Rare is the restaurateur who’s never made a mistake. The number who crow about their blunders is right there with the world headcount of 6-foot-tall albino penguins. Recent days have brought a number of exceptions. Not since Domino’s acknowledged that it was peddling cardboard as pizza has the industry seen such candor about missteps and the necessity for redirection. Here are some of the more prominent recent confessions.
1. Chili’s menu lapse
Curse you, temptation! As Chili’s acknowledged last week, success seduced the chain into moving far beyond its beginnings in 1975 as a leading proponent of what was then known as the gourmet burger segment.
The menu back then consisted of 25 items, with a focus on burgers, margaritas and then-novel fajitas, the chain pointed out. But “Chili’s chased consumer trends, expanded the menu and tried to be all things to all guests, therefore compromising execution and resulting in a fuzzy food reputation,” it 'fessed up, validating what anyone with a month of experience in the business could have told them.
Now the chain is cutting about 50 items, presumably even the cauliflower that somehow crept onto the menu. In a week, the bill of fare will be hacked to 75 core items, with an emphasis on burgers, fajitas and ribs.
2. Domino’s bad design sense
A major milestone in the process was acknowledging in an ad campaign seven years ago that the chain’s pizza was god-awful.
Now the brand is admitting that its stores are awful places to work and visit. A commercial currently airing in New York features franchisees attesting that they love the brand but hate the layout and design of their restaurants. Their griping segues to a look at units that were renovated with the express purpose of snagging more dine-in and takeout business.
3. Applebee’s gets impatient with millennials
The nation’s largest casual-dining chain may not have a magic bullet for its financial difficulties, but it certainly has an abundance of explanations for the free fall. The most recent to be noted was an ill-advised infatuation with millennials.
“The brand set out to reinvent Applebee’s as a modern bar and grill in overt pursuit of a more youthful and affluent demographic with a more independent or even sophisticated dining mindset, including a clear pendulum swing towards millennials,” President John Cywinski explained to investors. “Much of what we are currently unwinding at the moment is related to this offensive repositioning.”
The brand is simultaneously shifting its focus to two core groups, he continued: value hunters and casual dining “traditionalists,” or longtime fans of the sector (read: baby boomers) who like “familiar favorites.” In short, the sort of customers any visitor to an Applebee’s would have spotted atop its barstools prior to the push upmarket.
The struggling chain intends to test new lures for those target groups during the first quarter of 2018, Cywinski said. Meanwhile, millennials can take it or leave it.