The latest marketing tactics from restaurant chains sound conspicuously like traffic-building techniques that have been in use for a while—just by other brands or segments.
Ingenuity is losing ground to proven success as concepts lift other operations’ ideas and fly-cast them with the slightest of redos. Quick-service chains’ dollar menus are adopted by casual dining. A promo called Lobster Feast is aired as something different from Lobsterfest. And BJ’s Restaurants is no longer the only family dining option featuring slow-roasted meats.
Here’s a look at the recent copycatting.
The dollar menu comes to casual dining
Bites for a buck have helped quick-service chains hold onto customers, though not without collateral margin damage. Still, that may be an acceptable price for reviving traffic at casual chains, and the segment’s hard-pressed leader in particular. Applebee’s has just disclosed that it’s going with a dollar deal, albeit for alcoholic drinks rather than food.
A margarita called the Dollarita will be offered by the chain through October, or what it’s calling Applebee’s Neighborhood Appreciation Month. The drink is available only on the rocks, which presumably cuts the volume of alcohol and drink ingredients. Applebee’s did not say what type of tequila will be used.
The promo is a chainwide extension of what the chain’s Texas franchisee, Apple Texas, ran in its 65 stores throughout the state during July. Apple Texas is going a step further this time around with October Wednesdays, when the Dollarita will sell for 50 cents.
The franchise says it sold more margaritas during July than it had at any comparable time.
Golden Corral adopts slow-cook platform
A nagging problem for casual-dining chains has been the sameness of what they offer. BJ’s Restaurants boldly bet it could stand out from the pack by installing new ovens to slowly roast big cuts of meat like turkey, prime rib, pork ribs and a double-bone-in pork chop. Meals built on those meats are not prepared the same way in competitor’s restaurants, nor in many customers’ homes, either.
Now the Golden Corral buffet chain has decided it could use some distinction in its family segment. The chain disclosed this week that it, too, is taking a slow-cooked route, though with smokers. The operation said it has retrofitted all 485 of its branches with the cooking devices, which will be used for turkey, pork ribs, brisket and pork roasts.
The meats will form the backbone of Golden Corral’s new Smokehouse line.
Captain D’s Lobster Feast
One of the industry’s best-known promotions is Red Lobster’s Lobsterfest, a limited-time offer of preparations abounding in the high-end seafood. This week, the Captain D’s quick-service seafood chain decided there was enough room in the sea for another promo along those lines. Voila: Lobster Feast.
“Restaurants serving lobster normally conjure up ideas of white tablecloths, far off locales, or steep prices,” the 535-unit seafood chain said in announcing the limited-time offer. “Well, not anymore.”
The Lobster Feast specials include a lobster scampi, lobster rolls, lobster bisque and lobster bites, “available at everyday affordable prices,” Captain D’s asserted in the announcement.
Wings fly into Pie Five
Pie Five’s turnaround plan calls for looking at possible menu additions, a move that consumers said would likely prompt more visits to the fast-casual chain, according to Scott Crane, CEO of parent company Rave Restaurant Group. The first product to be considered: chicken wings, the staple of quick-service pizza outfits with a strong delivery business.
Pie Five has started a three-unit test of five wing preparations, for both bone-in and boneless varieties.
At a new prototype for the ailing fast-casual chain, the wings already account for more than 7% of sales, Crane revealed.
The test comes as Pie Five is adding delivery service chainwide.