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Red Robin Reevaluating its Brand

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers is rethinking its full-service restaurant model top to bottom—from name to service style to menu—as it also expands its fast-casual concept, Red Robin Burger Works.

Some "transformed" Red Robin units use this logo.

Red Robin reported its Q3 results today, which include a 3.4% increase in total revenues and a 1.1% increase in same-store sales for company units. More importantly, CEO Stephen Carley said that during this current quarter, the chain has begun experimenting with “a number of transformed restaurants.” This “is not simply a remodeling project but part of our overall strategy to make the Red Robin brand more relevant to our guests and to attract them more often.” What is “transformed” at this undisclosed number of units, Carley said, can be anything from “physical space and layout of the restaurants to team-member uniforms, our service model, our menus and our food preparation.”

The Oktoberfest beer milk shake is emblematic of the brand changes being considered.

Additionally, the company confirmed to BurgerBusiness.com that some of the transformed restaurants will have a new logo and signage, identifying the restaurant as Red Robin Gourmet Burgers + Brews. This logo incorporates the flame motif used with the five Red Robin’s Burger Works that are open.

This name helps Red Robin’s quest to increase its appeal to adults without children and to boost alcoholic-beverage sales (now more than 7% of sales). The chain’s ongoing “Taking Back the Bar” initiative looks to further increase those sales. Red Robin’s recent introduction of the Oktoberfest Beer Milkshake promotion with Sam Adams beer signaled its interest in being more of a “burgers + brews” brand.

The desire for a more-adult image undoubtedly will result in the elimination of the current “Yummm!” advertising slogan when a new agency is named (succeeding incumbent Periscope). That will happen by the end of the year.

Carley said the test restaurants are “laboratories” that will help the company “determine what’s really important to our guests and determine the returns” on its investments in remodeled space, among other elements. A determination of what changes to make at all 471 of its full-service Red Robins will be made by Q3 of 2013, Carley said.

The Tavern Double provides "everyday value" that Red Robin lacked.

As for the five smaller-footprint, fast-casual Burger Works restaurants, Carley noted that they vary not only in size and trade area but also in “performance and consistency of execution. But they provide a lot of learning we can use to tweak the model.” As many as five more Burger Works will open in 2013.

Near term, Red Robin is looking at how best to balance pricing for its menu. The $6.99 Tavern Double burger has been its most successful product launch, giving it an “everyday value” entry point. It also allowed Red Robin to bring back the Oktoberfest LTO burger at full price ($9.99), rather than discount it by $3 as it did last year.

But the tradeoff in Q3 was that while customer traffic was up 0.8%, price/product mix contributed just 0.3% toward the 1.1% same-store sales gain. In 2011’s Q3, comp sales also rose 1.1% but with price/mix contributing 4.3% to offset a -3.2% debit in guest counts. Given the “challenging environment,” Red Robin is happier with increases in both price/mix and guest traffic. “Guest traffic has been hard to come by [for all restaurants] this year, particularly in the last quarter,” said SVP-CMO Denny Post.

Burger King will do more dealing to keep "value" customers.

Carley pointed out a few small measures taken that have brought significant savings. A switch in the appearance specification for chopped onions used in salsa meant a system savings of $120,000. A switch in to-go packaging has netted $275,000 and the adoption of reusable, washable kids beverage cups will save the company $500,000.

◙ Separately, Burger King Worldwide also announced results for its third quarter ended September 30, 2012. These include a systemwide same-store sales gain of 1.4% and a 1.6% increase for the U.S./Canada. That is a lower comp-sales gain than a year ago, which the company attributed to “more challenging prior-year comparisons and the loss of some value based traffic.”

That means, as the company acknowledged, that while its new higher-price menu platforms such as the BBQ sandwiches on the Summer Menu have been successful, Burger King has seen some “value” customers go elsewhere for dollar items. The current restaurant market “is highly competitive where value is a key factor in attracting guests,” said Steve Wiborg, president of BK North America.

