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Here's How Applebee's is Reinventing Itself

On Monday, Applebee’s, one of the biggest casual dining restaurant chains in the U.S., announced strategies to “recapture America’s neighborhoods,” unveiling new wood-fired grills at almost 2,000 of its stateside locations as well as certified USDA Choice steaks hand-cut in-house as the signature item of a streamlined menu that focuses on flavor, freshness, and quality.

The grills represent an investment of over $75 million by Applebee’s franchisees, including purchase and installation, a combined 60,000 hours of training for meat cutters, and an innovative marketing campaign to support the new business venture.

"We're in the midst of a transformation at Applebee's, and we are recommitting ourselves to every aspect of the guest experience," said chairman and CEO of Applebee's parent company, DineEquity, Inc. DIN, and president of Applebee's Julia Stewart. "Food is, of course, central to that, and in talking to guests, we discovered that a platform built on 'USDA Choice,' 'hand-cut in-house' and 'wood-fired' was not only powerful but had the potential to differentiate us in a noisy and crowded market."

Added Ms. Stewart:  "This goes far beyond a few new menu items or a limited-time offer. This is the biggest investment in culinary excellence in the company's history – transforming the menu, instilling pride in franchisee team members, delighting current guests and giving others a reason to come back."

Beginning today, the menu at Applebee’s will now include the above mentioned hand-cut steaks, bone-in pork shops, cedar-grilled salmon, and wood-fired grilled chicken breast. Meats and vegetables prepared on these new grills will also be featured in other menu item favorites.

In the most recent quarter, Applebee’s saw domestic system-wide comps decline 3.7% due to lack of adequate initiatives to boost sales, so this menu and kitchen update may just be what the company needs, as it continues to face stiff competition from fast-casual and quick service restaurants like Shake Shack, Inc. SHAK.

Even with a sound plan and management confidence, only time will tell of this initiative will pay off. Applebee’s past strategies have failed to boost sales in recent years, and rebranding a business is difficult in any industry, especially the restaurant space.

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