The deep, dark and clubby confines of the steakhouse increasingly are being refreshed with brighter, lighter and airier designs to broaden their appeal.
In multi-unit steakhouse chains as varied as Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse and Black Angus Steakhouse, new units have been freshened with versatile dining areas that emphasizing customer comfort, open kitchen views to promote transparency and remodeled bars to highlight the high-margin beverage programs.
The new designs are being introduced with the same attention to detail as found in a perfectly grilled porterhouse.
“The landscape of the diner and the upscale diner is changing,” said Mark Mednansky, CEO of Southlake, Texas-based Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, in a recent earnings call. Some 10 to 15 years ago, he said, “You were building white tablecloth steakhouses, you were building restaurants that were frankly male dominated.
“You were building traditional looking steakhouses with wood paneling and white tablecloth and building a menu with big bone in steaks and big Napa cabs and trying to attract the businessman versus the businessperson,” Mednansky said.
With more guests being women, Mednansky said Del Frisco’s was intent on freshening its look to appeal well beyond the tony men’s club demographic.
The new Del Frisco’s Double Eagle in Orlando, Fla., exhibits many of the lighter characteristics, with colors that are brighter, lighting that is more sophisticated and wine displays that are as eye-catching as they are functional.
Del Frisco’s has “really toned down just the big masculinity of the steakhouse brand,” Mednansky said.
The design reflects the lightening of the menus as well. “It's lighter items being purchased, more seafood being purchased, not just big cabernets being sold, some lighter wines. … A bottle sauvignon blanc is about $40 at a Del Frisco's versus a $200 bottle of cab — so you see some of that at the Del Frisco's brand,” Mednansky said.
The bar and wine also play a big part at the newest Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse that opened in June in Plano, Texas.
Skip Fox, president of the Bloomin’ Brands Inc. steakhouse division, said in an interview that the 67th domestic restaurant of the brand followed a design path forged at the brand’s first international opening in São Paulo, Brazil, earlier this year.
“It’s a little more contemporary. It’s the design to take us into our new growth mode,” Fox told NRN. “We’re going back now on a strategic basis and remodeling our older restaurants to the current design.”
The new Fleming’s design features expansive windows on the first floor of an office building along with a kitchen divided from the diving room by another wall of glass, extensive private dining areas that provide flexible sizes, a large and open bar area and lighter colors.
Fleming’s plans to crib heavily from the new Plano restaurant’s open and airier design for another new restaurant that will open in Pasadena Calif., on Oct. 10 as well as for three new restaurants scheduled in 2017 for California, Florida and Louisiana.
“All have this newly designed look,” said Fox. “It’s a little more contemporary. It’s the design to take us into our new growth mode. We’re going back now on a strategic basis and remodeling our older restaurants to the current design.”
The latest two restaurants in São Paulo and Plano are also larger than earlier Fleming’s restaurants, covering about 10,000 square feet in Brazil and 10,300 square feet in Texas.
“The last two restaurants we have opened this year are a bit larger than our typical restaurants,” Fox said. “Our prototype used to be about 7,500 to 7,800 square feet. That’s slightly larger than if we were building a free-standing building.”
The bar, which features Fleming’s popular 100-wines-by-the-glass list, has also been expanded, Fox said, with the total dining room seating of 212 and the private dining area, which can be configured into three smaller areas, of 88.
Most of the alterations are to accommodate the 2016 diner, Fox added.
“The business has changed quite a bit. There are a lot more people who want access to fine dining,” he said. “At Fleming’s, we try to have a more accessible experience than some of our peers and offer a lot more variety on our menus. The Fleming’s 100 is a fine example of that. We want to meet you wherever you are on your wine journey. We say the same thing about our menu. We offer small plates, we have an extensive bar menu and a lot of variety in the core menu as well.”
“While the vast majority of anyone who comes to our steakhouse – or any steakhouse – want to order a steak, we also want to be sure that Fleming’s appeals in a very big way to those who might enjoy some other fare,” he said.
The lighter interior reflects popular Fleming’s specialties such as shareable plates of seared ahi tuna and lobster tempura as well as the steaks that are aged a minimum of 21 days, Fox said.
High-end steakhouses aren’t alone in getting the lighter refresh. Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Black Angus Steakhouse, with 46 restaurants, is also making adjustments as it expands its remodeling program.
“We lowered the height of our booths in the dining room and have more free standing tables to create a more open engaging environment as well as additional windows to bring in more natural light,” said Christopher Ames, Black Angus CEO and president, in email exchange. “We also added outdoor patio seating for al fresco dining.”
The remodels are aimed at attracting a broader demographic to the brand as well as to improve operational efficiencies, create more energy in the dining room and provide for more private-dining opportunities, a spokesman said.
“The updated design was first introduced in our new Brentwood location in Northern California in 2014 and our newest location in Escondido, Calif., in 2015,” Ames said. “This will continue to be the new look and feel with a few tweaks moving forward. We are currently working with our design team to incorporate these elements into a remodel package that we will be implementing beginning in the later part of 2016 and into 2017.”
The focus of the new Black Angus décor package was to make the dining room more inviting, he added.
“It raises the energy level in both the dining room and bar and also provides us more flexibility seating larger parties which is difficult in our older designs,” Ames said.
The brand was intent on maintaining the booth seating that makes the steakhouse a comfortable standby dinner destination, he added.
“The booths have always been draw for our most loyal customer,” he said, “so we wanted to maintain that element but the more open contemporary design, as well as communal tables in the bar will broaden our appeal to a younger demographic.”