Why new sports bars are blitzing Dallas for a piece of the action

September 28, 2016

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By Karen Robinson-Jacobs
http://www.dallasnews.com/business/restaurants/2016/09/21/sports-bar-operators-look-gain-yardage-north-texas

When The Park, a small sports bar chain, began looking to expand beyond its Austin birthplace, it bypassed Houston and headed straight for Big D.

With its confluence of marquee sports teams across every major league and its never-say-die fans, North Texas has become a magnet for game-focused restaurant chains and independents.

All are hoping to score.

“I don’t think there’s a better sports town anywhere in the country than the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” said Eric Dunahoe, director of operations for The Park, which hopes to open a North Texas location — its first outside of Austin — by late 2017. “If we’re going to be the Texas-owned-and-operated sports bar, we need to be in the city within the state of Texas that’s the best sports town and that’s Dallas.”

The sports bar occupies a unique, if amorphous, niche within the casual dining segment.

There’s no strict definition of what makes sports bars. Generally, they include TV-festooned venues where more than 40 percent of sales come from alcohol and the draw is the love of the game. (Think Buffalo Wild Wings, Dave & Buster’s and Twin Peaks.)

The growth of sports bars — both in number and in sales might — comes as the broader casual dining segment has struggled.

Chicago-based Technomic tracks sales at the Top 500 U.S. restaurant chains. In the 2015 list, about 13 percent of casual dining sales were at “sports bar” concepts.

Sales at sports bars on the Top 500 list grew 7.7 percent in 2015 to $7.3 billion, compared with 2.9 percent sales growth for the broader “varied menu” category, Technomic said.

The top sports bar chains grew their location count by 4.6 percent in 2015 while major full-service chains overall grew at a rate of 0.9 percent.

“I would say this is a fast-growing niche in the full-service industry,” said Technomic president Darren Tristano. “Although independents place higher emphasis on food quality, the chains tend to have the largest consumer attraction due to the size of the locations, variety of adult beverages, affordability of shareable food, comfortable seating and availability of televisions to view a variety of sports.”

North Texas is one of about a dozen U.S. markets with all four major sports leagues — NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — along with soccer and numerous alums from powerhouse college programs.

And it’s increasingly a draw for migrants from other major sports towns, who bring their viewing loyalties with them.

That makes North Texas fertile ground for expansion-minded sports bar operators.

It’s also home base for several of the major chains including Twin Peaks, Boston’s and Dave & Buster’s.

Dave & Buster’s was born in Dallas in 1982 as a hybrid restaurant/playground that enticed guests to “Eat. Drink. Play,” with a focus on food and electronic games. In 2011, the Dallas-based chain added “Watch,” as part of a full-court-press designed to include a branded “D&B Sports” area near the restaurant bar.

Today, all 86 U.S. Dave & Buster’s locations include amped-up “sports viewing packages.” About 80 percent are officially branded with D&B Sports sections that bring the restaurant TV screen count up to about 40 (compared with 20 pre-sports push).

That includes two or three 180-inch screens, according to Sean Gleason, chief marketing officer for Dave & Buster’s.

The sports theme has helped Dave & Buster’s appeal to millennials, who gravitate to the communal dining spaces and party-like atmosphere.

On a recent football Sunday, manager Don McDougall presided over the dimly lit but highly animated scene at the Dave & Buster’s on Central Expressway — a restaurant that promises the “ultimate sports watching experience.”

The bar shows every NFL game on Sunday.

As the Cowboys battled the New York Giants, the chatter among the sports fans was constant. A taunt here, a high-five-punctuated boast there. Cheers and groans were interrupted by the occasional “Over here” as patrons vied for attention from a worker lobbing Dave & Buster’s T-shirts into the crowd.

“We try to make it just like tailgating, with prizes, a T-shirt cannon,” said McDougall of the 4-year-old location. “We try to make it as close to being at an actual game as possible.”

Near the center of the bar area, Brad Cotton, 33, and his wife Donna, 42, of DeSoto said they can be found at a sports bar any given Sunday, unless family members are hosting a watch party.

“Going to the game is a little expensive,” said Brad, who was wearing a No. 82 Jason Witten jersey. “So that’s once a year if we do that. This is affordable, but you’re still around die-hard fans. You want to be in the atmosphere with other fans, that’s going to turn up like you turn up.”

Donna noted that the uniform of the day was predominantly blue and white.

