Eatery digests patrons’ feedback

June 6, 2016

Arkansas-based fast-casual restaurant chain Slim Chickens, known for its tenders and wings, is rolling out a chicken-breast sandwich for taste-testing.

Testing is underway at Slim Chickens’ three Fayetteville locations, its Rogers store, and in Broken Arrow, Okla., near Tulsa. The restaurant chain is offering cayenne ranch and buffalo chicken sandwiches in Northwest Arkansas and cayenne ranch and Cajun chicken versions of the sandwich in Oklahoma.

Customers who select the sandwich are asked for feedback in a survey that takes about a minute to complete. That information goes straight to a few select Slim Chicken executives. So far, customers’ feedback has already resulted in changes to one of the sandwiches. The process is expected to continue for the next several weeks.

“Early indicators are positive,” said Sam Rothschild, Slim Chickens’ chief operations officer. “This is why you test.”

While the chain has offered sandwiches in the past, this is the first one made with a whole, premium chicken breast. Rothschild described the test sandwiches as being made from high-quality chicken and “fully dressed” with Slim’s sauce, pickles, lettuce and onions.

“We want our sandwich to stand out,” he said.

Slim Chickens has 35 restaurants — 25 are company owned and 15 are franchise operations — in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee, with 21 other stores under construction. With the new stores, Slim’s is expected to have more than 50 restaurants open by the end of the year. The company said it hopes to have 600 stores in the United States by 2024.

Slim Chickens competes in the fast-casual segment, where operations focus on an enhanced dining experience compared with fast-food operations. While they don’t have a wait staff, fast-casual restaurants typically deliver patrons their food after ordering.

According to information provided by Chicago-based Technomic Inc., a research and consulting firm focusing on food and food service, sales at limited-service chains among the top 500 U.S. restaurant chains grew 5.5 percent to $211 billion in 2015. Sales at limited service chicken restaurants was up 9 percent. Limited service chains include fast food and fast-casual concepts.

Sales in the fast-casual segment alone were up 11.5 percent, and unit growth was up 9.6 percent in 2015, according to the report.

Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, said that portability, in the form of a sandwich, is something that consumers are looking for, and that adding a sandwich helps fast-casual operations compete with more traditional fast food’s convenience factor.

“One hand on the wheel and the other on a sandwich,” he said.

He added that Slim Chickens’ efforts to test the sandwiches locally are wise.

“They are getting consumers to validate the quality of the product,” he said. “It’s what successful brands do but not what everybody does.”

Rothschild said the sandwich sells for $3.99 by itself or as part of a combo meal at $6.49. Slim Chickens’ lowest cost combo meal, pre-sandwiches, was $6.99. He said that puts the Slim Chickens’ sandwich and combo meal close to fast food on price.

“We want people to come to us when they want chicken,” Rothschild said.


McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast Sparks a Fast Food Fight

May 9, 2016

by Leslie Patton

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/mcdonald-s-breakfast-push-sets-off-morning-scramble-in-fast-food

Fast-food joints aren’t hitting the snooze button anymore.

McDonald’s Corp.’s decision to start selling Egg McMuffins all day long last year — meant to help sales during lunch and dinner time — has boosted its morning business as well. That, in turn, has kicked off a scramble among its rivals to find new ways to combine eggs, potatoes and meat for a tasty breakfast.

The latest example is Burger King’s Egg-Normous breakfast burrito, which is being introduced in the U.S. on Tuesday. It’s stuffed with sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, cheddar and American cheese and served with picante sauce. The home of the Whopper, which still serves breakfast only during morning hours, also recently added a supreme breakfast hoagie and got rid of slower-selling English muffin sandwiches.

“We’ve invested more in breakfast,” Alex Macedo, head of Burger King North America, said in an interview. “The environment is very competitive.”

Along with adding and deleting items, Burger King tweaked its smaller egg burrito earlier this year, removing green and red peppers and replacing them with hash browns.

