Applebee’s recently completed its latest consumer research examining who the brand appeals to most across every imaginable demographic measurement. During an interview last week, John Peyton, CEO of parent company Dine Brands, said this research showed that the 43-year-old brand has increased its share of guests with household incomes over $100,000 versus 2019, as well as its share among younger consumers ages 18-to-34, and guests with children.
“How have we done that? Applebee’s has been leaning into its values, especially those that are important to that 18-to-24 age group – value, fun and a comfortable atmosphere,” Peyton said.
For example, last year’s partnership with “Top Gun: Maverick” – in which the company offered free movie tickets to customers who spent at least $25 with the brand – created some top-of-mind awareness among this demographic, he said. The film was the highest grossing domestic release in 2022, so there was certainly a willing audience. And in July, Applebee’s partnered with makeup and skincare brand Winky Lux to launch “Saucy Gloss” for National Wing Day and National Lipstick Day, which just happen to fall on the same day (who knew?). The Saucy Gloss collection included four lip glosses inspired by Applebee’s wing sauces and was promoted with a catchy song called, “Taste My Face.” The promotion also got fans involved by asking them to create their own “Taste My Face” sound on TikTok.
“We did these promotions in a very pop culture way and became increasingly sophisticated on social media channels,” Peyton said. “These are all real examples of how Applebee’s is connecting with a younger demographic in a way they didn’t in the past.”
Then, of course, there’s the deal-based dining that has motivated acquisition and retention among younger guests and families. Applebee’s kicked off 2023 with value platforms such as a two-for-$25 offer of two entrees and a full-size appetizer, for instance, as well as an all-you-can-eat boneless wings, riblets and shrimp offer. The brand’s Mucho Cocktails also appeal to younger guests, Peyton said.
“So, during tough times like this, some of our guests may look elsewhere but we also know we’re gaining guests and we’re pleased with that,” he said. “Our guests are increasingly diverse compared to 2019.”
Because of the company’s diversifying guests and its value offerings, Peyton is confident that Applebee’s, and its sister chain IHOP, will weather any bigger economic downturn, should one manifest.
“Our brands appeal to multiple demographics, including financial demographics. We’ve always been positioned as value brands and have performed well during tough times. We looked at the recession in 2008 and 2009 and both Applebee’s and IHOP both performed well then. That’s in our favor, where we sit in this category,” he said. “We know our guests continue to value experiences over goods and we’re benefiting from that.”
Bullish on emerging tech
Dine Brands has also deployed more technology solutions, which may be resonating with younger consumers, as well as those simply seeking convenience. Peyton said the brands are starting to use predictive analytics, for example, to make recommendations for those who are engaging within their proprietary channels.
“So, if you’re returning or you’re a loyalty guest, we know more about you and can use past behavior to make suggestions. If you’re someone we don’t know, we can do what’s called ‘lookalikes,’ where if you order burgers and fries, we can suggest what drinks and desserts are typically ordered with that,” Peyton said. “It does seem to make things easier.”
Dine Brands is also starting to experiment more with artificial intelligence – for example, creating responses to guest emails.
“We wouldn’t send responses out with a human looking at it first, but it is making some things more efficient,” Peyton said.
He adds that he’s personally bullish on the possibilities AI could create in the restaurant space because of these types of efficiencies.
“I’m always bullish about the future and I think AI and ChatGPT is somewhere in the evolution to revolution category. I can’t not be excited about it,” Peyton said. “The challenge for leaders is how to apply it to make life better for team members and the experience better for guests. It’s not just about AI because it’s cool, but because it’s more efficient and enjoyable.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]