Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Simon didn't say 'do that'

The following is a public service announcement to the nation’s casual restaurant chains.

Have you lost your minds?

Part of the reason you’re currently living a blues tune is a lack of differentiation in your menus. Every concept could rename itself That Place Serving a Bloomin’ Onion, Nachos, Fajitas, Burgers, Spinach Dip and Margaritas, and it wouldn’t be lying. A follow-the-leader approach led everyone toward a cliff.

So how are you trying to right the situation? Consider the latest promotion from Applebee’s: A $9.99 sirloin served with two sides. In a stunning coincidence, the LongHorn casual chain is also featuring a $9.99 steak dinner as of this month. And Outback has been selling a 6-oz. sirloin as part of a dinner for a penny less than $10 for a number of weeks. What are the odds???

At least Ruby Tuesday and T.G.I. Friday’s, two concepts that had their starts as “fern bars” (youngsters, ask your folks, but DO NOT bring up leisure suits), are resisting the temptation to copycat. As Ruby CEO Sandy Beall told investors last week, “We believe our burgers offer [an] incredible, differentiated and value category that resonates well with our guests.”

Okay, the chain also noted during the conference call that it was pushing a $5.99 burger with all-you-can-eat fries. But it’s sticking with a key point of differentiation. I mean, what other casual chain offers burgers? It’s not like Chili’s or Red Robin are known for that item.

And Friday’s? Well, consider the promotional head-turner it started pushing yesterday. Here’s the headline from the announcement: “T.G.I. Friday's Restaurants Unleash The 'Ultimate' Burger.”

I think I need a margarita. Or a ‘Rita. Or maybe a Lobsterita.

What are the odds???

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