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Red Robin Reevaluating its Brand

Filed under Advertising, Branding, Premium, Pricing, Promotion, Service

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 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.

59 Responses to Red Robin Reevaluating its Brand

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Joaquin Lopez-Rodriguez

    What happened? The food was awful. The decor was…I have no idea. My husband, son and I were very disappointed. The nostalgic pictures were gone, Red Robin was gone, statue of liberty..gone. It felt like we were in a cafeteria/sports bar. We won’t be back.

  5. Dan

    Loyal soon-to-be former customers disappointed in the new direction that RR is taking. How can it even be Red Robin when there are no robins anywhere as well as nothing fun, unique or kitschy, which is what made the restaurant what it was! It use to be a great family restaurant that provided fun arcade games to play. I’m surprised they kept the kids menu and crayons, since it seems they are taking away the fun. My daughter does not want to go here anymore for her birthdays. Another dumb move made by a corporate entity that has no idea what the public wants.

  6. Terence Rucker

    We were such regulars at the local RR that we were known by name. We loved it and it was always our “go to” when we wanted to go out. Then the remodel. New staff. New manager. New menu. Ok, things change. We will give it a try. It sucked. By the time our food came out the kids were beyond bored. We thought we would try again in a few weeks after they had the bugs sorted out. It sucked worse. We complained to the manager and she said all the appropriate things and promised that it would get better. So we waited a few weeks later and tried again. This time it was such a long wait to get our water, get our order, and we got so tired of waiting for our food that we walked out. I will never go there again. It’s a real shame. This restaurant has gone from being our favorite to just a building we drive past on a regular basis. Good Luck!

  7. Leslie Phillips

    Have read previous comments and they all ring true to what I have heard and seen for myself. To begin with, the original Red Robin Managers were the best in the business. They were a team and operated as such. They gathered all Employees an hour before opening time and relayed for a pep talk. You might recognize this as a Jazzing up the team to be the best on stage, persona to best serve patrons, getting ready to enjoy the special serving attributes they were trained for, like Birthdays that came with a small crew singing Happy Birthday. Those were just a few of the fun things red Robin were known for. Now Managers appear to care less. It is their job to Manage only. Having fun is after work! I hope this company finally someday will realize this, before It’s too late. Maybe this is something that should have stayed in Seattle, and not sold to a bunch of Stagnated Investors.

  8. Thanks, Leslie. I took the liberty of adding periods and breaking up your screed into sentences.

  9. I have been going to RR since my teen’s in the 80’s. It’s been a favorite of mine and generally my birthday pick every year. My kids have grown up joining us for good times, great food, exciting environment, and great service. It’s sad they won’t have the same experience with their families. The new changes degrade the unique and special brand that we have known and loved. I went last night in The Woodlands, TX. The changes made it a boring place and a loss of nostalgia and brand legacy. The new premium menu and high end pricing is not what I’m looking for in a fun family place. Clearly I am no longer RR’s target demographic, and that’s your prerogative. Good luck to you as you join the pack. My career and education is in Marketing, and this is an example of fixing what wasn’t broken… The “new Coke” of burger joints.