June 30, 2007

I have been telling you now for nearly a year, that America is changing. Americans don't want huge portions of unhealthy fatty food. Restaurants which serve these obscene, porcine portions are doomed.

Today it's confirmed. The marketplace has spoken.

Nobody wants heaping portions of $8.49 oriental chicken salad or $10.99 riblet platters (2,027 calories, 200% daily fat).

T.J. Palmer went to Applebee's last fall. Ms Palmer rarely goes there anymore. "It doesn't have anything that would make me want to come back." What's so remarkable about this statement is:

She's the co-founder of Applebee's 27 years ago.

When the largest -- yes, largest -- sit-down restaurant chain in America doesn't have anything for the founder to eat, you know "the times they are a changin.' "

The Friday Wall Street Journal reports sales at Applebee's restaurants dropped in 2006 for the first time. Why is the No. 1 chain in trouble? WSJ says Applebee's didn't change quickly enough and stayed too long with a formula that had worked for it in the past. (Applebee's diners weren't the only ones getting fat with food from the past. Its executives racked up huge bonuses while sales fell. Profits plummeted 20% in 2006.)
WSJ: Menus at many newer-generation restaurants stress the freshness or naturalness of their food, a contrast with the fried-and breaded fare at traditional bar-and-grill chains like Applebee's.
Read between the lines. Americans don't want crappy, fattening food anymore.

In the early 1990s Applebee's menu innovation often consisted of little more than adding a different slice of cheese or a flavored mayonnaise to the hamburger. By 2005 it was clear the Overland Park, Kansas company was out of touch with its customers.

"The landscape has changed," John Cywinski, then chief marketing officer, told investors. "Our paradigm must change."

So the company added television chef Tyler Florence to create food with more-diverse flavors.
The latest menu, out in May, features a giant fold-out photo of Florence's $14.99 New York strip steak with hearts of romaine salad and onion rings...So far, the changes haven't stopped the slide.
Wow, it took 20 marketing guys in Kansas to come up with a strip steak and "signature" garlic butter as what Americans want. Steak, butter, onion rings, bleu cheese, and that will save the nation's largest restaurant chain? WRONG!

Of course, the Applebee's executives are misdiagnosing the ailment. They think that the issues are growing competition, belt-tightening, perceptions with affluent guests, and tacky decor.

The issue is that it's a restaurant. Americans vote (and buy) with their stomachs. In 2007, a restaurant must offer good, healthy, fresh, natural, calorie-appropriate food. Simple.

Even a thick-headed CEO in Kansas should know that. His own Applebee's franchisee, Harry Rose of New Jersey, knows that. Rose is not looking to open any more Applebee's restaurants.

He plans to open a number of branches of Corner Bakery Cafe, a lunch spot that serves grilled paninis with artichokes and apricot walnut rugalach desserts.

Nobody in America is asking, where's the steak and onion rings?

P.S. Not only are Applebee's executives behind the menu and marketing curves, but they continue to be behind the health information curve. Applebee's releases very little nutritional information on its food. (What is it hiding?) According to FoodAndDiet.com website, Applebee's responded with a -- it's too complex for us to figure out the calories -- answer.

"Unfortunately, we do not provide information for all of our menu items for many different reasons. Our menu items vary regionally and many or many not be available in your restaurant, and it is important to know that some restaurants nationwide have changed their menus to no longer include these low-fat menu items."

Maybe this is what they are hiding, a slice of apple pie that has half the daily calories needed by a adult man: Sizzling Apple Pie, (1,085 calories, 56g fat, 580mg sodium, 146g carbs, 7g fiber, 14g protein)


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

Thou hast no right but to do thy Will.

I don't know why Applebee's is suffering, but I can't imagine that it's because of a massive boycott by an increasingly healthy nation -- and if it is, it's misguided.

Yes, Applebees has a lot of high-Calorie crap on its menu, just like every other restaurant in the country, but they also have a Weight Watcher's menu, with a lot of genuinely healthy, genuinely low-Calorie, tasty options on it -- and nutrition information right there on the menu. They're nearly the only restaurant I feel genuinely comfortable eating at these days. Check out:


My favorites: the "SOUTHWEST COBB SALAD," "GRILLED SHRIMP SKEWER SALAD" (OK, yes, there's the cholesterol...), or the "CAJUN LIME TILAPIA."

No, I have no connection to the chain other than as satisfied customer.

Love is the law, love under will.


Anonymous said...

Hi again,

Thou hast no right but to do thy Will.

Not to harangue or to gush, I hope, but Applebee's is also among the relatively early actors on reformulating to get rid of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils/trans fats in their food:

Restaurant-chain operator Applebee's International Inc. said Thursday that it is no longer using trans fat frying oil at its more than 1,800 domestic restaurants...

The company, which started looking for replacement oils three year ago, is now using a blend of two soybean oils it claims do not compromise the taste, texture or quality of its food.


Love is the law, love under will.


Rodrigo said...
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