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.

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