Why are These Italian Casual Dining Chains Underperforming Compared to the Rest of the Industry?

Why are These Italian Casual Dining Chains Underperforming Compared to the Rest of the Industry?

It's no secret that the traditional casual dining segment as a whole is struggling to compete as new innovative restaurant brands emerge, but there's one sector within this segment that continues to underperform. 

The Italian cuisine-focused brands like Bertucci's, Romano's Macaroni Grill, and Tony Roma's used to be fan-favorite restaurants where families and friends would gather together to enjoy signature Italian dishes.

Now these brands are seeing a slump not only in sales, but also in our Foodable Labs' RSMI scores.

In 2015, California Pizza Kitchen decided it was time to adapt.

The chain expanded its food and bar menu, which included incorporating seasonal ingredients and adding hand-crafted cocktails. The chain also started a complete store redesign with 20 pilot locations. Now customers can also watch their food as it’s prepared with the restaurant’s open kitchen concept.

But, the brand isn't going to stop adapting to today's new consumer. 

“CPK is resetting the stage for the next 30 years and we are calling this plan our ‘Next Chapter’,” said G.J. Hart, California Pizza Kitchen executive chairman and CEO in a press release. 

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San Francisco's “Super Cute Casual” Scene Is Thriving

San Francisco's “Super Cute Casual” Scene Is Thriving

Fancy date night restaurants are a dime a dozen. As are the family-friendly spots that will entertain your impatient toddler with a pack of crayons and paper menus. But what about those more specific, less traditional situations like that are a little less traditional  like the first meeting of your new book club or reuniting with your old college roommate whom you haven’t in 10 years?

Enter the emerging category that’s being dubbed “Super Cute Reasonably Priced Restaurant To Catch Up With A Few Friends" or SCRPRTCUWFF. Seriously, it’s a thing and one that the restaurant scene in San Francisco is apparently thriving at.

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Former Casual Dining Executives Investing in the Fast Casual Space

Former Casual Dining Executives Investing in the Fast Casual Space

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Before Pokemon Go, the fast casual movement took the restaurant industry by storm. And the impact of this fresh segment hasn’t been temporary. Ever since the first innovative fast casual concepts came along in the 1990s and started to attract the consumer looking for quality, yet speed in a comfortable and inviting environment– every other segment has had to adapt to the new consumer’s expectations.

The fast casual segment disrupted the industry for the better. Quick-serve concepts are morphing into “QSR-plus” and casual dining concepts are also upping the ante to compete with the emerging fast casual chains. 

This segment is still the fastest growing one in the industry. There are so many sectors in this segment still gaining popularity with foodies, including Fresh Mex, better-burger, pizza, Asian fusion, sandwich, etc. 

With so much potential for fast casual concepts, it isn’t surprising that casual dining giants and former executives are looking to get in on the action.

Let’s take a closer look at the former/current casual dining kings and queens dominating the fast casual space. 

Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso’s Fast Casual 2.0 Venture: Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso are no amateurs to the restaurant industry. Prior to being two of the four founders of the fast casual concept, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Foles and Villavaso started two Austin chains Eddie V’s and Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill. The fine-dining and casual dining chains were eventually sold to the casual dining giant Darden Restaurants Inc in 2011. 

Foles and Villavaso had a new focus starting in 2010 when they opened the first Hopdoddy store in Austin. The fast casual’s name pays homage to the hops in its craft beer program and its burger meat. Doddy is a Scottish term for cows. 

The better-burger fast casual chain has 15 stores today in Texas, California, Colorado and Arizona. Like most better-burger chains, the burgers are made with fresh, all-natural ingredients with meat from humanely raised cows, never given growth hormones or antibiotics. The restaurant also offers fries as a side, shakes as a treat and even salads.

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Is Buffalo Wild Wings on the Verge of a Same-Store Sales Recovery for the Third Quarter?

Is Buffalo Wild Wings on the Verge of a Same-Store Sales Recovery for the Third Quarter?

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

The sport-themed casual dining chain, Buffalo Wild Wings has repeatedly landed in our top 10 Most Loved Brand list, a ranking determined from positive consumer sentiment data pulled from the Restaurant Social Media Index. 

In the most recent ranking for the Q2 of this year, BWW lands at no.4 with an impressive increase from the first quarter.

But in the first quarter of the year, the brand announced that for the first time in six years it experienced a decline in same-store sales. Specifically, the same-store sales declined by 1.7% at corporate-owned locations and 2.4% at franchised restaurants– compared to the same period the year prior. Then in the second quarter, the brand saw another decrease- with a 2.1% drop in company-owned restaurants and 2.6% in franchised stores. 

Previously, when we have seen a major increase in the sentiment score, it will take 30-90 days for this to reflect on the brand’s sales. So although, BWW just had a rough quarter it looks like they are on the road to bouncing back. According to the Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI,) the brand had a 5.44 increase in sentiment score from Q1 to Q2. 

“The RSMI has evolved into a leading indicator or predictive social engine for foodservice brands. Measuring sentiment has been one of the most effective ways to determine when, a brand’s sales could decline. The impact on brands is often 30-90 days after we see sentiment dips or spikes that are significant in the 2-4 point plus range in a month,” said Paul Barron, founder of the RSMI.

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Chili's Launches the Chilin' Since '75 Campaign

Chili's Launches the Chilin' Since '75 Campaign

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

The casual dining chain, Chili’s has launched a new campaign to promote their heritage. The brand’s latest tag lines, menu additions and ad spots emphasize the humble beginnings of Chili’s when the restaurant was started by a few “Hamburger Hippies.”

Just in time for summer, Chili’s is reminding consumers that the restaurant isn’t stuffy and has a fun atmosphere like it always has, while sharing the brand’s unique history. 

“Our goal for the new campaign was to figure out how do we take a brand that everyone thinks they know everything about and make people sit up and listen,” said Krista Gibson, chief marketing officer for Chili’s Grill & Bar in a press release. “The answer is to tell them something unique that they don’t know. And, for us, that’s our heritage story.”

The latest ad spot reaffirms this with this message: “Chili’s isn’t the product of some board room and it wasn’t started by a bunch of stiffs in suits– heck, some days we didn’t even wear shirts­– Chili’s, Chilin’ since ’75,”

The Emphasis on Quality

Although the brief 30 second ad’s focus is on the laid-back history of the brand, the campaign also concentrates on the fresh food made with quality ingredients. 

Chili’s has launched new burgers since this is how the brand’s heritage started. They are simple and all-natural with no antibiotics or added hormones. 

“We know now more than ever, guests want to know what’s going into their food and desire natural ingredients,” said Gibson in a press release. “We have differentiated our craft burgers with quality and transparent ingredients by offering grass-fed patties and cage-free eggs. As we continue our food transparency journey, we plan to invest in our core menu categories to offer guests more options.”

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