Applebee’s used to pitch itself as a spot for purchasers to come back, sit, and keep some time. Then the pandemic occurred, and Applebee’s needed to pivot.
When native governments ordered eating places to shut their eating rooms, they needed to shortly make their meals obtainable for supply or pickup. For some eating places, like pizzerias, that wasn’t such a giant deal. However for others, like Applebee’s, it meant a drastic change of their operations — and an enormous dip in gross sales, at the very least at first.
It’s additionally led to a seemingly everlasting change in habits. Previous to the pandemic, within the final three months of 2019, Applebee’s pickup and supply orders accounted for about 12.8% of gross sales. In that very same interval two years later, even after its eating rooms re-opened, its off-premise gross sales spiked to about 27% of all gross sales.
That leap meant Applebee’s immediately had a unique and vital stream of income –— however one which’s not essentially as engaging as dine-in, the place customes can splurge on high-margin gadgets like blended drinks.
So Applebee’s has been getting inventive with its off-premise choices. It launched, for instance, a digital model known as Cosmic Wings throughout the pandemic. And final 12 months, it tried one thing new — its first-ever drive-thru window.
The drive-thru at Applebee’s is way much less advanced than one you may discover at a McDonald’s
(MCD) or Burger King. An Applebee’s buyer shouldn’t anticipate an out of doors menu board or to have the ability to place an order with an worker. As a substitute, they should order forward – on-line or by means of the restaurant’s app – and use the window only for pickup.
Ten years in the past, somebody on the lookout for a to-go meal wouldn’t even consider Applebee’s, mentioned John Cywinski, the model’s president. On the time, “Applebee’s was not likely a part of that consideration set,” Cywinski mentioned throughout an investor day in March. “In the event you didn’t have 1.5 hours to dine-in and also you have been on the go … you’re in all probability desirous about McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, and perhaps a burger, fries and a Pepsi by means of a drive-thru window.”
However now, he mentioned, “we’re competing instantly with [quick-service restaurants] and quick informal.”
Meaning exploring new ideas, together with drive-thru, an concept championed by a franchise operator.
It’s early days for now: Simply two eating places have the home windows, one in Texarkana, Texas and one other in Monroe, Louisiana. The corporate expects two extra to open in West Columbia, South Carolina, and Colonial Heights, Virginia, in coming weeks. By the top of this 12 months, Cywinski expects there might be about 15 Applebee’s eating places with drive-thru home windows.
That’s nonetheless a small quantity, contemplating that there are about 1,600 Applebee’s eating places general. Nevertheless it must be a sufficiently big pattern measurement to determine if it is sensible to put in a drive-thru window at extra eating places, Cywinski mentioned.
Although he isn’t able to say what number of Applebee’s will finally have drive-thru home windows, he has excessive hopes.
“We expect there’s a very robust argument for it,” Cywinski instructed CNN Enterprise, including “we’ll scale it, ought to the enterprise case be clear. My intuition says sure, there’s a real want.”
It could appear comparatively easy to arrange these sorts of drive-thru home windows. Nevertheless it requires some logistical maneuvering, Cywinski instructed CNN Enterprise. “It’s actually going to be contingent on the location and the municipality,” he mentioned.
Opening up a drive-thru window at Applebee’s means getting rid of some spots within the restaurant parking zone so as to add one other lane. It additionally requires some building to make the window itself.
At some areas, that’s no huge deal.
“There’s some Applebee’s parking tons the place …. it’s straightforward,” he mentioned. “And also you’re working with a village or municipality who’s totally supportive.”
However, he famous, “there are others the place you simply don’t have the house, or the throughput logistics aren’t proper.” Most Applebee’s areas are operated by franchisees, so additionally they should be on board with the adjustments.
Cywinski thinks that the drive-thru home windows additionally can be useful for supply drivers, who can choose orders up that method. And extra to-go choices may additionally assist Applebee’s ought to clients bitter on supply.
Supply is usually unappealing to eating places. It’s costly, as a result of eating places should pay third-party suppliers or rent a fleet of supply drivers themselves. And it cuts into income, as a result of clients are much less prone to order high-margin gadgets, like alcoholic drinks, after they order supply.
Applebee’s has handed supply prices onto clients, mentioned Cywinski. Proper now, supply accounts for about 13% of Applebee’s gross sales.
And to this point, clients have largely accepted these increased costs as the price of comfort. However with inflation hovering, they might activate supply — and determine that to-go is healthier.
“The intent is simply to make the expertise straightforward for the visitors,” Cywinski mentioned.