Skillet Bowls

Taco Bell revised its morning offerings in March to include $1 options such as skillet bowls and sausage flatbread quesadillas. Subway Restaurants just announced buy-one-get-one subs for the month of May. The catch: They have to be purchased before 9 a.m. And Dunkin’ Donuts revamped its menu boards to focus on all-day choices and started advertising $1.99 Coolatta drinks that are sold at all hours.

The changes come as more U.S. consumers grab eggs and coffee outside the home, according to a study by researcher GfK MRI published by EMarketer.com. Last year, more than 34 percent of Americans reported buying breakfast at fast-food restaurants, an increase from 32.8 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, fewer consumers said they’re dining out for lunch and snacks. Dinner increased less than 1 percent.

McDonald’s all-day breakfast in the U.S. has helped turn around its worst sales slump in more than a decade by drawing more customers throughout the day, including the morning. The plan is surpassing its goals.

Exceeding Expectations

“It’s still exceeding our expectations,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said on a conference call in April. “Whilst we clearly added incremental visits and incremental spend across rest of day, our breakfast business has also prospered.”

Items like Egg McMuffins and hash browns fueled a 5.4 percent U.S. same-store sales increase at McDonald’s in the first quarter. That’s stronger than the most recent quarterly gains posted by Burger King, Dunkin’ and Taco Bell.

“It’s helped drive success, which they haven’t seen for several years,” said Darren Tristano, president of industry researcher Technomic Inc.

After losing customers to McDonald’s all-day Egg McMuffins, Jack in the Box Inc. has been advertising a triple-cheese and hash-brown breakfast burrito. Same-store sales at company-owned Jack in the Box locations may be down as much as 3 percent in the recently ended quarter, the company said in Februar-1x-1y. The chain also is adjusting and improving other breakfast items, CEO Lenny Comma said during a conference in March.

Dunkin’ Donuts said last month that its new menu boards are helping drive breakfast-sandwich sales. It’s also focused on introducing mobile ordering and will start a 1,650-store test in metro New York in May to get customers their morning meals even faster. CEO Nigel Travis says McDonald’s push has actually helped Dunkin’ in the breakfast battle by highlighting that the doughnut chain has the same menu all day. Still, the change has increased competition for diners’ dollars.

“Clearly, the value war is pretty intense,” Travis said in an interview.


Yum! Brands keeping headquarters in Louisville, moving executives to Texas

March 1, 2016

Caitlin Bowling
INsider Louisville
February 24, 2016
http://insiderlouisville.com/business/yum-headquarters-louisville-moving-heads/

With Yum! Brands Inc. relocating five key C-suite executives to Plano, Texas, Louisville may become a show headquarters for the restaurant conglomerate, while employees in Texas are the ones actually steering the ship.

Yum Brands Inc. is headquartered at 1900 Colonel Sanders Lane. | Courtesy of Yum! Brands

Yum Brands Inc. is headquartered at 1900 Colonel Sanders Lane. | Courtesy of Yum! Brands

“Whenever you move your C-level team … in effect you are moving your headquarters because that is where your heads are,” said Darren Tristano, president at Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant industry research firm.

Business First previously reported that Yum CEO Greg Creed, chief public affairs and global nutrition officer Jonathan Blum, chief legal officer Marc Kesselman, chief people officer Tracy Skeans, and a yet-to-be-named CFO will move to Plano, where Yum’s global operations team and its subsidiary Pizza Hut are located.

Yum’s former CFO Pat Grismer resigned effective Feb. 19, Insider Louisville previously reported.

The company is adamant that Louisville is and will remain Yum’s home. Virginia Ferguson, a spokeswoman for Yum, told IL that none of its nearly 1,000 Yum and KFC U.S. employees are moving to Texas.

“We are proud to be here,” Ferguson said.

IL was scheduled to interview Blum this afternoon about the impending move; however, a few minutes before the appointment, IL was told he was suddenly pulled away and would be unavailable for comment. Ferguson forwarded along statements from Yum explaining the decision.