About 30% of Burger King’s sales comes through low-price channels, including its Value Menu (9% of sales), coupons (8%) and other deals (such as price reductions, accounting for about 14%) according to Wiborg. Those numbers are roughly comparable to sales at McDonald’s and Wendy’s, he said. Burger King will continue to have limited-time budget promotions, such as $1 smoothies and $1 chicken sandwiches, to keep its value customers happy at the same time it continues to build on its premium-price platforms such as BBQ.

57 comments to Red Robin Reevaluating its Brand

  • Philip

    Man. RR was my favorite restaurant. My (4) kids loved the games. I’m 40 years old and I took my kids every year for my birthday. Its not the same. The place was empty, the arcade games were gone, I couldn’t get a Colorado craft beer on tap (despite living in Colorado) and it basically sucked. I shall be going somewhere else for my birthday, maybe Dave and Busters. Hope you’re pleased with your new demographic!

  • Randy

    Have been a loyal customer of RR of several years. About 90% if the time, I order the Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad (SwGCS). I typically have had this salad at least once per week. I took my customers to RR for lunch and we all ordered the salad.

    My wife and I have been on the road RV’ing for the last 2 1/2 months. Just got back to Phoenix and decided to head to RR for a SwGCS.

    New menu??? No Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad. Ordered what appeared to be a modified version. It came out about half the size of the SwGCS at the same cost. It did not “hit the spot”.

    So, looks like my wife and I will be shopping around for a new favorite place to dine. I may just go ahead and cut up my loyalty card. I will not be using it any longer.

    Bad move on RR’s part.

  • Brett

    I think the guy that mentioned the pre-cooked burger weight nailed it. They more than likely switched to beef with a higher fat content, which ends up smaller once cooked.

    I have yet to see anyone who likes the changes (besides the guy above who apparently goes to different restaurants than I do to see kids running around screaming), and RR is now trying to become a “me too” restaurant rather than a unique spot for families to head to. Very disappointing.

  • Chris

    You know, I don’t really care that they are moving away from a “family” style restaurant. What I care about is the salads! I used to come into RR once every other week for a treat. I would get the Crispy Chicken Tender Salad and an alcoholic beverage. This last visit, I was shocked at the size of the salad. And it wasn’t just the size that got me, the price was the same! The salad was cut in half but the price remained the same. If that isn’t highway robbery then tell me what is. I left there hungry and completely unsatisfied. I will not be going back to RR unless they realize their mistake and change it back.

  • Will Thompson

    Do not like the remodel in the Beavercreek Ohio store. Always liked looking at the decor. Now the ambiance is gone! The look is definitely not better.

  • Linda

    I just came back from dinner at my local RR in Vancouver. I usually go there a few times a month but hadn’t been in a while. I always order the same thing, a Mesa Chicken Salad. Although they had changed the look of the menu, there was nothing to indicate that the salad had been changed at all. The portion was much smaller, the price was about a dollar more, and they switched from serving in the large red bowl to a small rectangular plate. Trying to cut the chicken I ended up knocking about half my salad onto the table because the plate is so narrow. To top it off, they changed the salad mix from the sweet iceberg/cabbage mix to some kind of spring mix. It completely changed the taste of the salad and made it, in my opinion inedible. The salad flavors just didn’t work. Certain lettuces go better with certain dressings, and spring mixes have a very earthy flavor which doesn’t lend well to creamy dressing.

    Despite the fact that I only had one bite of said salad, they charged me for the meal and wouldn’t comp it as I didn’t want anything else on the menu. I was told that I should have said something right away instead of at the end of the meal. Yeah, kinda hard when the waitress doesn’t come by until my boyfriend was completely finished his burger and fries…

    We paid for both meals and honestly we won’t ever go back.

  • Robert Rich

    I was excited to move to an area with a Red Robin. Unfortunately I have eaten there 5 times and received terrible service on each visit. The last visit I was there an hour an 15 minutes, by myself. I received my water and never saw the waiter again. I decided to leave because it was obvious they did not want my business. As I was walking out the manager and bartender threatened to call the cops. When I asked what for they said I could not just leave a restaurant without letting management know first. I said I had not received my food and they said they could still call the cops even without serving me. I contacted Red Robin, but they never responded. I assume they do not care about customers. I will stick with Chillis

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