Legacy Restaurant Brands Show Appetite for Millennials


In May of this year, Applebee’s introduced its “hand-cut steaks over wood-fired grill” menu. It was a $40 million investment, and it hasn’t gone too well. In fact, Q2 sales were down 4%. It seems that, as far as consumers see it, wood-fired grilled steak is a blip for a brand that needs to do more than reconfigure kitchens to grill steaks. It’s still a steak at Applebee’s, and consumers aren’t biting (so to speak).

But the question that led to the initiative was right: how do you stay relevant when Millennials shun big chains and brands?

Honoring legacy while refreshing brand

Sometimes the answer is in identifying a white space and transferring elements of your brand that work into this new space. Cracker Barrel is doing that with Holler & Dash. Cracker Barrel didn’t let “legacy” stand in the way of establishing a fresh brand positioning, though biscuits and southern-style are still integral and heavily leveraged. Word is that Denny’s will do the same, moving The DEN off college campuses and into the real world of Millennials.

Developing an all new brand of restaurant may be extreme – in fact, Groupe Le Duff seems content to close struggling Mimi’s Café restaurants and reopen as La Madeleine – but even within the confines of an existing brand, meeting consumer demands is more likely to meet with financial success than holding on to an aged brand image.

The core of Applebee’s problem

What does Applebee’s do next? Does it tweak the menu again, replace some carpet and lighting fixtures, maybe create a new logo? Or does it find a white space where it could leverage its best brand offerings and attributes?

It starts with understanding the casual dining experience among the target audience.

  • Does your audience value your brand offerings and attributes?
  • What are their expectations?
  • How can you deliver on those expectations with your current brand offerings?

Market Strategies’ Consumer & Retail team is asking consumers these questions every day, and the results are providing our clients with information that leads to confident business decisions. If you find yourself in a similar situation, email me so we can discuss solutions.

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