Creed and the other four executives “will be highly mobile, traveling to many of our international markets and offices throughout the year, including Louisville for 1-2 weeks each month,” Ferguson said in an emailed statement. “Given the global nature of our business, which has transformed over the years, the YUM executive team’s office will be in Plano, but they will retain an office in Louisville.”

She also noted that Yum has based its international operations in Texas since 1997, when the company spun-off from PepsiCo.

It makes sense that the company’s leaders would want to be close to its overseas operations, Tristano said. “Today, a lot of the growth restaurant companies are seeing takes place outside our borders.”

Texas also is home to a number of other restaurant chains and restaurant-related businesses, including Pie Five Pizza, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Apex Restaurant Group.

“Dallas is considered a very big restaurant town,” Tristano said, noting that many industry events and restaurant innovation happens there. It also is warm, has a large population and is somewhat centrally located.

While Louisville city leaders often tout the city’s location and its proximity to other places, the truth is one of the few ways to get a direct flight is to be a box the United Parcel Service is shipping.

The Louisville International Airport has fewer than 20 nonstop flights to cities in the United States. The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is a major transportation hub; it has nearly 50 nonstop flights to international cities and countless more within the continental United States.

“There is no way to overlook that,” said Nat Irvin, the Strickler executive in residence and professor of management at the University of Louisville College of Business. “We can get to the airport in 20 minutes from any place in the city, but part of the downside is you can’t get to any place directly.”

And Dallas is closer to China — where Yum will spin-off its operations this year — offering a nonstop flight to Beijing. Although Yum China will technically operate as its own company, Yum leaders will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how the company is faring in China’s sometimes volatile market.

Already, Yum executives spend a good portion of their year abroad, according to the company.

“I think what (the move) represents is the importance of face-to-face communications when you are developing strategy,” Irvin said. “You like to see them; you like to hear them; you like to be close to them.”

The only factor in Yum’s decision, according to Ferguson, was the fact that the company’s global operations offices are in Texas

“Our business is a global business, and it makes sense,” she said.

Tristano said he wouldn’t be surprised if Yum moved more jobs to Texas in the future, but the company also has good reason to remain in Louisville. If the company said it planned to move its headquarters but keep jobs in Louisville, it could end up with a retention problem.

“It would make sense for them to continue to have that (Louisville) location regardless of what they call it,” he said. “This is a less disruptive strategy for them.”

With its name plastered around the city (see KFC Yum! Center), Irvin said he is confident Yum will continue to maintain a large presence in Louisville.

“I think Yum is fully ensconced in this community. The company has a very broad footprint in this community, and I think the heart still remains right there,” Irvin said. “I think what they have made is a decision for the company. I don’t think it’s a detriment to the community — a good idea for them, not necessarily a bad idea for us.”

Still, the decision by Yum is an unusual one.

Tristano could not think of any comparable examples, except possibly Tim Horton’s and Burger King. However, the quandary over where to headquarter those two restaurant chains is the result of their merger back in 2014. As of now, Tim Horton’s base of operations remains in Canada, while Burger King resides in the United States.

Overall, Tristano said he thinks Yum is making good decisions to focus more globally and try to appeal to younger generations.

“They seem to be moving in the right direction strategically.”


Cage-free eggs could boost Bloomin’ Brands’ bottom line

February 29, 2016

Ashley Gurbal Kritzer
Tampa Bay Business Journal
Feb 23, 2016
http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/blog/morning-edition/2016/02/cagefree-eggs-could-boost-bloomin-brands-bottom.html

Don’t count the cage-free eggs before they’re hatched, but Bloomin’ Brands Inc.’s latest supplier decision could boost its bottom line.outback-ft-myers-evening-750xx1800-1013-0-104

Tampa-based Bloomin’ (NASDAQ: BLMN) said Monday that it will transition to 100 percent cage-free eggs in its restaurants by 2025. Bloomin’ is the parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

“Our guests expect us to source and purchase wholesome ingredients responsibly,” Juan Guerrero, chief global supply chain officer, said in a statement. “We are working with our suppliers to ensure we meet or exceed this deadline.”

