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Red Robin tries a delivery-only spinoff

The Red Robin casual-dining chain has revealed plans to open a storefront-free production facility in downtown Chicago to offer Red Robin-branded products solely for delivery.

Delivery will be provided by employees of the new business, Red Robin Express, as well as by Amazon and DoorDash. Takeout and dine-in service will not be offered. Customers will be able to order most items from Red Robin’s regular menu a la carte, as well as in catering-sized portions.

The setup suggests the chain patterned the outlet after what are called headless restaurants—essentially kitchens that only sell delivered, ready-to-eat fare. Many of those establishments have thrown in the napkin because the lack of an established brand name and high operating costs made the economics unfeasible.

Red Robin has indicated for some time that it intended to explore the use of that model. It did not reveal if the Express will have a minimum-order threshold, or how far from the facility it would be willing to deliver. The first Express will be located in the heart of Chicago, on Michigan Avenue.

A number of full-service Red Robins offer delivery through third parties, but the results have been mixed, CEO Denny Post told investors. She cited such concerns as the quality of what’s delivered, as well as the high commission the services charge.

The venture is the latest in what’s becoming a wave of fast-casual riffs offering food solely for off-premise consumption.

Last week, Bloomin’ Brands revealed that it had opened a combination Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Italian Grill that offers only delivery, takeout and catering.

Buffalo Wild Wings has fired up the fryers of B-Dubs Wings Express, a fast-casual concept with an emphasis on delivery and takeout. Only 35 seats are provided for dine-in service. The prototype features a scaled-down menu of wings, mac and cheese, burgers, chicken tenders and both alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages.

Hooters also has a fast-casual spinoff, called Hoots, with a focus on wings and chicken sandwiches. In a noticeable change from the mother concept, Hoots features male as well as female servers.

Cracker Barrel has a growing presence in the fast-casual market with its Holler & Dash biscuit restaurants.

The diversifications come as casual dining loses customers to fast-casual upstarts. Delivery and takeout have also provided one of the few areas of growth at a time of declining traffic for the full-service sector.

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