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

January 11, 2017

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

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.

McDonald’s Turnaround Fails to Get More Customers in Door

October 26, 2016

 

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.”


Bartolotta cooks up kitchen for Kohl’s

October 25, 2016

636124725458241020-mjs-kohls20-kohls-2131-de-sisti

Rick Romell
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
http://www.jsonline.com/story/money/2016/10/20/bartolotta-cooks-up-kitchen-kohls/92418108/

Menomonee Falls — For Bartolotta Restaurant Group, it’s an opportunity to branch further into a promising business area.

For Kohl’s Corp., it’s a shiny amenity to help in the quest to attract and retain good people.

And for Jason Wessels, the new dining area and kitchen his employer unveiled this week — a huge space that combines industrial-chic design with around-the-world food prep stations — is more than acceptable.

“This is amazing,” Wessels, who directs the big retailer’s shopper loyalty program, said as he got his first glimpse of the 32,000-square-foot area at corporate headquarters that Kohl’s has dubbed “The Kitch.”

“Like, amazing….It’s unbelievable.”

Following the lead of companies such as Silicon Valley tech firms that compete ferociously for talent, Kohl’s is wagering on the notion that one way to an employee’s heart is through his — or her — stomach.

“Corporations, particularly financial and high tech, where attracting and retaining high-skilled employees is very important, have seriously upgraded the quality of the meal services that they provide,” said Thomas MacDermott, owner of New Hampshire-based Clarion Group, a food service consultant.

Kohl’s isn’t Google. But for a department store retailer beset by stalled growth, changing consumer preferences and the ever-looming, Godzilla-like threat of Amazon, anything that helps bring in and hold smart employees may well be a smart bet.

“We knew we needed to elevate the quality,” chief administrative officer Richard Schepp said.

So, out with an in-house dining setup Schepp described with faint praise, saying it had been “OK” and “a decent cafeteria experience.”

In with a sleek, contemporary dining hall and such fare as Neapolitan pizzas, freshly prepared sushi, and specialty salads (beet and goat cheese; spelt and roasted squash with maple dressing) from a kitchen run by Bartolotta, which owns several highly regarded and popular restaurants in the area.

Just a little over five years ago, Kohl’s was cooking its own food at its 5,000-employee headquarters and, according to Schepp, not very well.

Now it has signed up with one of Milwaukee’s premier restaurant operators, outfitted a completely new kitchen and built a dining area that offers a wide range of collaborative gathering spaces and private nooks.

It’s a spot away from cubicles and offices that’s meant to be used all day, full of power outlets and USB ports but free of Kohl’s branding and even any references to the company’s “Greatness Agenda.”

“You feel like you left the building,” Schepp said.

Kohl’s won’t say what it spent, but turning a warren of cubicles into a dining area that can seat 750, a kitchen the size of a mini-mansion and a barista bar to boot isn’t cheap.

“This is all brand new,” Bartolotta group co-owner Joe Bartolotta said as he showed off the space. “…We gutted everything. We tore out the ceilings. We tore out everything. It was a very sizable investment.”

Whatever Kohl’s spent, it appears the company can recoup a small part of the expense through an agreement with the state that gives the firm tax credits in exchange for capital investments.

The deal was struck in July 2012, when the company planned to build a new, $250 million corporate campus a few miles from its present location. Kohl’s abandoned the plans 17 months later in favor of a less-expensive expansion at its current site. The $137 million in capital investment the company made there through last year, however, have helped it earn $18.3 million in state tax credits under the agreement.

The corporate impulse to amp up in-house dining isn’t broad, but rather is concentrated in sectors such as tech, said Mike Buzalka, executive features editor of trade journal Food Management.

But he said upgrades make sense for companies that, like Kohl’s, are situated where there are few nearby dining options.

It’s unusual for a firm to hire a restaurant operator, rather than a food-service contractor, to run its kitchen, Buzalka said.

Joe Bartolotta, however, sees the venture as a way to diversify. His 1,000-employee company has 11 restaurants, including highly regarded spots such as Lake Park Bistro and Bacchus.

But opening stand-alone restaurants is costly, and Bartolotta has been looking increasingly at opportunities to run places without the big capital investment. The firm operates four restaurants at Wauwatosa’s Mayfair Collection, for example, that are owned by the shopping center’s developer.

Two years ago, Bartolotta took over the food court at the U.S. Bank Center and opened what it calls the Downtown Kitchen. That operation impressed Kohl’s executives and paved the way for creation of The Kitch.

