Casual dining chain Applebee's is spending tens of millions of dollars to overhaul the way it cooks its food — largely as a way to target an audience that's moved on to quicker, cheaper, seemingly-healthier fast-casual dining.
Fortune reports that in recent months, every Applebee's location in America has replaced its traditional gas grills with new, wood-fired grills, at a total cost of $75 million. In addition to installing wood-fired grills, which will cook all manner of proteins including fish, chicken, and steak, Applebee's has made the switch to USDA Choice steaks, which it says will be hand-cut in the kitchen daily. Today, the company kicks off a marketing campaign to highlight its grills and steaks, which will feature television ads, as well as spots on Snapchat, Pandora, and YouTube, according to Fortune.
Applebee's has seen a decline in same-store sales for the past three quarters, in part due to increased competition from fast-casual restaurants (which, Chipotle’s recent troubles notwithstanding, millennials frequent at stunning rates). The chain hopes the addition of wood-fired grills will impart a sense of freshness and quality — two descriptors that have been sorely lacking at Applebee's and similar chains that grew in popularity in the '80s and '90s, and have had trouble breaking away from their dated reputations.
TGI Fridays has also suffered amongst the millennial crowd and is looking to capture a larger segment of young diners with a new look that includes a lighter hand with the decor scheme (there's no "flair" in sight), a juice bar, and trivia nights.
The emphasis on steaks at Applebee's comes at an interesting time — meat consumption, which had been down for years, is currently up in the U.S. thanks to lower beef prices.