News – “Applebee’s is betting on stress eaters, and it’s paying off”

cnn.com – New York (CNN Business)Applebee’s knows you’re stressed, and it wants to make you feel better with cheap alcohol and lots of food.

That’s been the brand’s strategy since John Cywinski took over as its president in March of last year. And it’s working: Applebee’s US same-store sales increased 7.7% in the third quarter of this year, setting a 14-year record.
While fast food brands are ditching artificial ingredients and offering healthier alternatives, Applebee’s has embraced comfort food for a banner year.
“Americans are stressed,” Cywinski told CNN Business.
“When stressed, they tend to go to comfort food … and we’re pretty darn good at comfort food,” he said. “That’s the role we play.”
“We look at ourselves as America’s kitchen table,” he said, noting that with about 1,800 locations, most Americans are within driving distance of a restaurant. “We’re that affordable indulgence.”

What went wrong

A few years ago, Applebee’s was struggling. The brand started selling seared and grilled itemsand serving smaller portions to chase a more health-conscious consumer.
With these initiatives, the brand was targeting just a small segment of their customers, the “up-and-coming guest,” said Brian Vaccaro, a restaurant analyst with Raymond James.
“They tried to pursue a customer who wasn’t going to Applebee’s anyway,” said Stephen Anderson, a senior equity research analyst covering restaurants at Maxim Group. The strategy flopped,and sales declined.

Applebee's wants you to eat good in the neighborhood. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Applebee’s customers have an average household income of $70,000, the company said.
About 30% of its customers are Millennials, but it also sells to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. And it serves more families and black and Hispanic customers than its peers.
The brand struggled because it “took its eye off its core guest and lost sight of who Applebee’s is, and what Applebee’s stands for,” Cywinski said.

Cheap drinks and comfort food

To get Applebee’s back on track, Cywinski hired a new leadership team. He convinced franchisees to contribute toward Applebee’s advertising fund. He rolled out drink promotion after drink promotion: Dollaritas, Dollar Zombies and, most recently, $2 Bud Lights.

Alcohol accounts for about 15% of Applebee’s business, Cywinski said. It’s important because stressed out customers may want a drink with dinner. And when people come to drink, they often order food.

 

When it comes to meals, Applebee’s is focusing on “abundant value,” Cywinski said. That means all-you-can-eat riblets and chicken tenders and creamy pasta dishes.

Leer’s been telling us since episode 8 of the Just Grubbin show that Applebees is officially “back” and it wasn’t the food he was talking about…they are basically giving liquor away and if there’s one way to get an american consumer into your establishment it’s to offer up dollar booze.

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