Growth of ‘Ghost’ Restaurant Concepts Proves Delivery-Only Trend Has Legs

April 14, 2017

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Whether you call them virtual restaurants, app-based establishments or headless concepts, it’s impossible to deny the recent rise of delivery-only food businesses around the country.

Restaurateurs are desperate to stem the profit-letting in their struggling sector (especially in the fast-casual world), and this new round of digital-driven establishments solves a variety of perennial industry problems. Add to this the growth of third-party delivery companies, consumers’ increasing comfort with mobile ordering and the recent explosion of meal-delivery kits like Blue Apron, and conditions seem ripe for this idea to blossom.

But first, what are these front-of-house-free restaurants?

A few examples:

David Chang, of Momofuku fame, is the A-list name behind delivery-only Ando in New York City. It offers “second-generation American food” like bibimbap, fried chicken and cheesesteak egg rolls. Orders are accepted via the restaurant’s website or app and third-party services like Seamless. Delivery expanded recently to include more of Manhattan. The business came about as a partnership with Expa, a startup lab with connections to Uber.

In Chicago, home to several virtual restaurants with more on the way, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises recently debuted Seaside, a delivery- and carryout-only operation that shares a kitchen with its Oyster Bah restaurant.

New York-based startup Green Summit Group expanded to Chicago, rolling out nine virtual operations out of one shared kitchen. Since its launch, Green Summit has raised $3.6 million and is anticipating $18 million in sales this year among all locations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Even traditional family-dining brands are taking note of these ghost restaurants.

“I’m fascinated by some of the virtual kitchens that don’t have a brand, that are only supported by a kitchen,” Denny Marie Post, CEO of Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews told Restaurant Business magazine earlier this year.

So, does the headless trend have legs?

In short, yes.

It appeals to the on-demand generation that’s grown up watching Netflix on the living-room couch. And it’s a good mesh with the gig economy that has given rise to third-party delivery services. States like Colorado, with legalized recreational marijuana, are expected to be primed for expansion of delivery-only concepts.

Even better for restaurant operators and innovators, these virtual establishments address nearly every foodservice-industry pain point.

They are cost-effective. Without the need to waste square footage on dine-in capabilities, these headless operations can run in a smaller footprint compared to traditional operators. There’s no need to hire a designer, account for parking space or spend money on decor and server uniforms (or servers for that matter). Rent is much cheaper for these locations since they can be built in warehouse space and in lower-rent districts. Lastly, the need to invest in costly renovations for service and seating areas is no longer required for these operators.

In Chicago, for example, Green Summit Group’s nine headless restaurants operate out of a shared 2,000-square-foot kitchen that was once home to a dine-in burger establishment.

These kitchens can also act as commissaries for food-truck or catering offshoots.

With so much attention focused on reducing operating costs and keeping labor expenses in check, this new approach will become very appealing to operators who leverage ordering and delivery services and avoid the dining-room distractions. By putting most of the focus on the food quality and preparation, the strategy is sure to deliver praise and strong reviews. Expect to see continued growth in the “ghost” restaurant space.


Joseph W. Rogers, a Founder of Waffle House, Dies at 97

March 8, 2017

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Joseph W. Rogers, a founder of Waffle House, the restaurant chain that achieved a kind of cultural renown with its no-frills menu, attentive service and round-the-clock hours, died on Friday in Atlanta. He was 97.

The company announced his death on Monday. Joe Rogers Jr., who succeeded his father as chief executive in the late 1970s and remains chairman and controlling owner, said the elder Mr. Rogers died after having dinner with his wife of 74 years, Ruth, earlier in the evening.

Mr. Rogers and an Atlanta neighbor, Tom Forkner, founded the restaurant in 1955. At the time, Mr. Rogers was a senior official at a restaurant chain called Toddle House. Mr. Forkner was a real estate investor. The two were eager to own a restaurant in their neighborhood.

Even after starting the restaurant, Mr. Rogers kept his day job at Toddle House and moved to Memphis when he was promoted to vice president. But in 1961, frustrated that the company did not allow employees to acquire an ownership stake, he returned to Atlanta and devoted himself to Waffle House full time.

“If Toddle House had offered ownership to the management team, there never would have been a Waffle House,” Joe Rogers Jr. said in a phone interview.