Committing to cage-free eggs is a popular move in the restaurant industry. In September, McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) said it would shift to cage-free eggs, as is Dunkin’ Donuts (NASDAQ: DNKN) and Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM).

Bloomin’ operates close to 1,500 restaurants throughout 48 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and 22 countries.

The cage-free move, Bloomin’ said, “reaffirms the company’s commitment to the humane treatment and handling of animals” — and that’s important to consumers, according to Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm.

“Cage-free is particularly important right now,” Darren Tristano, Technomic president, wrote in a Feb. 2 blog post. “Forty seven percent of consumers said they are more likely to order dishes made from cage-free eggs or poultry during breakfast dine-out occasions.”

“The preference ties into health and wellness concerns from consumers,” Tristano said.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about transparency — what’s in their food and where it came from,” he wrote, “and operators and suppliers are feeling the heat.”


Fazoli’s closes only Las Vegas restaurant

February 24, 2016
Jennifer Robison
Las Vegas Review-Journal
February 17, 2016
http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/fazolis-closes-only-las-vegas-restaurant

1004922526_fazolis_021716_3.jpgThere’ll be no more free breadsticks on North Town Center Drive.

Italian fast-food franchise Fazoli’s has quietly closed its lone Las Vegas eatery. The restaurant, behind the 7-Eleven at Town Center and Covington Cross in Summerlin, shut Feb. 8, 15 years to the day after its 2001 debut.

The closure defies broader market trends, as big, national chains including Chick-fil-A and Cracker Barrel prepare market launches for late 2016 and early 2017.

“Las Vegas is definitely a growth market,” said Darren Tristano, president of Chicago-based restaurant consultant Technomic.

So why did operators shutter Fazoli’s?

Company spokeswoman Janet Ritter deferred to the franchisee, Las Vegas-based Glencoe Management, and Glencoe Management didn’t return phone calls. The company’s website said it owns 21 local Burger Kings, including one at 1280 Town Center Drive, next to the former Fazoli’s.

But Ritter said Fazoli’s, a Kentucky chain with 217 U.S. locations mostly in the Midwest and South, “would like to have a presence in Las Vegas, and we are seeking franchisees to open units in the Las Vegas area.”

The Fazoli’s closure capped a market foray that never really picked up steam.

Ritter said she had no information on number or dates of operation of prior local stores, but at least two other Fazoli’s franchises — one on Ft. Apache Road near Rhodes Ranch and another on Eastern Avenue in Silverado Ranch — opened after 2001 and closed years ago.

The 28-year-old company had as many as 300 U.S. restaurants before it began pruning locations in the recession. Each restaurant typically employs 30 to 40 people, Ritter said.

Competition has hurt Fazoli’s, Tristano said.

The U.S. market is saturated with chains, including Panera Bread and Noodles & Co., that serve pasta and pizza. Plus, Fazoli’s straddles a blurry line between fast food and the more upscale fast-casual segment, which includes operators such as Chipotle and Au Bon Pain.

“That’s not a terrible place to be. The problem is, you’re lumped in to some extent with fast food because of the drive-thru and the price points, but the quality is not at the level of a fast-casual restaurant,” Tristano said. “That’s not to say it’s not good quality, but there are so many concepts with customized, prepared-to-order food.”

It didn’t help that Fazoli’s had just a handful of local stores. A franchise needs 20 to 25 locations in a big market to build loyalty and brand awareness, Tristano said.

Still, Fazoli’s seems to have righted its ship: The company said in December that same-store sales were up in 65 of the prior 68 months, including a 3.1 percent jump year over year in November. It opened 10 new franchises in 2014 and 2015.