“When we walk through the door, just because we have Cowboys gear on, everybody becomes friends,” she said. “That’s pretty cool.”

None of the sports fans interviewed were surprised that North Texas is home to a growing sports bar scene.

“Sports are big in North Texas, whether it’s NASCAR [or] football,” said Daryl Hope, 47, who is moving soon from Forest Hill to Rockwall.

Hope prefers his perch at Dave & Buster’s to stadium seating because it allows him to watch multiple games at once.

That’s important, he said, since he’s big into fantasy football. Try 14 leagues big.

The introduction of fantasy football to younger consumers and mainstream consumers, including women, has given the sports bar segment a nice lift, Tristano said.

Despite the fan enthusiasm, North Texas remains a challenging market as operators compete for both consumers and investors.

In 2000, when the Canadian-based pizza and sports bar chain Boston Pizza began investing in a U.S. expansion, it headed straight for North Texas. The U.S. headquarters is in Dallas and a corporate restaurant that doubles as a training center is in Irving along busy Interstate 635.

Three more franchised locations were added locally through 2007. Then the company was hit with a blitz known as the great recession. From about 60 U.S. locations, the brand dropped to about 25. No additional locations have opened in North Texas in the past 9 years.

Nationally, the brand gained some yardage and is now back up to 29 locations. And while the company has found a franchisee to grow in West Texas — two locations will open in El Paso next year — the company has yet to find the right local combination of investor and real estate for North Texas.

“There’s lots of competition,” said Ken Phipps, director of franchise development for Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, the U.S. arm, as the lunch bunch watched highlights from the weekend’s sports matchups.

North Texas “is and will remain one of our target markets to find the right franchise partners to help us grow.”

“It’s a very expensive market as far as real estate,” he added. “It retained its real estate value post-2008, and it’s gone nothing but skyward. Especially locations like Frisco, Plano, Arlington, with all of the new big developments like the Cowboys’ The Star.”

Three different franchisees own the three noncorporate D-FW locations. Now the company, like many major chains, is looking for large investors who can open more than one location.

“It’s a big investment,” he said, “We look for a net worth of $1.5 to $2 million and liquidity of $500,000.”

“We really want to grow our D-FW market,” said the North Texas native. “It’s our home. It’s our backyard for the U.S., and if we find the right partners we could easily add 15 restaurants in the next five years. This market can easily handle that.

“I’m grinning about the opportunities here in Texas,” he added, after showing off the restaurant’s 160-inch drop-down screen. “It’s very exciting.”


Shrinking sales pushing Bonefish Grill chain to close 14 restaurants, restructure

February 22, 2016
Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Times
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:12am
http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/bonefish-grill-to-close-14-restaurants-and-restructure/2265710

Times files
Bonefish Grille on North Dale Mabry Highway.Bonefish Grill will close 14 restaurants this year as the seafood chain restructures following several quarters of disappointing sales results.

Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands, the parent company of Bonefish Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, announced Wednesday that it expects the 14 Bonefish Grill locations to close within the year. Bloomin’ took a pre-tax charge of $24.2 million during the fourth quarter of 2015 in connection with the closures. No specific stores were named.

“We needed to strip out the complexity that had impacted the core service at Bonefish and focus on what wasn’t broken,” said Bloomin’ Brands CEO, Liz Smith, during an earnings call Wednesday. “We’ve done that. It’s important to look beyond quarter to quarter. We expect 2016 to be a strengthening and momentum story for Bonefish Grill as we move through the year.”

Sales were down at Bonefish Grill by 5.4 percent for the months of October through December as compared to same period in 2014. Sales for the quarter were down a combined 2.8 percent at all Bloomin’ restaurant brands in the U.S.

Bonefish Grill, which was intended to be the leading brand for new growth in Bloomin’ Brands’ restaurant portfolio last year, saw the steepest declines. This is the third quarter of decline for the chain, 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 similar to restaurants like Seasons 52 or Carmel Cafe.

But Bonefish’s biggest competitors are independent restaurants, said Malcolm Knapp, a restaurant economist in New York City and the founder of Knapp-Track, an industry tool used to track restaurant sales.

“Bonefish is in a good spot where they can appeal to a higher demographic because the food quality is good,” Knapp said. “But independent restaurants are getting bigger and there are a lot of really great chef-driven places out there. With the shrinking size of the middle class, restaurants are seeing less frequency from consumers, who have a lot more choices.”