Mr. Rogers and Mr. Forkner expanded the chain to about 400 restaurants by the late 1970s. Today, there are nearly 1,900 Waffle Houses in the United States, primarily in the Southeast, often along interstate highways. Of these, about 80 percent are company-owned. The rest are franchises.

Borrowing much from his previous employer — down to the waffle recipe, his son said — Mr. Rogers made Waffle House into a success in part by paying meticulous attention to customers, a management philosophy he imparted throughout the chain.

“I’ve walked into restaurants where workers are on the telephone calling, looking for an elderly customer who hadn’t been in in a while,” Joe Jr. said. “So it was all about the whole personal experience, relationships.”

Famously open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the restaurants have been used by at least one Federal Emergency Management Agency official to help gauge the severity of natural disasters.

W. Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator in the Obama administration, applied what he called “the Waffle House test.” If the local restaurant remained open after a hurricane, for example, it meant that power and water were very likely available.

Waffle House, a privately held company, had sales of a little more than $1 billion in 2015, making it the country’s 47th largest restaurant chain, according to estimates by Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting firm in Chicago.

Darren Tristano, Technomic’s president, attributed the chain’s success to its relatively small selection of highly “craveable” offerings and its unpretentious diner-style layout.

Rivals like International House of Pancakes have significantly altered their menus over the years, he said, but Waffle House has remained relatively faithful to its original model, allowing generations of adults to dine in roughly the same setting they did as children.

“This is something that’s very nostalgic,” Mr. Tristano said. “They’re true to their brand.”

Waffle House did not escape the ferment of the civil rights era, and it was the target of discrimination lawsuits in later years.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2004, Mr. Rogers acknowledged that African-Americans had not patronized the restaurants early on.

But when civil rights protesters arrived outside a Waffle House in 1961, he said, he responded by asking them inside to dine.

“We actually accommodated everybody,” said the younger Mr. Rogers, who worked for his father at a nearby Waffle House at the time. “A lot of people have a stereotypical view of the South, that it was total segregation. That wasn’t the case.”

He added that African-American civic leaders expressed gratitude to his father for keeping restaurants open amid the rioting in many cities after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Still, in subsequent decades, workers and customers filed numerous lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

“I unearthed a policy of staffing restaurants on the basis of demographics,” said Keenan R. S. Nix, a lawyer who in the 1990s and early 2000s litigated several discrimination cases brought by employees and customers. One client alleged that the company had sought to cut back on the number of black workers in restaurants serving predominantly white customers.

Mr. Nix credited the company with changing its policies after these cases, some of which produced confidential settlements that he said “served the ends of justice.”

Joe Rogers Jr. said any policy changes at the company were not a response to litigation but part of a longer-term evolution. “Our law firm told us when they looked at all these things, ‘You’ve got to design better execution systems,’” he said. “It’s the growing pains of a big business.”

He blamed episodes of bias on “rogue employees” whom the company was not able to sift out when hiring.

Joseph Wilson Rogers was born in Jackson, Tenn., on Nov. 30, 1919, to Frank Hamilton and Ruth Elizabeth DuPoyster Rogers. His father was a railroad worker who lost his job during the Depression.

After high school, Mr. Rogers learned to pilot B-24 aircraft in the Army and trained other pilots.

Besides his wife, the former Ruth Jolley Rogers, and his son Joe, he is survived by another son, Frank; his daughters, Dianne Tuggle and Deborah Rogers; nine grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

Mr. Rogers remained involved with Waffle House into at least his late 80s. Most days he would spend several hours at the company’s headquarters in Norcross, Ga.; other times, he would show up at restaurants and mix with the customers.


Restaurants could get more expensive in 2017: here are 3 ways to save when you dine out

January 11, 2017

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By James Dennin
https://mic.com/articles/164756/restaurants-could-get-more-expensive-in-2017-here-are-3-ways-to-save-when-you-dine-out#.gIsHHUZAZ 

Time to break out Dad’s old cookbooks: Restaurants are likely to get more expensive in 2017.

For one, a wave of state-level minimum-wage hikes across the country could make labor more expensive — which could prompt restaurants to raise their prices by as much as 5% in 2017, Darren Tristano, CEO of food industry analysis firm Technomic, told CNBC.

That’s roughly double the typical inflation-driven annual hikes of 2-2.5%, he said.