And restaurant operators continue to salivate over the Southern Nevada market, Tristano said.

“Las Vegas has the demographics and growth that many chain brands are looking for,” he said. “Not all of the markets in the United States are growing, but you’re seeing housing development and population growth there, and that’s a big deal. Chains tend to be prioritizing growth markets.”


World of Beer to open taverns in China this year, India and the Philippines are next

February 17, 2016
Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Times
Thursday, February 11, 2016
http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/world-of-beer-to-open-taverns-in-china-this-year-india-and-the-philippines/2265064

Paul Avery, CEO of Tampa-based World of Beer, is pushing the craft beer tavern chain into new international markets this year. 
[Photo courtesy of World of Beer]World of Beer is about to become an international brand.

This year the Tampa-based tavern chain known for its extensive craft beer offerings will open its first overseas bar in Shanghai, CEO Paul Avery said. After that, World of Beer is headed to India and the Philippines. For Avery, a 20-year veteran of the Outback Steakhouse chain, the move to open franchisee-owned taverns overseas is the next logical step for the brand’s growth.

“I am very confident that World of Beer will do well in international markets,” Avery said. “Craft beer is already there. But no one out there offers what we do.”

Americans like to think that beer is solely a yellow, bubbly beverage born in the United States, thanks to brands like Budweiser and Coors, said Brian Connors with Connors Davis Hospitality, a global food and beverage consulting firm in Fort Lauderdale. But every country has a beer culture, he said.

“What you’re seeing is this globalization of American concepts that are flourishing overseas. World of Beer isn’t the first, but it’s part of this wave of fast casual restaurants and gastropubs that are popping up in new markets,” Connors said. “Beer is globally accepted. It’s a good move.”

Avery, 56, joined World of Beer as the company’s CEO in January 2013 when he bought a controlling interest for an undisclosed price. In just three years, World of Beer hardly looks like it did when it launched in 2007. The bar now offers an array of craft cocktails. The footprint is nearly double in size. And most of the taverns serve food.

The 6,000-square-foot World of Beer that opened in September on Fowler Avenue near the University of South Florida offers an open-air bar atmosphere and its own kitchen. It represents what many World of Beer locations will look like soon, Avery said. And when the World of Beer in West Shore’s Avion Park opens in May, it will have a two-story patio called “the flight deck.”

“The taverns that don’t have kitchens yet will get them soon. We’re working on converting all of them,” he said.

Just don’t call World of Beer a restaurant.

“The focus is still on craft beer,” Avery said. “But we knew we had to expand what we offered in order for this to be sustainable. We think the new food menu and craft cocktails only broaden our appeal.”

Restaurant analysts agree.

“The pub experience is one for social gathering that just so happens to have great food and great cocktails,” Connors said. “It’s a smart move by World of Beer, and I think a lot of what’s behind it is millennial-driven. Even at a chain, consumers look for that authentic beer and food experience these days.”

There’s a lot competition, too, in the craft beer market. In Tampa Bay alone, World of Beer competes directly with another craft beer bar chain, the Brass Tap; local brewpubs; and a slew of restaurants that sell craft and locally brewed beer. That’s not to mention the dozens of local breweries that have started up on both sides of the bay.

“As high-quality craft beer has grown and can be found in most bars and restaurants, competition is heating up and the pressure to deliver a better and more unique experience is more pressing,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago food research firm. “Their strategy appears to be putting them on track to satisfying a more broad-based consumer occasion set by expanding to food and cocktails.”

World of Beer has 77 locations in 19 states, including taverns in Manhattan and Kentucky, which opened last year. Of those, 14 are company owned and the rest are owned by franchisees. Avery said World of Beer will open 35 new restaurants this year, including at least one of the three planned for overseas in Shanghai.

The goal is to grow the number of company-owned stores to 30 percent, Avery said.

“It’s a great investment for our shareholders, and it makes us a better franchiser when we know what the day-to-day operations are like,” he said.


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


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