Profit margins on such businesses are lower than at a typical Bartolotta restaurant, but with a minimal upfront investment and an all-but-captive market of 5,000 potential diners, it’s an attractive proposition, Joe Bartolotta said.

That thinking makes sense, suggested Darren Tristano, president of Chicago-based food industry research firm Technomic Inc.

“When we look at the full-service space where Bartolotta operates, the high end is doing OK, but there aren’t a lot of growth opportunities for new restaurants,” Tristano said.

John Wise, operations director and managing partner at Bartolotta, said Downtown Kitchen serves about 500 people for breakfast and 1,500 to 2,000 at lunch. He expects the numbers at Kohl’s to be bigger.

Wessels, meanwhile, expects the new space to be about more than food. He believes it will bring colleagues together and spur beneficial collaboration.

Many people, Wessels said, regard the kitchen as the heart of their home.

“This is really going to become the heart of our office,” he said.


Will Novelty Foods Fix the Fast Food Slump?

August 15, 2016

1471036997485By Vera Gibbons
http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2016/08/15/will-novelty-foods-fix-fast-food-slump.html 

Grilled hot dogs. Mac ‘n Cheetos. Beefy Frito burritos. Chicken rings. Hot dog-crusted pizza. The revival of old cult favorites like clear soda and chicken fries.

And now – the “Whopperrito.”

Yup, this burger/burrito hybrid goes national today following successful test debuts in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

What gives? Why are the fast food chains putting so many weird – if not repulsive – food gimmicks on their menus? “It’s about generating traffic,” says Darren Tristano, president of Technomic Inc., a food service research firm.

There’s been a pullback in the industry, you see. A slump. And everyone’s feeling it – from Shake Shack (SHAK) to Starbucks (SBUX) to McDonald’s (MCD).

“Things were going really well at the start of the year when all the economic indicators that would correlate to positive restaurant conditions were in a good place – gas prices were low, confidence was up, housing was settled – and then in April, the switch turned off even though the indicators were still in place.”

Why? Tristano says there isn’t one specific reason for the softness. “People are buying food from other places – supermarkets, convenience stores; they’re eating at home more; and then there’s the presidential election, which could be a trigger point. It’s really the most tangible explanation anyone can point to—political uncertainty.”

Regardless, consumers – especially those looking ahead and thinking about college obligations and other expenses – are watching their wallets, says economist, Arjun Chakravarti, Assistant Professor of Management and Marketing at the Stuart School of Business.

While the younger set (The 25-year old group without 401ks and exposure to the global markets) is more optimistic about the economy and therefore more inclined to spend (especially in light of slightly rising wages and lower gas prices), says Chakravarti, the reality is that purse strings are pretty tight right now. And they’re not expected to loosen them anytime soon.

In fact, restaurant sales, virtually flat, are expected to remain weak for the rest of the year, according to The NPD Group, an industry research firm.

Is this a warning sign for the economy? “A downturn in restaurant sales increases the likelihood of a recession, but the hope is that it’s counteracted/buffered by expectations for increases in business spending in the 3rd quarter,” says Chakravarti.

Fast food chains aren’t taking any chances. They’re responding by offering aggressive discounts that emphasize affordability, and unleashing innovative, zany mash-ups that are more profitable (Burger King’s “Whopperrito” will sell for $2.99; $4.99 when wrapped into a combo meal.).

Buzz marketing – a viral marketing technique that is focused on maximizing word-of-mouth potential largely on social media platforms – is the name of the game, says Dan Rene, senior vice president at LEVICK, A strategic communications firm. “Fast food chains are engaging customers by selling them an ‘experience’ and this is an ‘experience’ that customers want to be part of, and share—pictures, posts, you name it.”

“It doesn’t matter whether or not customers like the food or what it tastes like. If everyone’s talking about it and the hype results in more foot traffic for the fast food chain, it’s won.”


McDonald’s reaps the benefit of all day breakfasts and table service

February 9, 2016

McDonald's signature rangeEven though we’re only into its second month, 2016 been rather a good year for Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s chief executive. His football team, Watford, is enjoying its best season in years and much the same can be said for the US fast-food giant.

The company surprised analysts with its latest quarterly results last week, with sales up 5.7pc in the US – nearly twice as much as had been predicted. Global sales are up by 5pc.

It has taken a Briton – albeit one steeped in McDonald’s corporate culture – to revive the most American of institutions, which was in danger of being left behind by rather nimbler competitors in the fast food industry.

From introducing all-day breakfasts throughout the US to testing waiter service at some of its outlets, including in the UK, Easterbrook has overhauled how the company operates at a bewildering pace.

