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Operators hope for sales fireworks on July 4th

Many Americans spend the Fourth of July grilling in their backyards, but some foodservice operators are hopeful that Independence Day could spark sales increases approaching those of such popular restaurant holidays as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Even though the lion’s share of the holiday dining does not take place in restaurants, the summer holiday can generate strong sales for concepts that are positioned to offer carryout, like Famous Dave’s, the 182-unit barbecue specialist.

“The Fourth of July is actually very busy for Famous Dave’s, primarily because of takeout and catering,” said Aric Nissen, vice president of marketing and R&D. “Summer barbecue and the Fourth of July and Famous Dave’s are made for each other.”

To help boost catering and takeout orders, the Minneapolis-based chain this week introduced its new online-ordering platform at all 52 corporate units.

“We’ve been looking for some time to introduce online ordering, and this was the perfect opportunity,” Nissen said.

The three-day weekend this year created by Independence Day falling on a Monday means “the entire weekend is busy for us,” Nissen said. The Fourth typically creates a bump in sales between 10 percent and 20 percent compared with a regular summer day, he added. “And if it rains, we’re even busier,” he said.

Family-dining chain Denny’s, on the other hand, doesn’t derive as high a percentage of sales from takeout or catering. But the proximity of many of its locations to major highways helps it attract customers traveling over the holiday weekend.

To help capitalize on the Fourth of July holiday and summer travel season, Spartanburg, S.C.-based Denny’s has rolled out its Tour of America menu, which includes such regionally inspired dishes as the Philly Cheesesteak Omelet, Midwestern Meat & Potatoes Sandwich and the Hawaiian Tropical Pancakes Breakfast.

“We’re an iconic American brand, so July Fourth is naturally a good holiday for us, especially with lots of Americans on highways traveling,” said John Dillon, vice president of marketing for Denny’s. “We wanted to have fun this year with travel season and capitalize on our core equities. If you’re traveling or staying home, you can have somewhat of a vacation by experiencing flavors from across the country.”

Playing to regional interests allows Denny’s to tie its America-themed promotion to the Independence Day weekend and keep the menu going for the rest of the summer, Dillon said.

“We were able to develop some craveable recipes,” Dillon said, “and we have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and smoothies and milk shakes on that menu, so it really runs the gamut of regions and dayparts.”

Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen also will reprise a patriotic-themed limited-time offer, Firecracker Shrimp, which has been a successful promotion for the 2,000-unit chain in the past. The Atlanta-based brand also is introducing the Big Easy Cooler, a beverage made with lemonade and strawberry soda.

“We have always seen that seafood does well in July, and it’s kind of natural to do something firecracker in July,” said Amy Alarcon, director of culinary innovation for Popeyes. “For us this year it was really a great opportunity to work on the food and beverage pairing component.”

The shrimp dish is breaded with flecks of cayenne pepper and served with a Firecracker Sauce made with honey, hot sauce and aleppo pepper.

“It’s an incredible visual, but the heat is not dominating the sauce,” Alarcon said.

Chief marketing officer Dick Lynch said the Firecracker Shrimp dish doesn’t need to tie in with July Fourth to sell well, but the timing helps Popeyes capitalize on holiday marketing opportunities and the popularity of seafood.

“July is a very strong seafood and shrimp month for us, but we layer on the fact that Firecracker Shrimp has a history in our system, both during July Fourth and outside that period,” Lynch said. “Thematically, it works nicely, but it’s not limited to July Fourth.”

Even independent of the “firecracker” item, Popeyes tends to get a sales bump on the Fourth of July weekend because its drive-thru and takeout businesses fit well with parties and celebrations, brand officials say.

“July Fourth is fairly strong for us,” said chief marketing officer Dick Lynch. “We’re a heavily taken-out brand, with our tackle boxes and bundles. It’s great for picnics, which is a strength for us, so this year we’re looking at three straight days of picnics.”

Meanwhile, Miami-based Burger King is running a promotion July 2 through July 4 for its Original Chicken Sandwich, selling for $1.04 in honor of the Fourth of July.

In addition, New York City’s Blue Smoke, a barbecue concept owned and operated by Union Square Hospitality Group, not only will run a July Fourth catering special for $15.95 per person, but also will sell a $125 cupcake flag made of 140 red, white and blue cupcakes.

Independents are looking to participate in the festivities, too. Hill Country in Washington, D.C., offers such July Fourth specials as pit-smoked Texas tenderloin at $32 a pound, Mexican corn on the cob for $5, blueberry bars with strawberry ice cream for $7, and a “Rocket Pop” cocktail with raspberry and blueberry vodkas, lemonade, blue curacao and cherries for $9.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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