What’s more, there are pressures beyond minimum wage laws pushing U.S. restaurants to pay workers more: The number of eateries has grown since 2009, according to Thrillist, while the number of immigrant restaurant workers has fallen. Those workers therefore have more bargaining power over pay.

If establishments then pass higher costs to patrons, the price of dining out could eat up even more of your paycheck.

Millennials in the United States already spend an average of $103 a month eating out, according to a 2016 survey from TD Bank. (If you live in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco, that figure might make you lol.)

Regardless of where you live, one obvious way to be thriftier this year is to cut down on big-spender nights full of surf and turf. But realistically, no matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitably end up dropping cash on date nights, celebratory toasts — and the unavoidable best friend’s birthday dinner.

So here are a few ways to treat yourself without breaking the bank.

1. Go out to lunch instead of dinner — and ditch dessert
Research shows restaurants face harsher competition for nighttime diners than they do during the day, which often prompts them to offer the same exact dishes for cheaper.

At Jean-Georges in New York City, for instance, the difference is stark: Three courses plus dessert will set you back $84 at lunchtime, while the same offering at dinner is $118.

Beyond that?

The easiest way to save money on a restaurant meal is to abstain from the little extras, like the fried appetizer or that delicious — but unnecessary — lava cake.

Indeed, one of the most effective ways to cut costs while eating out is eliminating dessert, Steve Dublanica, author of industry tell-all Waiter Rant told Real Simple.

That’s because many restaurants outsource dessert production to another bakery and then jack up the price. No point in paying premium for a frozen dessert, especially if there’s an ice-cream parlor or bakery on the way home.

2. BYOB, especially wine
Many personal finance guides recommend the extremely restrained practice of ordering a glass of water with your meal: Water, unlike other beverages, often comes with the meal gratis.

Seriously, don’t roll your eyes.

Industry journals actually recommend restaurants mark up booze between four and five times, depending on other costs and your desired profit margin.

That means that a middling $10 bottle of wine will set you back $40 or even $50 if you want to drink it in a restaurant.

Womp womp.

If washing down your steak with water seems a bit spartan, consider finding restaurants nearby that allow you to bring your own beverage.

OpenTable and FourSquare both have categories for these dining options, although corkage fees apply, usually between $10 and $20.

Still, at $15 for a five-liter box of Franzia — which works out to roughly $2.25 per traditional 750-milliliter bottle — will more than make up pulling the trigger on that third course.

Too much of a snob for that two-buck Chuck? Here are some cheap-but-not-horrifying options from $6 to $27.

3. Ditch brunch — it’s not worth it
Savvy industry types say clocking your meal in terms of total dollars and cents spent is the wrong way to go about it.

After all, that 32-ounce ribeye may be pricier than a sensible bowl of pasta, but the ribeye cost the restaurant a lot more money to buy in the first place — and the pasta is likely to be marked up way more than it’s worth.

There are other factors to consider when dining out.

If you’re in a steakhouse, your order may have benefitted from an aging cellar or other fancy treatment that makes the steak taste better than what you could make at home: So you are arguably getting decent value — and are wasting your cash on that sad “garden salad.”

This line of thinking holds that if you’re going to eat out at all, you might as well spend a little extra on the things that actually make a restaurant meal special as opposed to foods you can just make yourself.

On that score?

It might be time to break up with your most insufferable millennial pastime, brunch. The meal is replete with cheap foods like eggs and pancakes — both of which you can prepare far more inexpensively at home.

At the very least, it’s a good excuse to finally learn to make that bacon-and-egg breakfast poutine.

 


2017 Looking Bright for Restaurant Seafood Sales

January 10, 2017

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By Christine Blank, Contributing Editor
© 2016 Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.
http://www.seafoodsource.com/news/foodservice-retail/2017-looking-bright-for-restaurant-seafood-sales

Seafood restaurants – and those that serve seafood – are expected to perform well in both the United States and the United Kingdom in 2017.

“Right now, consumers should be in a pretty good place, with regard to the economy. All of the indicators, including unemployment, are trending positive,” Darren Tristano, president of foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic, told SeafoodSource.

As a result, spending at higher-end restaurants that serve seafood will rise, Tristano said. In addition to an increase in consumer spending, United States businesses will have increased expense accounts and take clients out to dinner more.

Restaurant chains like Ruth’s Chris, Fleming’s and other upscale chains are expected to perform well, according to Tristano.

“Steakhouses will continue to pick up, and seafood will do well in the steakhouse format,” he said.