The chain was in something of a mess when Easterbrook took over as chief executive in March 2015. Last August, for the first time in more than 45 years, McDonald’s announced that it was closing more outlets than it was opening.

European sales had dropped by 1.4pc, between 2008-14. In the US, the decline was 3.3pc and in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, once considered a growth region, a rather frightening 9.9pc.

It was not just the dire figures which suggested that McDonald’s was in need of a cultural shift. The company was facing competition from not only its traditional rivals, such as Burger King and Wendy’s, but also from hipper new competitors entering the market, such as Honest, Byron, Five Guys and Shake Shack.

It was pretty clear that the golden arches had lost their sparkle. Within weeks of taking over the reins, Easterbrook appeared on CBS’s This Morning television progamme in the US to signal that the 60-year-old company was in for a radical overhaul.

“We really want to assert McDonald’s as a modern burger company. To do that you have to make meaningful changes in the business,” he said. “The pace of change outside McDonald’s has been a little quicker than the pace of change within. You act your way to success, you can’t talk your way to success.”

For once, this was not empty corporate-speak. All-day breakfasts were tested in San Diego in April, and within months were available at all the company’s 16,000 US restaurants. This has brought back customers who might have gone elsewhere and even tempted in newcomers.

Other changes have seen the introduction of a “McPick menu” where US customers can have two items for only $2, despite the wafer-thin profit margin the deal provides.

The range of burgers has also been increased to include Pico Guacamole and Buffalo Bacon, and diners are now being allowed to customise their burgers. McDonald’s has also launched its first loyalty programme for people who register their details, offering, for example, a free cup of coffee for every five bought at one of its restaurants.

Easterbrook has also done something to improve McDonald’s corporate image, announcing a 10pc pay rise for the 90,000 people who work in outlets directly owned by the company in the US. This has taken their hourly minimum wage to $9.90 an hour – increasing to more than $10 this year – considerably higher than the legal minimum of $7.95.

The one caveat, however, was that the pay rise was limited to those staff who work for the 10pc of restaurants which are owned by the company rather than franchisees. Even the white packaging is being ditched after more than a decade. Instead, food now comes in brown paper bags which, in theory, are seen as more environmentally friendly.

According to a company spokesman, the change is “consistent with our vision to be a modern and progressive burger company” –a phrase now something of a corporate mantra.

“One of the things Easterbrook has done is create a sense of urgency in the the McDonald’s business culture,” said Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant analyst at Nomura in New York. “When the company started trialling the all-day breakfast in San Diego county in April, it only took until October before it went nationwide.

“He doesn’t want to waste time, he operates on speed to market and saw it was clearly something customers wanted.

“For McDonald’s, that is rather quick. Although it can be innovative, the company is traditionally slow- moving. I think it’s a reflection on its sheer size.” Even though Easterbrook has spent much of his career with McDonald’s, having joined in 1993, he also spent time with the rather more upmarket Wagamama and Pizza Express chains. He returned to McDonald’s in 2013 as chief brand officer, having held previous roles including its head of Europe.

“Most of the presidents and chief executives at McDonald’s we have seen have been promoted from within. Having somebody with an outside perspective is exactly what the company needed” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based company specialising in the food industry.

Tristano believes that Easterbrook’s strategy has been shrewd. “He has aggressively marketed the all-day breakfast, which has put McDonald’s back at the top of the mind of consumers.

“The price point appeals to lower and middle-income consumers who are looking for something which is less expensive than the dinner menu. This has helped McDonald’s get back some of the market share which it had been losing to rivals.”

McDonald’s has also been helped by the rehabilitation of the egg in the mind of the consumer, Tristano added.

“If you go back a few years, eggs were seen as high-cholesterol. Now they are seen as high-protein and eggs are a key part of breakfast.

“The sales growth on a year over year basis is over a few years of weak sales performance, so the numbers are good but we should expect to see sustainable growth and especially year over year, fourth quarter 2016 would signal McDonald’s is officially back.

“McDonald’s appears to be listening to their customers and staying more true to their brand under Easterbrook.”

The consensus appears to that Easterbrook has enabled McDonald’s to regain its mojo. “He has brought a sense of strategic clarity, said John Quelch, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School.

“There is a tendency when a company gets into trouble to sling products at the wall and see what sticks. All that does is adds complexity. If you reach a point when you can’t explain to an employee or a franchisee what the point of a product is, then how can you expect them to explain that to a customer?

“The bench strength of McDonald’s is enormously good. It is no surprise that they were able to find somebody like him to step up,” added Quelch.


