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How Steak and Ale and Red Lobster invented casual dining

Restaurant Rewind: The graybeards are planning comebacks. Here’s how they changed the game 60 years ago.

Two of the restaurant industry’s oldest full-service chains have declared they’re not ready for the old concepts home. Steak and Ale and Red Lobster have both indicated in recent weeks that they’re set to pursue new beginnings in casual dining, the market they helped to create in the mid-1960s.

The efforts are a gamble. But that’s fitting for brands that started as bold challenges to the status quo. Without their operational and marketing nonconformity, the full-service chain business might be very different today.

This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind looks at the stamp each brand put on the industry when they opened within two years of one another. Host Peter Romeo, editor at large of Restaurant Business, looks in particular at the contributions made by each to the industry’s talent pool. There was a time when alumni of the concepts were at the helm of nearly every casual chain of scale.

He also makes a case for never forgetting the names and contributions of the powerhouses’ guiding forces, Norman Brinker and Joe Lee.

To see how they changed America’s dining-out behavior, download Restaurant Rewind from wherever you get your podcasts.

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