In addition, “more polished casual restaurants” such as Bonefish Grill and Legal Sea Foods will also thrive, Tristano said.

In the U.K., eating seafood in restaurants is also expected to rise, as consumers dine out more and seek healthy, sustainable seafood. Over the last year, seafood servings in U.K. restaurants increased 2.3 percent to 979 million, as restaurant visits also grew 1.5 percent, according to NPD Group – Crest in the U.K.

The biggest trend affecting seafood served in restaurants is sustainability, Tristano said. The health, ethical and environmental attributes of meals are increasingly important to consumers, according to one of NPD Crest’s top five foodservice trends for 2017.

Sustainability is here to stay – and it will continue to increase [in importance to consumers],” Tristano said.

Consumers will continue to seek out seafood for its health benefits, according to Tristano.

However, because of the inherently higher price of seafood versus other proteins, restaurant operators need to offer a mix of seafood species at various price points to “raise the appeal of the protein.”

“For example, you can have Chilean sea bass at one end and tilapia at the other end. Or, in addition to Chilean sea bass, you can add in bluegill and other types of striped bass. You can get it down to an area that is more affordable and approachable for consumers,” Tristano said.

Seafood at restaurants is already becoming more approachable, thanks to fast-casual restaurants that are performing well, such as Luke’s Lobster and Rubio’s Coastal Grill. Even quick service seafood chains such as Captain D’s are performing well, according to Tristano.

The types of seafood dishes that will perform well in 2017 include sushi, sushi burritos, poke and calamari, “a product that is becoming more approachable,” Tristano said.

“Poke is taking off across the nation,” he added. “We are seeing a lot more poke bowls and concepts that are getting into raw ahi and salmon.”

Up-and-coming sushi burrito restaurants in the U.S. include Sushiritto in New York and San Francisco, Chicago-based Sushi Burrito and SeoulSpice in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the other top NPD Crest trends for foodservice operators in 2017 are:

  • Restaurants must provide different delivery options (potentially use a delivery aggregator) to complement the traditional sit down format.
  • To maintain sales growth and consumer engagement, outlets must deliver a great experience, with a choice of quality meal options.
  • Consumers are interested in buying locally-sourced food. However, they will not accept lower quality.
  • Consumers like variety but they do enjoy their traditional favorites with a fresh twist.

Pollo Campero Sales Strong as Restaurant Chain Sees Sales Growth of 9.1% for Third Quarter of 2016

November 3, 2016

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PRNewswire
http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pollo-campero-sales-strong-as-restaurant-chain-sees-sales-growth-of-91-for-third-quarter-of-2016-300354533.html

Campero Marks Sales Momentum with New Store Openings and New Value Latin Meals

DALLAS, Nov. 1, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — Pollo Campero, the world’s largest Latin chicken restaurant brand, announced today its sales momentum remains strong as it reports a 9.1 percent same-store sales growth for the third quarter 2016. This marks the Latin chain’s 19th consecutive quarter with positive comparable growth and comes as Campero focuses on expanding both its U.S. and international footprint, while growing its Millennial customer base.

In fact, Campero has now generated a +8 percent compounded same-store sales growth for the past five years. “We are extremely pleased that we continue to see strong growth, despite a restaurant industry slowdown this year,” said Tim Pulido, President and CEO of Pollo Campero International. “Year to date, we have posted excellent comparable growth of +9 percent, positive comparable traffic growth and 22 percent total sales growth driven by our new store openings.”

Pollo Campero has seen steady growth with Millennials, with the group now comprising more than 64 percent of Campero’s customer base in 2016, according to Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics. Campero attributes much of this growth to the constant innovation and enhancement of its bold, Latin-inspired menu.

“Pollo Campero has maintained its relevancy with its growing Millennial customer base by introducing menu items that are true to who they are,” said Darren Tristano, President of Technomic, Inc. “Their new products are viewed as exciting by their customers, helping them differentiate the brand from the competition—their sales results this year reflect that.”

Pollo Campero’s latest limited time offer items include value offerings for individual and family occasions that highlight Campero’s signature Latin flavors. The brand also launched its new kids’ program featuring new Pollito Meals with healthier pairings and more variety for the entire family.

“We understand that our guests have busy, demanding lives,” said Pulido. “Campero’s new Latin meals are proof that families, no matter how busy, can still enjoy fresh, flavorful meals on the go and on a budget.”