Bloomin’ Brands Struggles in Quarter, as Chain Restaurants Face New Chef-Inspired Concepts

November 9, 2015

Justine Griffin
© 2015 Tampa Bay Times
http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/bloomin-brands-struggles-in-quarter-as-chain-restaurants-face-new/2252436

While the “anti-chain” movement across the U.S. isn’t new, it is slowing down sales at some of the best known restaurant brands, including Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Bloomin’ Brands, the Tampa parent of Outback and Carrabba’s, is the most muscular restaurant company in Tampa Bay with $4.4 billion in revenue last year and 1,500 restaurants worldwide. But it’s anything but local to consumers here.

The company on Tuesday reported disappointing sales for the third quarter for most of its brands. CEO Liz Smith said casual dining as a segment in the hospitality industry was down from July to September, not just at their in-house brands.
“We knew the trends would be challenged,” Smith said. “And our marketing didn’t break through as expected.”

Bonefish Grill, which was intended to be the engine powering new growth for Bloomin’ Brands’ restaurant portfolio this year, saw the steepest declines, with sales down 6.1 percent for the quarter and traffic down 8.5 percent. It’s the second quarter of decline for Bonefish, which is in a competitive class of “polished casual” chain restaurants, and tends to be more pricey than dining experiences like a TGI Fridays or Olive Garden. The menu quality is more on par with restaurants like Seasons 52 or Carmel Cafe.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill reported a decline in the quarter of 2 percent sales and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar saw a 0.6 percent drop.

Outback Steakhouse, which performed well in new international markets like Brazil, was the only brand to report modest growth, at 0.1 percent, this quarter.

Chain restaurants are struggling to meet the changing trends fueled by younger demographics in the U.S., said Darren Tristano, executive vice president with Technomic, a restaurant research firm in Chicago.

“These are the same issues that most casual dining restaurants face today,” Tristano said. “Bloomin’ is no different than Darden” — the Orlando parent of Olive Garden and several other chains — “and most others in this regard.”

Another blow landed this summer when Bloomin’ Brands lost a bid to open an Outback Steakhouse and a Bonefish Grill in Tampa International Airport after $953 million in terminal renovations. The aviation authority board sought to make the airport’s restaurants feel more local, and one board member noted the company’s widely located chains made it feel less so. The Carrabba’s in the main terminal, which opened in 2008, is slated to close next spring.

Millennials and generation X-ers look for value but tend to try locally owned or chef-inspired restaurants rather than a chain, so it’s difficult for the casual dining chain restaurant to stand out in what’s become a very competitive market, Tristano said.

“It’s hard for chains to add more regional flavors to a menu, like local craft beer or local food options that the independent restaurants can do so easily,” he said. “They need to be more innovative and focus on the strengths that they do have, which usually is price, to get the attention of this next generation customer.”

Outback Steakhouse will roll out a new mobile phone app next year, which the restaurant chain has been testing in Tampa Bay. Through the app, customers can add their names to the wait list before they arrive at a restaurant, place take out orders and use to pay at the table.

“We will continue to invest in this kind of innovative tech platforms,” Smith said during Tuesday’s earnings call.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill will debut a simpler menu next year. Fewer items will be available, but the chain will add a new small plates category for tapas-style sharing at the table. Bloomin’ also changed the menu at Bonefish Grill earlier this year, with the same “less is more” theme.

“Too much on the menu overwhelms the customer,” Tristano said.

It also keeps food costs down, said Brian Connors, with Connors Davis Hospitality, a restaurant consulting firm in South Florida.

“Chains are the safe choice. Customers know what they’re going to get there and the restaurants know what they’re good at,” Connors said.

Bloomin’ Brands plans to continue to expand aggressively in new international markets like Korea and China. Much of the company’s growth has come from international openings this year.

“They don’t have to reinvent the wheel this way,” Connors said. But in this country, he suggested, they’ll need to come up with something new to keep attracting diners.

“We’ve entered this new age of adventure eating. Food recipes is one of the highest pinned categories on Pinterest,” Connors said. “People are willing and wanting to try something new.”

Bloomin’s brands: Tough quarter for sales
U.S. sales in the last four quarters
BrandQ3Q2Q1Q4 (2014)
Outback Steakhouse0.1 %4%5%6.4%
Carrabba’s Italian Grill- 2%2%1.9%0.3%
Bonefish Grill- 6.1%-4.6%0.9%0.7%
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar- 0.6%3.2%3.0%3.4%
Source: Bloomin’ Brands