Perkins updates its name and launches a fast-casual version

The 66-year-old family-dining chain is planning a comprehensive overhaul that extends to its menu, operations and look.
A rendition of Perkins' new express format. | Photo courtesy of Perkins

The 66-year-old Perkins Restaurant & Bakery family-dining chain is changing its name to Perkins American Food Co. and spinning off a fast-casual riff as part of a recast by owner Ascent Hospitality Management.

The overhaul extends to operations, the menu, interior and exterior design and marketing, according to chain President Toni Ronayne.

The aim is to evolve the concept for loyal fans while simultaneously sharpening its appeal to two other types of customers who present opportunities for growth: “Love to Eat Lee,” a current heavy user who’s looking for variety and a more elevated experience, and “Mom on the Move,” the matriarch with a heightened sensitivity to convenience and value. She’ll be a particular target of the Perkins express format.

That variation will be a 1,500-square-foot take on the Perkins concept, whose units currently measure about 6,500 square feet. The smaller stores will sport only 70 seats, with a fast-casual style of service whereby meals will be run out to dine-in patrons tables by servers. Ronayne says the latter feature will be one of the connections to Perkins’ long heritage; customers’ interaction with servers is a part of that DNA, she says.

The express store will feature Perkins staples such as pancakes, waffles and omelets, but with a few products not found in the older format, such as handheld items for lunch. The prototype is scheduled to open this fall in Canada, and franchisees are already expressing interest, according to Ronayne.

The new prototype for conventional stores will similarly debut before the end of 2024. The revamp will reduce the usual size of a Perkins by 3,000 square feet, for a layout of roughly 3,500 square feet.

It will feature the chain’s new name and accompanying updated logo, along with a new design. Ronayne characterizes it as “classic, yet more refined—something that’s a bit more modern and timeless, [an] ambience that feels elevated but not unreachable. We didn’t want to create a space that was too far removed from Perkins.”

The menu will be simplified, though “not with the emphasis on taking away, but on the additive,” says Ronayne. “Anytime you’re shrinking your restaurant, we have to focus on gaining efficiencies,” including a reduction in the pieces of kitchen equipment that are needed to produce the bill of fare.

A strong emphasis on value will remain evident in the new menu, the president says.

In both of the new formats, bakeries will be a centerpiece, in keeping with Perkins’ heritage as the source of pies, cakes and cookies for both on-site and at-home consumption.

The overhaul dovetails with Perkins’ efforts to capture more off-premise business. Ronayne asserts that catering has particularly strong potential, given Perkins’ strength at breakfast and research indications that a.m. catering is surging across foodservice.

Perkins is the latest family-dining chain of any longevity to embark on a soup-to-nuts revamp. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is in the midst of a rejuvenation effort that extends to its menu, design and operations. Denny’s began its revamp a few months ago. Friendly’s has just opened a new prototype in Orlando, where the revamped Perkins will make its debut. Changes have also been made at Bob Evans, while segment-leader IHOP is trying a co-branding arrangement with sister concept Applebee’s while continuing to work with virtual concepts. And Golden Corral is experimenting with a new buffet format as well as a fast-casual spinoff called Homeward Kitchen. 

The segment has been squeezed by fast-food restaurants’ penetration of the breakfast market and a continuing inability to compete effectively with casual dining at dinner. Meanwhile, a family-dining sector dubbed daytime dining—epitomized by the likes of First Watch and Another Broken Egg—has provided fresh competition at breakfast and lunch.

Ronayne says the time was right for Perkins to open a new chapter because of all the changes the 300-unit chain has undergone in recent years, including her recent recruitment as president. Parent company Ascent also has new leadership in CEO James O’Reilly, a veteran chain leader whose past charges include Long John Silver’s and Smokey Bones.

The overhaul will commence next week with the airing of new marketing that introduces the changes to consumers.

“We are sound and ready for a change of this magnitude,” says Ronayne.

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