An “anti-chain” movement from a younger demographic has changed the way consumers are spending their money and hurt chain restaurants like Bonefish. Millennials and generation X-ers are looking for value but often opt to try a locally owned restaurant rather than a chain.

“This is a symptom of a bigger issue,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food research firm. “Fast food and fast casual concepts continue to do well but casual dining is staying stagnant. It doesn’t help that Bonefish is a seafood restaurant, which has its ups and downs and isn’t as broadly appealing as steaks or Italian.”

Nevertheless, Knapp believes Bloomin’ is taking the right steps to get Bonefish Grill back on track this year. The company named Gregg Scarlett as Bonefish’s CEO in March 2015. Founding Seasons 52 chef, Clifford Pleau was hired away to Bonefish in Sept. 2014. Since then, the restaurant chain has simplified its menu and instituted an updated look inside newer restaurants.

“They are clearly in the middle of a turnaround,” Knapp said. “Bonefish is not young. The market has moved on from them. But it’s not unusual for large chains to do some pruning like this periodically.”

Bonefish Grill opened two new restaurants in the U.S. from September to December 2015, bringing the total count to 210. The company opened more than a dozen Bonefish locations from 2014 to 2015. However, Smith said in August that development for Bonefish would stall until sales improved.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill also had a shake up in leadership. Bloomin’ Brands announced that Mike Kappitt was named president the day before Bloomin’ released its fourth quarter results. Kappitt will be responsible for leading operations and development of the Carrabba’s brand in the U.S. He most recently served as the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Bloomin’ Brands. The former president, David Pace, left the company to become CEO at Jamba Juice last month.

Bloomin’ Brands fourth-quarter revenue was $1.04 billion, down 5.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014. The company’s net income for the fourth quarter was $17.7 million, down from $22.4 million the year before. Earnings per share were 14 cents for the quarter, down from 17 cents in 2014. Sales were down for the quarter at brands across the U.S. Sales in international markets were up — Outback Steakhouse sales in Brazil saw a 7.3 percent increase. The company operates 75 Outback Steakhouse restaurants in Brazil and 75 in South Korea.

Shares in Bloomin’ Brands fell nearly 11 percent Wednesday to $15.10 despite strong daily gains by all the major U.S. stock markets. The company’s stock price has not been this low since 2012.


Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® Wins Chain Restaurant Consumers’ Choice Award

January 27, 2016

Nick Flanagan, a senior vice president for restaurant and retail for Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores®, accepts award from Technomic President Darren Tristano. Cracker Barrel was named a Chain Restaurants Consumers' Choice Award winner for 2016. (Photo: Business Wire)LEBANON, Tenn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® was named Chain Restaurant Consumers’ Choice Awards winner in the full service restaurant category for the value it provides through excellent service, marking the restaurant company’s third win since 2013.

Conducted by Technomic Inc., a leading food industry research company, its fourth annual Chain Restaurant Consumers’ Choice Awards identifies the top chain restaurants by asking nearly 100,000 consumers to rate over 120 leading restaurant chains on 60 different attributes ranging from the quality of food to the overall brand reputation. Cracker Barrel was given top marks on its ability to provide value through high-quality service, according to consumers.

“Consumers give Cracker Barrel credit for its friendly and polite servers,” said Technomic Inc. President Darren Tristano. “When we asked why they gave high ratings for their visit, many of our respondents talked about how they always make people feel at home.”

“Cracker Barrel’s commitment to excellence is driven by our mission of Pleasing People,” said Cracker Barrel Senior Vice President of Restaurant and Retail Operations Nick Flanagan, who accepted the award at Technomic’s Consumer Insights Planning Program Conference in Newport Beach, California on Thursday, Jan. 14.

“We promise guests a friendly, home-away-from-home, where they can relax, enjoy real home-style food and be cared for like family,” he continued. “Since 2013, Cracker Barrel has been voted the top full service restaurant in the Consumers’ Choice Awards’ ‘Pleasant, Friendly Service,’ ‘Food and Beverage,’ and ‘Value Through Service’ categories, which is a testament to our 72,000 employees who bring our mission to life every day.”

About Technomic

Only Technomic, A Winsight Company, delivers a 360-degree view of the food industry. We impact growth and profitability for our clients by providing consumer-grounded vision and channel-relevant strategic insights. Our services range from major research studies and management consulting solutions to online databases and simple fact-finding assignments. Our clients include food manufacturers and distributors, restaurants and retailers, other foodservice organizations, and various institutions aligned with the food industry. Visit us atwww.technomic.com.

About Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. provides a friendly home-away-from-home in its old country stores and restaurants. Guests are cared for like family while relaxing and enjoying real home-style food and shopping that’s surprisingly unique, genuinely fun and reminiscent of America’s country heritage…all at a fair price. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. (NASDAQ: CBRL) was established in 1969 in Lebanon, Tenn. and operates 635 company-owned locations in 42 states. Nation’s Restaurant News’ 2015 Consumer Picks survey named Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® the winner in two Family-Dining Restaurants categories – Menu Variety and Atmosphere. For more information about the company, visit crackerbarrel.com.


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


Uno Chain Putting Pizza First Again

March 2, 2015

tlumacki_pizzeriauno_business375-001Pizza First ; Uno, once deemed the healthiest chain restaurant in America, ditches its nutritionist and goes back to its high-calorie roots to stand out from its rivals

By Taryn Luna Globe Correspondent
http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/02/27/uno-chain-putting-pizza-first-again/Idbh31HEj5KahzIpPxZk7I/story.html
© 2015 The Boston Globe. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Uno Pizzeria and Grill, the deep-dish pizza restaurant chain that switched years ago to a menu emphasizing pages of healthy food, is returning to its cheesy roots. Calorie counters beware.

In 2008, the West Roxbury company had happily embraced a new title, bestowed by Health magazine: healthiest restaurant chain in America.

Now Uno’s traditional fare — including its 2,300-calorie Chicago Classic individual pizza — is back near the front of the menu.

Said Dee Hadley, chief marketing officer at Uno:

“If you came into our restaurant and tried to find pizza on our menu, you would have had a hard time because we hid it in the back. It’s about going back to what made the brand great to begin with.”

Hadley and a new team of executives have spent more than $10 million to remodel dozens of restaurants and start a rebranding campaign. The goal is to emphasize Uno’s pizza heritage, a way to stand out in a waning casual dining business teeming with big competitors like Applebee’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday’s, and Red Robin.

Uno was founded in Chicago in 1943, serving thick-crust pizza that curved up the sides of its deep metal pan. The pizza was so unusual that the original owners, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, gave away samples to entice people to try it, Chicago historian Tim Samuelson said.

It paid off, and the restaurant became wildly popular.

In 1979, a Boston restaurateur, Aaron Spencer, became the first franchisee and opened an Uno on Boylston Street. Spencer continued to expand the chain in Boston and beyond. Over time, Uno grew to more than 200 restaurants.

But the company began to distance itself from its pizza roots in the early 2000s. Like many other casual restaurant chains, it expanded the menu to appeal to as many customers as possible, said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at the food industry research firm Technomic in Chicago.

In an increasingly health-conscious time, people weren’t flocking to Uno for pizza that often topped 1,700 calories for an individual serving. Every restaurant, from McDonald’s to Applebee’s, looked for ways to cut calories.

Around 2005, Uno began a campaign to cultivate a healthier image. The brand, which had already changed its name to Uno Chicago Grill from Pizzeria Uno, eliminated trans fats from the menu and listed ingredients and calories on touch-screen kiosks. The new menu featured pages of salads.

Uno hired a full-time nutritionist and started a nutrition advisory board, which included a cardiologist from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Creating a menu with delicious health-conscious options is one of our priorities,” Frank W. Guidara, then Uno’s chief executive, said a few years into the process. In an April 2006 Boston Globe article, Guidara said sales were up almost 2 percent because of the changes.

But the menu changes turned Uno into another Applebee’s, with a broad range of dishes and no emphasis on anything, Tristano said. At one point, the menu stretched to 22 pages. The restaurant’s deep dish pizzas appeared on page 18.

“They really changed the menu and mimicked what other casual restaurants were doing,” Tristano said. “Today we’ve learned that menus are too big, and casual dining brands are too ubiquitous.”

Uno discovered that the hard way. The company faced heavy debt and declining sales during the recession, when people ate out less frequently. Uno suffered net losses of $22 million in 2009 and filed for bankruptcy protection the following year.

Now, a new team of executives is trying to move forward with more than a nod to the past. The main objective: Give customers what they want.

Hadley said that when she joined in May 2013, the company went back through consumer studies for the prior five years to understand what people liked about Uno. Not surprisingly, the answer was deep dish pizza.