Pollo Campero Expansion: Challenge Accepted
As sales continue to grow, Pollo Campero also remains focused on restaurant expansion both in the United States and around the world. Campero currently has in place a goal to nearly double the number of its restaurants in the next three years. So far in 2016, Campero has opened 8 restaurants in the United States, with 6 more slated to open by the end of the year.

While much of Campero’s growth plans are concentrated on key states, such as California and Texas, along with the Washington, D.C. metro area, the brand has recently inked a deal to open its first restaurant in Tennessee – a franchise to be located in Nashville and expected to open during the first quarter of 2017.

ABOUT POLLO CAMPERO
Pollo Campero, considered the home of Authentic Latin Chicken, is the largest Latin chicken restaurant brand in the world. It first opened its doors as a tiny, family-owned restaurant in Guatemala in 1971 with the goal of treating family and friends to its prized chicken recipe passed down from generation to generation. Today, as Pollo Campero marks its 45th anniversary, its focus on quality, and its mission to stay true to its Latin roots remain the same. Pollo Campero is committed to serving unique Latin recipes prepared by hand daily using high-quality and all-natural ingredients. At the heart of that commitment: the promise to use fresh, never frozen, hormone-free chicken paired with traditional Latin sides, drinks and desserts in a vibrant atmosphere. There are more than 350 Pollo Campero restaurants around the world and Campero is accelerating growth. For franchise information, or to learn more about Pollo Campero, visit Campero.com. Follow the flavor on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @CamperoUSA.


How to save money — and avoid talking to anyone — when ordering takeout

November 2, 2016

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By Alessandra Malito
MerketWatch
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-to-save-money-and-avoid-talking-to-anyone-when-ordering-takeout-2016-11-02?siteid=rss

Tech companies are entering the food delivery scene in full force; here’s how to capitalize

The way people order takeout food has evolved.

Instead of using a phone to call a restaurant, many now use their phones to access apps like Facebook FB, -0.59% or GrubHub GRUB, +0.46% to place food orders. Even though it costs more than cooking at home, it’s still possible to save a few bucks for those nights you just want to order in, especially now that there are so many services available.

Tech giants Google GOOG, -0.88% , Facebook and Amazon AMZN, -1.07% have entered the food delivery races. A Google Maps for iOS update lets users “place an order” from restaurants in major cities with a button on its app, 9to5 Mac reported last week. Amazon expanded its one-hour delivery service for its Prime members to Brooklyn. Facebook jumped in last month with an option to start an order from a restaurant’s page.

“More restaurants are doing mobile ordering, and because of that the younger consumer is definitely engaging,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a food-service and restaurant research and consulting firm. “Today using your mobile device with either an app or the internet becomes a very good, strong option.”

The fans of the hit 2000s show “Gilmore Girls,” which is returning for a four-episode revival on NFLX, +0.43% later this month, may find this familiar ­­— main characters Lorelai and Rory Gilmore hardly ever had a home-cooked meal on the show, opting instead for takeout and delivery for nearly every meal. Though that is somewhat of an exaggeration of real life, Americans do spend $1,100 a year on average ordering food online, according to turkey company Butterball, which surveyed 1,000 people last year. One in 20 ordered every one or two days, and 25% ordered delivery or takeout at least once a week, the study found.

Online orders may soon beat phone orders. About 904 million online orders were placed in May 2015, up from 403 million in May 2010, while 1.02 billion phone delivery orders were placed in May 2015, down from 1.39 billion in May 2010, according to research firm NPD Group.

The interest from tech companies and restaurants may be the popularity from delivery startups, such as GrubHub, Seamless some of which these tech companies are using on the back end to see their deliveries through. Ride-hailing app Uber has been on the delivery scene since 2014, though it launched its stand-alone food delivery app earlier this year. These services give those at home or at work takeout options from local businesses without having to eat in, or step into, those establishments.

Americans’ annual expenditures on food away from home jumped 7.9% from 2014 to 2015, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, while food at home expenses jumped only 1.1% over that same period. The change doesn’t necessarily mean more people are ordering takeout, but that prices are going up, said Warren Solochek, president of food service practice at the NPD Group.

“If you’re working from home, restaurants have to do a lot more to incentivize people to go to a restaurant,” Solochek said. “I can order from GrubHub or I can go to the refrigerator, and guess what, I have most of my meal right there.”

