- Applebee’s had the restaurant industry’s comeback of the year in 2018.
- US same-store sales were up 5.5% in the first nine months of 2018, after years of slumping sales and dozens of store closings.
- “I love that line, Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining,’ ‘We’re back!'” Steve Joyce, the CEO of the chain’s parent company, Dine Brands, told Business Insider in November.
2018 was a good year for Applebee’s. And it came after quite a few bad years.
Applebee’s sales were plummeting, with dozens of locations closing as the chain struggled to reach millennial diners. Millennials, apparently, were killing Applebee’s. The chain was simply not cool, and there was nothing that could be done to fix it.
This year, Applebee’s proved that narrative wrong.
To be fair, the comeback began in 2017. Steve Joyce had taken over as CEO of the chain’s parent company, Dine Brands, in September of that year. One month later, the chain launched the Dollarita, a $US1 margarita deal that immediately lifted sales.
But it wasn’t until 2018 when Applebee’s showed that the success wasn’t a fluke.
US same-store sales at Applebee’s were up 5.5% in the first nine months of 2018. The Dollarita kicked off a cheap-drinks revolution at the chain, with new limited-time beverages priced at $US1 to $US3 rolling out every month.
“I love that line, Jack Nicholson in ‘The Shining,’ ‘We’re back!'” Joyce told Business Insider this past November.
The return to growth took a paradigm shift, both internally and outside the company. Joyce says Dine Brands underwent a cultural shift, with the company reestablishing its credibility with employees. Changes such as readjusting parental-leave policies helped, but so did the early stages of turnaround.
“We had a couple quick wins when people started gaining some confidence – they started to believe,” Joyce said. “You can tell there’s an attitude that’s different in the company if you visit the offices.”
For customers, there was a different cultural shift.
“I think the customer was confused as to what Applebee’s was because they heard several different messages over time,” Joyce said.
Now the message is back to “eating good in the neighbourhood,” with inexpensive food that doesn’t try to be fancy. The Dollarita kicked off a new paradigm of what customers wanted – homey deals with a side of quirkiness.
Joyce says the comeback will continue in 2019. Food costs are set to drop because of tariffs, and Applebee’s is doubling down on delivery, with hopes of bringing off-venue sales to 20% of sales, up from 10%.
- Read more in our Retailer of the Year series:
- Taco Bell’s nacho fries were the best new fast-food menu item to debut this year
- Amazon’s likely multimillion-dollar disaster on Prime Day proved it’s not immune from embarrassment
- These are the brands that blew up in 2018
- Abercrombie removed its shirtless models and turned up the lights in stores, leading to the biggest retail comeback of the year
- We visited dozens of stores this year, and these were the messiest by far