“We’ve really made a commitment to send a message to our consumer base that we’re bringing back the soul of the brand that we’ve lost,” Hadley said.

The first step was to rename the restaurant Uno Pizzeria and Grill, followed by a redesign of the restaurants. About 40 of the chain’s 82 corporate-owned restaurants have been remodeled, starting last year, at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 per eatery, Hadley said.

At an updated restaurant in Braintree, the yellow and white checkered tablecloths and Tiffany pendants that dangled from the ceiling have been replaced with wood tables and modern light fixtures. Construction crews removed a wall in the bar and took down glass partitions in the dining room for a more open-concept feel. The restaurant added a new bar top and high tables, doubling the size of the bar.

Daily specials are written on chalkboards, and simple art adorns the walls with phrases like “We owe it all to a man and his pan.”

Uno says the remodeling is starting to pay off. Updated restaurants have experienced a 10 percent sales growth, she said.

The timing isn’t ideal for a return to high-calorie pizza fare, however. The federal government will require chains to list calorie counts on their menus by the end of this year.

Some diners won’t care. But others may choose smaller portions or different dishes when they realize the high calorie count of a favorite item.

“The calories on the menu will be really an eye-opener to the consumer,” said Joan Salge Black, a professor in the nutrition program at Boston University.

While gluten-free and low-fat items haven’t disappeared from the Uno menu, the nutrition advisory board isn’t active, and Uno no longer employs a nutritionist.

“We want to make sure healthy choices are available, but if you’re looking for those things you’re not thinking about us,” Hadley said. “Strong brands have to stand for something that is different from the rest of the pack. Our heritage is deep dish pizza.”


Asian Concepts Poised for High Unit rowth this Year

November 25, 2014

New data from Technomic forecasts a 2.3-percent unit growth rate over 2013 among the 500 largest US restaurant chains.

According to a news release, this will be slightly higher than the 2.1-percent growth rate from 2012-13 and much higher than the 0.5 percent rate in 2009.

The unit growth is rising in both the full and limited-service segments. Technomic EVP Darren Tristano said fast casual concepts will continue to show high levels of unit growth, as well limited and full-service Asian concepts. Among full-service restaurant menu segments, Asian will increase units by 5.1 percent, followed by seafood (3.9 percent) and steak (3.4 percent).

Asian/noodle also leads the limited-service menu segments, increasing unit counts by 8 percent, while bakery cafes and coffee cafes will grow units by 5.2 and 4.2 percent, respectively.

Many full-service brands have positioned themselves to expand this past year. The largest growth has been at Buffalo Wild Wings, which will have added 65 units, Mellow Mushroom (32 units) and LongHorn Steakhouse (24 units), according to Technomic.

In limited service, Subway will add 908 units by year-end, followed by Starbucks (443), Jimmy Johns (350) and Dunkin Donuts (291).

Fast casual to continue double-digit sales bump
Additionally, limited-service restaurants are expected to gain a sales bump of 3.5 percent. Fast casual chains should experience a 10.8-percent increase in sales, while quick-service chains increase 2.3 percent.

Full-service restaurants will experience a 2.5 percent sales increase in 2014, similar to the 2.4 percent increase in 2013.

Fine dining is expected to continue its post-Recession rebound, with a 5.8-percent sales increase. Casual and midscale restaurant growth will be nominal, at 2.8 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

Q3 traffic gains at Mexican concepts
Additionally, research from The NPD Group analyzed Q3 consumer traffic at US restaurants, and shows an increase in the fast casual segment, as well as at coffee/donut/bagel concepts and Mexican concepts.

Fast casual restaurants posted an 8 percent gain in traffic across all dayparts compared to same quarter year ago. Visits to Mexican quick service and coffee/donut/bagel concepts grew by 5 percent, according to NPD’s foodservice market research.

Conversely, hamburger quick-service traffic, which represents the largest share of quick service visits at 23 percent, declined by 3 percent compared to same quarter year ago. Visits to both sandwich concepts and Asian quick-serve restaurants were down 1 percent.

Although total industry traffic was flat in the quarter, consumer spending rose 3 percent in the July/August/September quarter due to average eater check gains. Check and dollar gains are in line with food away-from-home inflation. Dealing/discounts are still supporting traffic with visits on a deal up 4 percent compared to a decline in non-deal visits.