Still, there are ways you can save, even when you do grab for your phone. Here are three:

1. Look for deals: Check food delivery sites or do a quick web search for promo codes before placing an order. Amazon is offering a $10 off code to its Prime members for its one-hour restaurant delivery and other services like Seamless and GrubHub periodically provide discounts for users, such as during the presidential election. Some sites also have first-time user deals.

2. Avoid additional fees: Double check your bill total to ensure you know exactly what you’re paying for, since some sites may tack on additional fees. Uber announced late last month that even its UberEATS service in certain cities would be subject to surge pricing, when there are more orders than drivers. The company said in its announcement the extra fee will appear as a separate line item before checkout and on the receipt.

3. Participate in referral programs: Seamless gives back to those who refer their service, in the form of $7 for every friend. In fact, both parties win — those referred get $7 off their first order and once they try the service, so will the one who recommended Seamless.


McDonald’s Turnaround Fails to Get More Customers in Door

October 26, 2016

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Leslie Patton
Bloomberg
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-26/mcdonald-s-turnaround-fails-to-get-more-customers-in-the-door

McDonald’s Corp. has figured out how to capitalize on the popularity of its breakfast menu, stop a slide in same-store sales and cut corporate overhead. What it hasn’t figured out is how to get more customers into its restaurants.

The world’s biggest fast-food chain is facing its fourth straight year of U.S. traffic declines, according to internal company documents obtained by Bloomberg. The drop follows at least four consecutive years of customer gains.

“Growing guest counts is our main challenge,” said an e-mail recap of a September meeting among McDonald’s franchise leaders and company executives. “Over the past 12 months, we have been pretty flat.”

The only way to build a sustainable business is to show progress on three key areas: sales, guest counts and cash flow, the e-mail said. “And today we are making uneven progress.”

McDonald’s declined to comment on the notes summarizing the meeting with franchise leaders.

McDonald’s last week reported third-quarter earnings and revenue that topped estimates as results in markets abroad, such as the U.K. and Germany, helped results. The company’s division known as international lead markets boosted same-store sales by 3.3 percent. It wasn’t quite as rosy in the U.S., where sales increased just 1.3 percent.

McDonald’s has made progress in the U.S. since Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook took over in March 2015, but there’s still work to be done. He’s revamped drive-thru ordering and improved food quality by getting rid of certain antibiotics from chicken and switching to real butter in Egg McMuffins. While the introduction of all-day breakfast and speedier kitchens have provided a bump, they may not be the long-term catalyst the chain needs.

The stock began climbing about a year ago after the breakfast expansion, gaining 26 percent in 2015. But the shares haven’t fared as well lately. Shares fell 1 percent to $111.54 at 9:57 a.m. in New York on Wednesday. The stock had lost 4.6 percent this year, through Tuesday’s close.

“McDonald’s has become less relevant to the younger generations,” said Darren Tristano, president at industry researcher Technomic in Chicago.

Three Areas
To lure more U.S. customers, the company is focused on three segments, according to the the document: diners who frequent the chain for breakfast and coffee, those who go primarily for lunch, and families and children.

“We’ve talked about our main focus being growing guest counts, certainly in the U.S.,” Chief Financial Officer Kevin Ozan said during a conference call last week.

Through the third quarter, McDonald’s comparable customer counts are down 0.1 percent this year, compared with a 3.1 drop in the same period in 2015, according to a company filing. The U.S. restaurant industry also is facing a broader slowdown as consumers dine out less due to the turbulent election season and cheaper grocery-store prices.

To better compete, restaurants are aggressively discounting fare with offers such as 50-cent corn dogs at Sonic and $1.49 chicken nuggets at Burger King. But those deals haven’t helped so far. Burger King owner Restaurant Brands International Inc. and drive-in chain Sonic Corp. this week reported disappointing U.S. sales in the latest quarter.

Last year, McDonald’s U.S. traffic declined 3 percent, following a 4.1 percent drop in 2014. Customer counts also fell in 2013, filings show. To reverse the trend, McDonald’s needs to stick to its core identity of convenience and affordability, while also improving ingredients, Tristano said.

“It’s hard to imagine they’re going to be able to compete with better burger and fast casual,” he said, referring to chains like Shake Shack Inc. and Panera Bread Co. “They have to operate within their customers’ perception of their brand.”