Is Casual Dining Staging a Comeback?

Sales at chains such as Ruby Tuesday and Applebee’s have been rebounding.

July 06, 2018

CHICAGO – Casual restaurants have begun to reinvent themselves, ditching the large portions for smaller plates and updating ingredients to include more fresh and local options. The result has been a resurgence of sales at casual-dining chains, the Wall Street Journal reports.

For years, these middle-of-the-road chains had been hemorrhaging customers, who fled to establishments with quicker service and healthier menus. The result had many chains closing units or filing for Chapter 11, but after the dust settled, these casual restaurant chains have revamped themselves to fit in more with contemporary notions of dining.

This year, same-store sales at casual-dining restaurants jumped a 0.5% January to April, a welcome reversal from the 1.1% drop in the prior-year period, according to marketing research firm Malcolm Knapp.

TGI Fridays, which had a management takeover last year, focused both on in-store dining and its to-go business with success. “Some brands in this sector have focused on one and not the other, but it’s important to do both,” said Stephanie Perdue, marketing chief for TGI Fridays. About half of the chain’s locations now have a new design, some with open kitchens. Its burgers blend brisket and chuck, while its menu boasts a vegetarian burger too.

Olive Garden streamlined food prep, worked on increasing alcohol sales and freshened its bread sticks for a boost in sales. Red Lobster added smaller plates and online ordering, plus it’s dabbling in delivery.

Even Applebee’s, which suffered from dismal sales the past few years, has seen things turn around lately. “We’re stealing share from our competitors and delivering the best sustained traffic performance we’ve experienced in more than a decade,” said Applebee’s President John Cywinski.