“Although total traffic is flat, the visit growth in the fast casual, coffee/donut/bagel, and Mexican QSR shows that consumers still have an interest in going out to restaurants,” NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs said in a news release. “Those restaurant concepts that are meeting the needs of today’s foodservice consumers will win their visits.”


Pizza Hut Grows Stale with American Diners

August 28, 2014

35a5f4ba06ee437491f8f75417fb078bBy Venessa Wong, Businessweek

Pizza Hut, the country’s largest pizza chain, seems to be losing favor with American diners.
The 56-year-old pizza restaurant’s same-store sales in the U.S. have fallen for seven consecutive quarters as competitors Domino’s (DPZ +1.35%) and Papa John’s (PZZA +0.56%) have seen sales increase.
“We’re obviously disappointed with second-quarter results and particularly with the very poor performance in our U.S. business,” David Novak, the chief executive of parent company Yum Brands (YUM +0.50%), said of Pizza Hut during an earnings call in July. “We’ve had our ebbs and flows versus the competition over the years, and I can assure you we will be back,” Novak told investors.

Pizza Hut remains the largest pizza chain in the U.S. by far, with more than 7,800 restaurants — it continues to add more locations. But, says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at research firm Technomic, as quick-service competitors such as Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Little Caesars cut into Pizza Hut’s U.S. business, new fast-casual, made-to-order pizza concepts are also expected to steal market share.

Pizza Hut’s recent menu launches — such as crazy cheesy crust pizza, three cheese stuffed crust pizza, and Blake Shelton-endorsed BBQ sauce pizza — have failed to improve results.

The chain is focused heavily on China, where it is developing Pizza Hut as a more upscale casual dining restaurant rather than as a delivery and takeout joint. It now has 1,134 sit-down locations in China — where sales are increasing — and just 215 delivery shops. In the U.S., only 14 percent of Pizza Hut’s business is dine-in.

Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr says China has not been a distraction. “Both our domestic and international businesses are incredibly important to the health of our brand,” he said in an e-mail. “As we’ve matured around the world, we’ve developed dedicated resources to handle that growth without wavering on our commitments to our business here.”

Terfehr cited recent efforts, such as a dessert partnership with Hershey (HSY +0.02%) that kicked off with an 8-inch cookie, the addition of equipment to all Pizza Hut restaurants to serve Wing Street chicken, and updating its website and app this spring as major turnaround efforts.

Bigger changes are on the way. Novak told investors that Pizza Hut will “launch a number of major initiatives in the United States to reignite sales beginning in the fourth quarter,” including plans to boost millennial-targeted advertising and digital marketing and a greater focus on value.

Expect New Dishes at Your Favorite Casual-Dining Spots

April 21, 2014

getimage.aspx“The food, it is kind of incidental to everything else,” said Myers, dining recently in the cafe at Universal CityWalk.

Hard Rock is seeking to change that attitude with a major menu makeover, one of many that casual-dining chains are doing to keep up in a competitive industry. Olive Garden, Smokey Bones and Tony Roma’s are among those trying to offer a better bill of fare to woo diners with increasingly sophisticated palates.

“People are more food savvy because of social networking,” Hard Rock’s executive chef Russell Booth said. “They’re expecting great food with flavor, with punch.”

A musical museum of sorts, Hard Rock is themed to the extreme. But the company said it wants to make what diners taste as much a reason to visit as what they see and hear. So it conducted a soup-to-nuts analysis that spanned 15 months and solicited opinions from more than 3,000 customers.

Thirty dishes and drinks are new. Almost as many other items have different ingredients and preparation methods.

Results range from a new chicken arugula salad to adult beverages with trendy additions such as bacon and salted caramel. Hard Rock replaced queso on its nachos with two layers of mixed cheeses and added toppings such as smoked beef brisket. Other changes are more subtle, such as new brioche burger buns to replace potato ones.

Still, Hard Rock hasn’t strayed too far from its roots: heaping portions of typical casual-dining chow.

Tony Roma’s took a more radical approach with a rebranding experiment in Orlando. It essentially gutted its old menu, keeping its signature ribs but switching out almost everything else for trendier fare such as pulled pork tacos and fish with couscous.

That’s risky, however, and unusual, experts say.

“It’s about balancing what is familiar — old favorites, signature items, with items that are new,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of restaurant-research firm Technomic.

