Applebee’s bets on wood grills as key sales remedy

applebees steaks grill

In what management has touted as the boldest move yet in Applebee’s turnaround effort, oak-fired grills have been installed in all 2,000 units to change how more than 40 percent of the ailing chain’s menu tastes.

The focus will shift to hand-cut steaks. Guests will be able to choose the size of their sirloin (six, eight or 12 ounces) and have it grilled to order. The meat will be offered with a choice of two sides, including grilled veggies.

The new grills also will allow the chain to change the way it cooks chicken and salmon, and to add a wood-grilled bone-in pork chop to the menu, said Cammie Spillyards-Schaefer, VP of culinary and menu strategy for Applebee’s.

“Going forward, we are very focused on doing fewer things and doing those things better,” she said.

The grills, a combined 60,000 hours of training for meat cutters and a marketing campaign to support the introduction together represent an investment of more than $75 million by Applebee’s franchisees, parent company DineEquity said in a press release.

The menu makeover is what the chain is calling “the first chapter in the reinvention of the Applebee’s brand.”

“We’re in the midst of a business transformation at Applebee’s and we are recommitting ourselves to every aspect of the guest experience—food is, of course, central to that,” said DineEquity CEO Julia Stewart.

Same-store sales at Applebee’s continued a downward trend during the first quarter of 2016, falling 3.7 percent year over year. The Q1 dip was the chain’s most significant in recent quarters, following a 2.5 percent slide in Q4 and a 0.5 percent drop in Q3 of last year.

To get the “hand-cut wood-fired” message out, a new series of ads will break Monday night on TV, online and in movie theaters.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Saladworks-parent WOWorks is shopping for new brands to buy

The platform company is almost finished assimilating its existing six brands. Now it's time to add to the family, said CEO Kelly Roddy.


2 more reminders that the restaurant business is risky

The Bottom Line: Franchising is no less risky than opening your own restaurant. Just ask former NFL player David Tyree and the former president of McDonald's Mexico.


There's plenty happening at the high end of the pricing barbell, too

Reality Check: Decadent meal choices are also proliferating, for a lot more than $5.


More from our partners