Entries in Chain Restaurants (4)


Applebee's Announces $200M Investment to Update Restaurants

Emile Wamsteker/Bloomberg via Getty Images(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) -- It’s out with the old and in with the new at your neighborhood bar and grill. Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar is set to start re-branding its image.

First you'll see new ads. There will also be a revised menu. The company said Monday it’s part of a nearly $200 million investment to update its restaurants, changes that will include new signage and storefronts, the implementation of flat-screen televisions, and other interior upgrades.

As part of those changes, Applebee’s says it's ditching its classic stained glass light fixtures and some of the chachkies that patrons have come to expect since the restaurant chain first came onto the scene in the 1980s.

Applebee's is the largest fast-casual restaurant chain in the world with more than 1,800 locations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


The Best Chain Restaurants in the US

Emile Wamteker/Bloomberg News(NEW YORK) -- Travelers often scoff at chain restaurants, preferring instead to seek out local flavor and unique dining experiences in the cities they visit.

[See Travelers’ Picks for the Best Restaurants in the U.S.]

But if you’ve ever been on the road, far from home and lonely, there’s a good chance you’ve come across a chain and breathed a sigh of relief. Then you parked your car in the vast lot and waited for your table while sipping a frozen daiquiri and admiring the bartender’s flare.

You’re not alone. Hey, there’s a reason there’s a Red Lobster (and a Bubba Gump Shrimp and an Applebee’s) in Times Square. And who could forget the Olive Garden review that went viral?

Consumer Reports knows we Americans love our chain restaurants. It also knows not all chains are created equal. And that’s why they asked 47,500 diners to rank 102 of the nation’s most popular eateries. Nine ranked especially well, according to Consumer Report’s criteria: taste, value, service, mood, noise, menu, and cleanliness.

  • Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano
  • Black Angus Steakhouse
  • Bob Evans
  • Bravo Cucina Italiana
  • First Watch
  • J. Alexander’s
  • Le Peep
  • Elmer’s
  • Fatz Eatz & Drinkz

If you’re not familiar with all of these, here’s how a few more big-name chains fared:

Most healthful dishes: First Watch and Legal Seafood

Worst tippers (highest percentage below 15 percent):
Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Cheddar’s, Country Kitchen, Don Pablo’s, El Torito, Joe’s Crab Shack, Logan’s Roadhouse, Lone Star Steakhouse, McGrath’s, Shari’s and Shoney’s.

Best tippers (tips 20 percent of more): The Capital Grille and Morton’s.

Best mood (ambiance):  McCormick & Schmick’s, Ruth’s Chris, Chart House, Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy and Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano.

Lowest-rated family restaurants: Friendly’s and Waffle House.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Restaurants: Big Chains Struggle to Fill Seats

Mike Mergen/Bloomberg News(WASHINGTON) -- Struggling to re-invent themselves, middle-market restaurants are tweaking menus, cutting prices and sprucing up decor. Even successful chains like Olive Garden are undergoing makeovers. Their goal: to win back customers shell-shocked by recession, reluctant to spend money or lost to new competitors.

"Starting in the 1980s, Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse pretty much defined casual dining," explains Christopher Muller, dean of Boston University's School of Hospitality. "They found a niche in between the pomp of 'fine dining' and what you'd expect to get at a singles bar like T.G.I. Fridays. The market revolved around them." When it came to family-friendly Italian restaurants, Olive Garden, he says, "owned the market."

They still do. With 763 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, and with sales of $3.49 billion, Olive Garden is five times bigger than its next-biggest Italian chain competitor. But sales, growing modestly, have slowed, and management is taking steps to freshen-up a product some customers say has become tired and overpriced.

An Olive Garden spokesman says the chain is taking, "initiatives to enhance the overall guest experience" including development of a new menu with "greater affordability" and the remodeling of more than 400 restaurants.

Dennis Lombardi, an expert on restaurant turnarounds and consultant with WD Partners in Ohio, says the recession hit chains like Olive Garden hard -- or rather, it hit their customers. Baby Boomers in particular, he notes, are still reeling, having seen their retirement savings reduced or erased. They're reluctant to spend, and when they do spend, they’re sensitive to value.

The consumer confidence index remains low at 64 as of Dec. 27. "It needs to be at 90 or above," he says, "for the restaurant business to do well."

Overall the U.S. added 100,000 restaurants in the decade before the recession hit in 2008. Analysts believe about 20,000 need to close to bring supply and demand back into balance.

So chains are cutting prices. Chris Muller says Olive Garden is trying to win back the price-sensitive diner with new offerings -- for example, a $12.95 three-course meal.

Portion size, he says, had always been part of the chain's appeal: "With all-you-can-eat salads and bread sticks, you could go there and take food home with you -- lunch for the next day." But with more consumers worried about healthful eating and their weight, big portions are no longer such a draw. "Markets change," he said.

Lombardi compares restaurant brands to relationships: "They're either getting better or they're getting worse -- they're never stable. The changes may be too small to be noticed right away."

A host of factors have to be tweaked constantly to keep the appeal contemporary and competitive -- menu offerings, service, price, decor. If management allows those to get out of balance, he warns, a restaurant chain "starts to teeter, like a plate spinning on a stick." The brand gets out of kilter. And the more out of kilter it gets, the harder it is to fix.

An example of a once-teetering chain, Lombardi cites Max & Erma's, which today has 73 locations in the Midwest, down from more than 100 before the recession. "They were a regional version of T.G.I. Friday's and other 'fern bars' of the '70s and '80s," he says. Their formula, in his words, was "campy interiors, burgers and booze."

"They didn't evolve their brand or change with the consumer," he added.

The chain suffered double-digit sales declines before being acquired in 2010 by American Blue Ribbon Holdings, which has undertaken a much-needed makeover.

Hazem Ouf, CEO of American Blue Ribbon Holdings, says that in November the chain unveiled a 'next-generation' store, the prototype for its future restaurants, featuring an expanded list of locally-brewed craft beers. "It's all about value," says Ouf. To that end, the chain has added a three-course meal priced under $10.

Chains that lose favor with the eating-out public may go the way of Bennigans and Burger Chef. Last year, Friendly's, Chevys, Sbarro and Perkins filed for bankruptcy, though they still have stores operating.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Wendy’s to Overtake Burger King in Market Share

Mario Tama/Getty Images(NEW YORK) –- Fast-food chain Wendy’s is on pace to surpass rival Burger King, becoming the second largest fast-food burger chain in the U.S., according to a recent report from Janney Capital Markets.

“We expect Wendy’s to overtake privately held Burger King for the No. 2 market-share position within the limited-service hamburger sector, perhaps as soon as this year,” Mark Kalinowski, an analyst at Janney Capital Markets wrote in his report, according to the Orange County Register.

This increased market share can most likely be attributed to Wendy’s focus on premium foods and the remodeling of its restaurants, Kalinowski told the Register. This focus on premium foods, such as the Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy Cheeseburgers, which were introduced this year,  has allowed Wendy’s to rebrand itself as “a cut above” rivals, rather than “a McDonald’s clone,” Kalinowski told the Register.

The rivals have been close before in the burger wars. According to Technomic, a market research firm in Chicago, in 2010 Burger King held a 13.3 percent market share while Wendy’s was third with 12.8 percent share. If Wendy’s does surpass Burger King, it would be a first for the chain.

Both chains still have a long way to go to catch up to industry leader McDonald’s, which currently holds 49.5 percent of the market.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio