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Romano’s Macaroni Grill to add counter service

Romano’s Macaroni Grill will turn part of its restaurants into a fast-casual operation at midday in a bid to bolster lunch traffic, the chain’s parent company, Ignite Restaurant Group, revealed yesterday.

The Romano’s Kitchen Counter will feature 12 entrees priced under $7, and customers will be promised a service time of seven minutes or less, Ignite CEO Ray Blanchette told financial analysts.

“The program was tested in the Cleveland market and resulted in sales trend improvements, with lunch traffic up significantly,” he said.

The retrofit will cost less than $2,500 per unit because 75 percent of the Mac Grill system already has a walk-up counter and display kitchen, integral parts of the concept-within-a-concept, Blanchette said.

Once the lunch service is rolled to all stores, the menu and service set-up will be tweaked to offer consumers another dinner option, he added.

The rollout begins on Monday, and will be complemented by an introductory marketing campaign, Blanchette said.

Mac Grill has been the weakest performance in Ignite’s portfolio, which also includes Joe’s Crab Shack and Brick House Tavern + Tap. The company has closed 14 of the casual Italian restaurants in the last year, and president and CFO Mike Dixon acknowledged that the operation is unprofitable.  Same-store sales for the third quarter fell 8.5 percent, largely as a result of a 13 percent decrease in customer counts, Dixon said.

“While we're optimistic about the Romano's Kitchen Counter launch, we continue to lose money in this business and we are keeping all strategic options open,” Dixon said.

Comparable sales for the third quarter fell at Joe’s by 4.5 percent and increased at Brick House by 7.5 percent.

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