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Red Robin quietly tries a chicken-sandwich concept

Chicken Sammy's is one of three virtual concepts the casual chain is now rolling out.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Red Robin grill-and-bar chain is giving the virtual market a try with the rollout of three delivery-only concepts, two sporting chicken products and the third offering salads.

The concepts--Chicken Sammy's, The Wings Dept. and Fresh Zone--feature a combination of Red Robin menu items and options unique to those ventures, according to Paul Murphy, CEO of the mother brand. "We are pleased that these new concepts were well-received by our guests in our recent test," Murphy said in an email statement to Restaurant Business. "As a result, we have recently started a national rollout."

He added, "We plan to continue to invest in these new virtual brands and will be introducing new craveable menu items for each brand soon!"

The brands' connection to Red Robin were not hidden during the tests. Recent posts on local media sites recount first-hand experiences of individuals ordering delivery from what they thought were local operations, only to find their food packed in Red Robin-branded bags and accompanied with condiment packets bearing that chain’s logo.

Several local DoorDash listings also specify that the food from at least two of the three virtual concepts, Chicken Sammy’s and Fresh Zone, was prepared in a Red Robin.

Delivery from Chicken Sammy's is being offered by DoorDash in at least seven markets.

The listings on DoorDash are identical for all three aato the presentation for Red Robin itself.

Chicken Sammy’s has a Facebook page, though without any information posted. No listing was found for Fresh Set and Wing Dept.

With casual competitors charging into the virtual market, Red Robin might be more of a newsmaker if it sat out the boom. In a matter of months, virtual ventures have been announced by Applebee’s (Cosmic Wings), BJ’s Restaurants (Slow Roast), Outback Steakhouse parent Bloomin’ Brands (Tender Shack) and Chili’s parent Brinker International (It’s Just Wings).

Virtual concepts are essentially brands that exist only digitally, as an option on delivery platforms such as the marketplaces of third-party delivery services. The food is cooked in the kitchen of another facility, but there is no actual restaurant bearing that brand name.

Red Robin’s management did not mention the possible addition of virtual concepts during its fourth-quarter conference call with analysts last week. However, it did provide more details about using its back-of-house facilities as essentially ghost kitchens for the production of Donatos-brand pizzas for delivery, takeout and on-site consumption. CEO Paul Murphy projected that the addition of Donatos pies to the menus of 400 corporate restaurants would generate about $60 million in annual sales and $25 million in yearly profits.

The experience with Donatos prompted Red Robin to develop the three virtual brands, Murphy said in his emailed statement.

Updated: This version of the story contains input from Red Robin and its CEO, Paul Murphy. 

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