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The Rejection of Inferior Food

June 5, 2017

Lest I be accused of burying the lede, Business Week Insider would seem to have it out for the Millennials. Actually, it’s more insidious than that. The magazine also appears to have a soft spot for crappy food.

For some historical perspective, on June 9, 2005 Business Week Insider published a story entitled, “Millennials are lying about what they want to eat, and it’s destroying fast food.” But what everyone has been talking about online lately is the story from June 3, “Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s.”

The subheadline to the most current article reads, “Casual dining is in danger — and millennials are to blame.”

For starters, whatever happened to blaming Canada? But this story is just so unbelievably wrong for so many reasons, I just had to take a few minutes and get some things off my chest.

First thing’s first. Casual dining is not in danger. Two words: Tipsy Moose. Holy crap is that place mobbed. It’s pizza, fried foods, and beer. Good food, reasonable prices, and a nice setting. It’s a simple formula. Put them together and the world will beat a path to your door.

Crave follows the same guiding principles. They offer chef-made burgers with so many interesting components that one doesn’t mind paying a premium for the experience.

Do you know what’s killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s? Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s. And it’s not fair to single out these two restaurants, because the same trend has affected the entire category over the years.

Here’s the fact that nobody wants to hear. National casual dining restaurant chains have become nothing more than a dressed up version of fast food. Period.

Whether it was for the sake of store-by-store consistency, or the perpetual drive for year-over-year profits, or the side effect of national expansion and the demands that puts on a supply chain, the results are the same. The food sold at these places today is a faint shadow of the quality that build these brands.

Brand managers cannibalize their brands long term outlook for short term growth. It happens all the time.

Offering delivery isn’t going to save them. Coming up with “healthier” menu options isn’t going to save them. Rebranding, like the proposed transformation of TGI Fridays into a gastropub, seems misguided at best.

It may be true that delivery might stem the bleeding. Because it might be awkward to bring your family of four to The Cheesecake Factory and have everyone split an order of pasta and one slice of cheesecake. But that’s how much food the place is serving. So clever and cash strapped Millennials might take advantage of this convenient option, especially since it finally ads a value proposition to the equation. And value is an important element that’s missing from the national casual dining scene.

The big chains would be smarter to take a fresh look at what they do. Because it’s not just the Millennials who are onto their shenanigans. It’s a growing movement in America that is waking up to real food.

And it’s not like the chains haven’t noticed. Applebee’s started cutting its own steaks in house and invested in wood fired grills for all their locations. I had tried to get out and try this for myself last year, but wasn’t able to make it happen. Thankfully Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Daily News, made the trek out, and discovered what I had feared.

That even with these improvements, the food was still overpriced for what it was. He contextualizes the issue really well in his tough but fair write up of the experience.

Sure, Friday’s was a novelty when it rolled out on the scene. I still remember with joy the sizzling platters of fajitas at Chili’s. Fuddruckers was the source of my favorite hamburger for years. But all of these places have fallen.

I’m not anti-chain. Chain restaurants sustained and satisfied me for years. But no longer. You can blame millennials all you want. But you can only cut corners for so long until what remains is a shell of its former self.

The real question is, can a business that has badly cannibalized its brand ever get back the spark that originally made it special? We’ve seen it in the technology sector with Apple. But I can’t think of a restaurant group that has pulled off the same feat.

Although I heard that the Bennigan’s was considering bringing back Steak & Ale as part of the brand’s comeback concept. Well, we’ll have to see how that goes.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2017 10:50 am

    Yes! Down with the crap and onward with the good stuff! Great read

  2. June 5, 2017 12:41 pm

    I won’t share many tears at the downfall of mediocre chain restaurants. HOWEVER, I think you’re missing the lesson of the millennial connection. It’s not necessarily that they look down their noses at the fare, rather they don’t see the point of the up charge to have their food in a restaurant setting when they prefer to socialize in other ways.

    Millennials certainly are not averse to throwing away money on food. Cf. avocado toast!

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