Experts say casual-dining restaurants are reinventing menus to fight a trend of declining traffic and sales. But other types of restaurants are making changes, too. Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A recently introduced grilled-chicken dishes marinated in sea salt, lemon, garlic and herbs and cooked on a new kind of grill meant to create the flavor of a backyard barbecue.

Such changes aren’t always a recipe for success.

In late 2012, Red Lobster added more-affordable meals and many others that didn’t feature fish. Sales at the seafood chain owned by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants have declined sharply since, diving 8.7 percent in its most recent quarter.

At Olive Garden, also owned by Darden, one lesson learned from Red Lobster is that “you can’t forget that there’s something for everyone on this menu,” said Jay Spenchian, the Italian chain’s executive vice president of marketing. “You have to have those messages to different audiences going simultaneously.”

Olive Garden recently debuted more than 20 new tapas-style dishes meant to attract younger consumers. Grilled chicken with broth and vegetables appears on the lighter-fare section aimed at health-conscious diners. Several $9.99 pasta and sauce combinations are meant to appeal to customers on a budget.

To lure people with more adventurous tastes, Olive Garden added dishes with pesto and spicy diavolo sauces, which the chain had previously shied away from for fear of alienating core customers.

“We can’t be afraid when we put something on the menu [that] some people aren’t going to like it,” Spenchian said. “Before, we were a little enamored with trying to get everyone to like something a little bit.”

One of Olive Garden’s competitors, Tampa-based Carrabba’s Italian Grill, also recently added 15 new dishes for less than $15.

At Orlando-based Smokey Bones, Chief Executive Officer Chris Artinian said the goal of recent menu changes is to emphasize freshness. More sides and sauces are homemade. The restaurants are buying brisket with more fat and smoking it longer — 14 hours — for more tender meat and richer flavor. New items, meanwhile, include fried pickles, additional chicken-wing sauces and a margarita with Pop Rocks on the rim.

At the restaurants, some foods have disappeared — and not just to make room for new ones.

The overall number of items at Tony Roma’s dropped from 62 to 51 after the chain already dropped about 30 others a year and a half ago. Smokey Bones and Hard Rock both ended up with slightly fewer items than before.

Spenchian said Olive Garden’s menu is about the same size but a few things could be deleted in the near future to make operations less complex.

That, too, is a common theme in the industry now.

At Smokey Bones, Artinian said, part of the revamp was “ensuring our menu has enough variety but also small enough that we do everything great.”


Strangers eat out together – Communal tables new dining trend

June 21, 2013

Mary Altman and John Pinson, though each traveling alone on business, savored some conversation with their barbecue recently as they sat together at one of 4 Rivers Smokehouse’s large picnic tables in Winter Park, Fla.

The two discovered they both live in Jacksonville, Fla., so they chatted about their lives there.

“When you’re by yourself, it’s nice to meet somebody and, coincidentally, to meet somebody from your own hometown,” said Pinson, a salesman in his 70s.

Diners such as Pinson are surrendering some of their personal space as more restaurants install communal tables. The extra-long tables, which generally seat from six to 16 people each, are often occupied by multiple groups of diners who don’t know one another.

Though such tables are supposed to foster a sense of togetherness, restaurants also have a financial incentive to use them because they seat more people quickly.

“This is going to be a trend that will slowly become part of the restaurant-dining-seating options,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at the food-industry-research company Technomic. “Over time, more restaurants will jump in because they can squeeze more space out of it.”

For some people, communal dining feels too much like sitting with a bunch of strange students in the school cafeteria. But it is gaining acceptance as eating out in America becomes more casual, New York restaurant consultant Clark Wolf said.

“The notion of formal dining at your own table, with all that goes with it, has receded more and more,” he said. “We just don’t value it anymore the same way we did.”

But casual restaurants aren’t the only ones doing this. At a high- end Orlando restaurant called simply The Table, customers pay $120 apiece to sit for hours around a single, 22-seat table with strangers as they consume a five-course meal.

“Usually by the end of the first course, people are talking, and it’s great,” said Tyler Brassil, who co-owns The Table with his wife. “It’s a community thing.”

The 4 Rivers chain, meanwhile, has dining rooms dominated by picnic tables, along with some booths.

“It fits really into our entire model of wanting people to be together,” founder John Rivers said. “Anyone can sit with anybody here.”

