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Applebee's tries a fast-casual venture

The first Applebee's Express emphasizes takeout and delivery, with fewer seats in a smaller format.
Photograph courtesy of Applebee's

An Applebee’s franchisee has opened a new prototype for the brand called Applebee’s Express, a fast-casual riff sporting fewer seats, a pared-down menu and counter service.

The restaurant, located near the airport of Mobile, Ala., measures about 2,500 square feet, with 72 seats, reports indicate. A typical Applebee’s Grill + Bar encompasses 3,800 to 4,700 square feet, with about 200 seats and a full-service bar, according to Technomic. The chain describes the venture as a test. 

The spinoff of a limited-service Applebee’s parallels the recent launch of a fast-casual version of the casual chain’s sister operation, IHOP. That venture, Flip’d, is slated to open in Atlanta in April. Both Applebee’s and IHOP are franchised by Dine Brands Global, which has stressed that it intends to add more franchise concepts to its fold. 

The first Applebee’s Express was quietly opened before Christmas by Quality Restaurant Concepts, an operator of about 60 conventional Applebee’s outlets in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi. Its menu features riblets and shrimp served in baskets; sandwiches; burgers; salads; and two entrees, Three Cheese Chicken Penne and Classic Broccoli Chicken Alfredo, according to the concept’s listing on Postmates. 

Applebee’s has been pursuing a back-to-basics turnaround following a disastrous shift upmarket several years ago. As part of that effort, the chain has been focusing on low-cost cocktails and signature menu items such as its riblets and burgers. 

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