Applebee's Neighborhood Grill + Bar restaurant chain has seen a record increase in sales recently, and it is thanking "stress eaters" for it.
John Cywinski, the company's president, credits the 8% increase in sales in the third quarter to the company's focus on comfort food and cheap alcoholic drink specials. Cywinski says that Americans are more and more stressed and when customers are stressed out, they tend to order more alcohol with dinner, driving up profits, according to CNN Business.
The restaurant chain had first tried to woo millennials and healthy eaters, but had failed in their attempts. They then decided to focus on what Americans really want-- lots of cheap food and alcohol, and the concept proved successful.
To get Applebee's back on track and to give "Americans what they want", Cywinski hired a whole new leadership team. He set out to convince franchisees to contribute toward Applebee's advertising fund. He introduced one drink promotion after the other-- Dollaritas, Dollar Zombies and, most recently, $2 Bud Lights, conscious that alcohol accounts for about 15% of Applebee's business.
Cywinski explained that when it comes to meals, Applebee's is focusing on the concept of "abundant value." They are offering all-you-can-eat riblets, chicken tenders, and creamy pasta dishes among other value meals.
With a bigger advertising budget, Applebee's invested in campaigns that highlight the brand's renewed commitment to indulgent food. Cywinski said that they wanted their ads to make people laugh and, also make them hungry.
One video, promoting the new pasta dishes, shows close-up shots of mouth-watering dishes with At Last by Etta James playing in the background.
Cywinski insists that Applebee's is still offering healthy options, but the brand's main focus definitely is on comfort food. Applebee's is about "making people hungry [and] satisfying them," he said. "So that doesn't mean small portions, it doesn't mean pursuing niche trends."
Applebee's competitors Chili's and Olive Garden have also been performing well recently. Wage growth and higher employment rates have helped the consumer environment overall, Brian Vaccaro, a restaurant analyst with Raymond James, said. He notes that those are all positive for casual dining. But Applebee's has been "significantly outperforming the industry," Vaccaro added. That may be because Applebee's has done such a good job of showing customers that it's about the value and the experience, he said.