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Investing smartly in off-premise solutions and digital brands during the pandemic was not only the key to survival for Bloomin’ Brands in 2020, but these investments unlock potential for growth moving forward.

Bloomin’ Brands CEO David Deno on evolving the company's brands and investing in digital in a post-pandemic world

In Tuesday’s CREATE keynote, Deno discussed how the brands have changed during the pandemic, including off-premise and ghost kitchen investments

Investing smartly in off-premise solutions and digital brands during the pandemic was not only the key to survival for Bloomin’ Brands in 2020, but these investments unlock potential for growth moving forward, Bloomin’ Brands CEO David Deno said in Tuesday’s CREATE keynote Q&A with Nation’s Restaurant News’ Senior Editor Ron Ruggless.

“I firmly believe that off-premise will stick in even the casual-dining industry,” Deno said Tuesday. “I think people's eyes have been opened by the quality of food that they can get home from concepts like ours. Our Carrabba's business is just hitting at-home sales wise, day after day, week after week. And that food — pizza, pasta and proteins — travels so well.”

During the pandemic, Bloomin’ Brands opened up the first location of Aussie Grill: a fast-casual, drive-thru spinoff of Outback Steakhouse (though plans were already underway in 2019), and also announced the creation of company’s first virtual concept, Tender Shack. In February, Bloomin’ confirmed that they would be expanding the delivery-only brand to 750 locations nationwide. 

The success of Tender Shack, which led to Bloomin’s decision to expand the virtual concept nationwide in February, starts with making the process easier for their employees. Right now, tender Shack is available out of 700 Outback, Carrabba’s and Fleming’s kitchens, with more to come.

David Deno 2019.jpg“You have to really make sure that the product offering is consistent and simple for the operators to execute,” Deno, left, said. “We are serving products we’re already making and serving and just creating a virtual brand out of it. We didn’t make Shack. It’s a matter of formulating things in the restaurant to make that happen.”

As for Aussie Grill, Deno said they already have opened two freestanding restaurants in the Tampa area with three or four more scheduled to open in 2021.

“You’re going to see us nail the drive-thru for convenience and carryout [with Aussie Grill],” Deno said. “We’ll have seating as per request but this is a convenience play. […] It’s a younger demographic: families, late-night, lunch crowd. It’s a different group of people than Outback.”

Even within their concepts that existed before the pandemic, Bloomin’ Brands believes it’s smart to continue investing in off-premise, like focusing on packaging that retains the quality of the food.

“Bonefish Grill didn't have a delivery business prior to all this and now they’ve got a big one,” Deno said. And that Bonefish family bundle — shrimp, salmon, etc. — is outstanding [...] and I encourage you to get it to your family. It's a great price point. […] We can do an even better job with food that travels well. And it’s hard to make at home.”

Moving forward, Bloomin’ Brands wants to focus on revamping in-house technology (with tableside ordering being tested out right now at one location), and preparing for a post-COVID economy and consumer needs. For example, pre-pandemic, Outback Steakhouse had 110menu items that were whittled down to 55. Now they’re going to get those menus up to 80-85 menu items moving forward, but “we’ll never return to 210.”

“I think we’re trying to be innovative,” Deno said. “We've got some fantastic [casual-dining] brands, like Outback […] But at the same time, there have to be opportunities in fast-casual and delivery-only/virtual brands. And we want to participate in that: we have the intellectual muscle, great people and financial muscle to make that happen.”

The session was part of the May 4 CREATE Digital Dive, which was sponsored by TransAct. Watch the full conversation with David Deno on-demand here.

CREATE sponsors:

Founding sponsor: Johnsonville Foodservice

Gold sponsor: Texas Pete and The Coca-Cola Company

Silver sponsor: Ecolab

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

Find her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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