn Carew Rinkavage: Used to like Applebee’s but a few years ago their food became inedible. The food was what you’d expect at a fast food restaurant. Wasn’t worth the price!!! Haven’t been back since.
Norma Howarth: Our last trip to Applebee’s was abysmal. Yes, the wine was reasonably priced but the meal was awful. Will not return.
Expect more restaurant deals in 2017
Although the turnaround attempt is in its beginning stages, Applebee’s executives acknowledged that price is important to a large percentage of guests, so expect more deals going forward.
Here are the current promotions featured at Applebee’s:
- More options added to 2 for $20 menu (two entrees and one appetizer)
- Half-price apps every night after 10 p.m.
- Get $5 off first online or app order over $25
Casual restaurant chains also like to push gift cards, but Clark is recommending that you avoid buying restaurant and retail gift cards right now because so many locations are shutting down without notice.
Instead, just give cash — that way, you won’t have to worry about a store closing.