For solo diners, communal tables can help them feel less awkward about sitting alone without forcing them to sit at the bar. McCoy’s Bar & Grill in the Hyatt Regency at Orlando International Airport added two long tables recently to appeal to travelers who might be alone.

For Altman, a marketer who frequently dines alone while on business trips, communal dining is a comfortable arrangement. But when she brought her more introverted husband to 4 Rivers, she said, “he was not quite as comfortable as I was.”

Zagat Survey has listed communal tables as the No. 1 most- annoying restaurant trend. Jason Kessler, who writes a column, The Nitpicker, for Bon Appetit magazine’s website, has also given them a harsh review.

Kessler is 30 – one of those “millennials” who supposedly embrace togetherness.

But “when I go out to dinner, I’ve chosen who I’m going with for specific reasons,” he said. “I like the privacy of dining at my own table.”

Others, such as Laura Kaminsky of Longwood, Fla., are more ambivalent. Kaminsky has eaten at communal tables, mostly while on vacation. In general, she prefers traditional restaurant seating.

Still, she said, “if you embrace it, it’s an opportunity to meet people. Kind of an adventure.”

Pulitzer Newspapers Inc.


Old Casual-Dining Chains Stuck in the Middle Restaurants like Applebee’s and Chili’s Squeezed from Above and Below as Tastes, Income Change

June 3, 2013

Casual dining is in the throes of a midlife crisis.

A quarter-century ago, consumers feasted on unlimited breadsticks and big desserts at Applebee’s, Olive Garden and Chili’s. Today, many Americans are trading those restaurants in for cheaper, faster fare or splurging a bit for a trendier experience.

Midprice sit-down restaurants — known in the industry as casual dining — have seen on average about 2 percent fewer customer visits each year since 2008. That translates to a total drop of almost 600 million annual visits, to 6.4 billion in 2012.

“They’ve been around quite a while, and … many of them have not stayed as relevant in meeting consumers’ wants and needs of today,” said Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant analyst with NPD Group.

The world’s largest casual-dining company, Darden Restaurants, has been hit especially hard. Company executives cut sales and earnings expectations last month, acknowledging to analysts their major brands such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster have suffered because they’ve been too slow responding to shifts in how Americans eat out.

“It is clear to us that, given our current business situation, we are indeed in a new era,” Chief Executive Officer Clarence Otis told analysts.

Applebee’s and IHOP owner DineEquity reported declining traffic at both brands for its fourth quarter, while Chili’s parent Brinker International toned down its profit forecast.

“We know casual dining is not the bright, shining star that it used to be,” Brinker Chief Executive Officer Wyman Roberts told analysts.

Tony Roma’s has dwindled from 157 U.S. restaurants to 40 during the past decade — though the company says it’s still opening new locations.

The industry is trying to reinvent itself with lower-price meals that are quicker and more healthful.

Darden said recently it plans to speed up Olive Garden’s lunch service, jump on culinary trends more quickly, attract younger diners with more technology and lure back lower-income customers with good deals.

Americans cut dining-out budgets dramatically during the economic downturn, from which many haven’t fully recovered.

“It’s a lot of money” to dine out at Red Lobster or Romano’s Macaroni Grill, said Jhonatan Arias, 26. “If you have the money to sit down and splurge, then we go to a place like that.”

Last week, he took a noontime break at Tijuana Flats, a “fast-casual” chain that has gobbled up customers at a steady pace.

Visits to those restaurants, which include Chipotle and 4 Rivers, rose by 8 percent last year compared with 2011, according to NPD Group.

Fast-casual restaurants sell fare that’s a step up from fast food. But customers still order and pay at the counter.

“It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s less expensive,” said Fraley Sadlo, who frequents Tijuana Flats and Einstein Bros Bagels with her sons.

Applebee’s is testing a lunchtime express service in its hometown of Kansas City, Mo. Customers can order and pay at kiosks, so they don’t have to wait for servers to bring checks when they’re done.

The old chains are getting threatened by new “polished casual” restaurants.

Places such as The Cheesecake Factory appeal to younger, more affluent diners who “want something new, contemporary, more social and more exciting,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of research company Technomic.

In recent years, Darden has been moving in the same direction, launching Seasons 52 in 2003 and now acquiring Yard House, an upscale bar and grill chain.

Restaurants that stay with the traditional model risk losing customers such as Sadlo, the mom who visits fast-casual places with her kids.

For date night with her husband, she moves up to more-expensive, often independent restaurants.