Applebee’s president on balancing dine-in, off-premise growth

Applebee’s president on balancing dine-in, off-premise growth

Brand looks to remain a local gathering place as it ramps up delivery, to-go efforts

When Dine Brands Global Inc., parent company of Applebee’s and IHOP, reported its third-quarter results last week, off-premise dining was front and center. The company credited off-premise operations for much of its recent sales gains and said there was plenty of room for further growth.

But while off-premise, and particularly delivery, is a hot topic, it doesn’t tell the whole story of the brand’s plans, said John Cywinski, Applebee’s president in a conversation with NRN last week in New York.

“Half of that Applebee's growth is coming from dine-in which we love — we love that balance — and half is coming from off-premise,” he said.

“You know you've got the off-premise thing, but the food innovation complemented by the neighborhood drink program is really, really important to us. We're Applebee's Grill and Bar, so we don't forget the bar part of the brand.”

The drink program has brought in more female customers and group diners, Cywinski said. And most customers ordering a drink are ordering food, too.

The brand’s positioning — Eating Good in the Neighborhood — helps get diners off the couch and into the restaurants, too, Cywinski said. Franchisees are involved in their community. Bartenders know regulars by name.

“We kind of view ourselves as America's kitchen table,” he said.

But Applebee’s is also thinking about off-premise and has been for a while. In fact, it has had car-side delivery since 2001, Cywinski noted.

More recently they’ve worked on making updates for the customers “who doesn’t have an hour and a half.” 

“We really engineered our packaging. We've engineered our websites,” he said. “We are overly marketing to-go this year. We started in March. Right after we started marketing [off-premise] the business jumped up 30 percent to 40 percent, and we control that, start to finish, with handing it off to our guests. Delivery is a little more complicated because it involves third party and so we want to be really smart.”

But delivery is coming fast. It’s available in 600 restaurants, and Cywinski would like to see it in about 1,000 of the approximately 1,700 Applebee’s units by year’s end. 

“We're going to satisfy our guest with car-side, to-go, or delivery depending on what they're seeking.” 

Yet even as that business grows, the restaurants strive to remain neighborhood destinations. 

Contact Gloria Dawson at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @GloriaDawson

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