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Marketing

Full-service restaurants are moving value to the center of the plate

Operators take a cue from QSRs, promoting early evening specials, breakfast and dinner bargains, and other inflation-fighting deals.
Razzoo's Happiest Hour
Happiest Hour Chomps and Sips at Razzoo's/Photo courtesy of Razzoo's Cajun Cafe

Razzoo’s Cajun Cafe has long touted its value proposition to consumers, but with inflation at a 40-year high, the 22-unit casual dining chain is taking it up a notch.

“We’ve always told customers ‘we have your back,’ but times are really tough right now for our guests,” said Razzoo’s CEO Jeff Powell. “Plus we’re concerned with driving traffic post-COVID.”

Earlier this month, Razzoo’s launched Happiest Hour on Monday through Friday, offering $7 “chomps” and $5 “sips” from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Although locations ran happy hours pre-COVID, the new promotion is “simplified,” said Powell, with fewer items on offer to best utilize the reduced bar staff.

From family-dining chains to higher-end concepts, full-service restaurants are increasingly playing the value card this spring—a tactic that’s typically more prevalent in the quick-service space. That’s not to say that QSRs are not offering their own value meals and deals; Wendy’s announced new offers earlier this week and McDonald’s has a new 2-for-$6 value menu.

While it’s true that happy hours, never-ending bowls of pasta and two-for-one dinners have long been popular full-service come-ons, the latest promotions are jumping on the newsy inflation-fighting theme.

Razzoo’s Happiest Hour menu includes unique items such as boudin balls, fried pickle chips and shrimp-stuffed jalapenos, complemented by $5 draft beers and frozen drinks, like the Hurrycane Hell and Mardi Rita. The promotion not only eases the financial burden on consumers, it helps improve the chain’s margins.

Food cost percentages are in the mid-20s, said Powell, and drinks are in the teens.

“We framed this on our Mardi Gras Fat Tuesday promotion, and saw that it moved the needle,” said Powell. “The menu is effective in driving traffic, especially with the ‘magical’ pricing of $5 draft beers. Plus, these are our most popular items, they don’t overwork the staff and the margins are good.”

But those aren’t the only benefits of Happiest Hour. During COVID, bar business took a nosedive and Powell “wanted to get back the energy and sales from the bar and put Razzoo’s back on the map.”

Powell reports that the promotion is building awareness and more customers are coming in for lunch and dinner as well.

Another dinner incentive is the Twofer Tuesday deal—two pounds of crawfish for $9.99, or $5 a pound—again embracing that “magical” $5 price point. The offer will run only through crawfish season, which lasts a few weeks, but it’s drumming up business on typically slow Tuesday nights.

Family-dining giant Denny’s is also running a limited-time value offer this spring, which will finish up on the first day of summer, June 21. The chain’s Endless Breakfast promotion includes unlimited buttermilk pancakes, cheesy scrambled eggs and hash browns for $6.99. For another buck, guests can add bacon or sausage.

Endless Breakfast

Endless Breakfast plate at Denny's/Photo courtesy of Denny's

“As Americans are being impacted by a unique mix of current events, and gas, rent and costs for supermarket staples, like eggs, milk and cheese continue to increase, Denny’s is proud to bring our guests Endless Breakfast at a time when we know each dollar matters,” John Dillon, Denny’s chief brand officer, said in a statement.

Bob Evans Restaurants, another family-dining destination also launched its new “American Values” platform this month. All through the summer, guests can purchase seven of the chain’s signature Dinner Bell Plates for $7.99 each.

Entrees include Turkey & Dressing, Hand-Breaded Fried Chicken, Lemon Pepper Sole Fillet and Mushroom & Onion Chopped Steak. Each comes with two sides.

“At Bob Evans, we understand that the realities of the current economic climate are impacting families in a big way,” Bob Holtcamp, Bob Evans’ president and CMO, said in a statement. “We have a responsibility to support our guests’ needs however we can, so we’re offering several ways for them to enjoy our delicious farm-fresh food for less.”

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Value has always been ingrained in family dining’s DNA, so even though the marketing is now tying into inflation, it isn’t hampering the brand image.

But for some casual-dining players, deals and discounts can cheapen the brand.

Powell, who is a self-proclaimed “passionate protector of value,” said that the damage comes when you compromise on portion and quality.

“Be reasonable about price and portion size and keep quality up, and you will come out ahead,” he said.

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