One of the oldest American family/burger restaurant brands embraces the new fast-casual philosophy tomorrow when Shoney’s opens its limited-service prototype, Shoney’s On the Go, in Houston.
Beginning as Alex “Shoney” Schoenbaum’s Parkette Drive-In in Charleston, W.Va., in 1947, the name became Shoney’s and the restaurant became a Big Boy franchisee in 1951. The Big Boy affiliation ended in 1984, but Shoney’s has continued as a Nashville-based, family-dining icon in the Southeast, known for its All-American burger (at left).
Favorites such as the All-American and Shoney’s Double Decker burgers, the Slim Jim sandwich and Country Fried Steak platter are still on the breakfast/lunch/dinner menu at Shoney’s On the Go and are available via a drive-thru window.
“Our mission has been to restore the great American Shoney’s brand to its glory days once again. And I believe a fast-casual version of the iconic brand is a necessity to address America’s fast-paced lifestyle,” Shoney’s CEO David Davoudpour said in a release announcing the planned August 15 opening. He said the company intends to open 50 Shoney’s On the Go units—positioned as having “great Shoney’s food at an even better value”— in Houston over the next five years.
Shoney’s is just the latest of several family-dining brand to see the necessity of trying restaurants with lower menu prices that are less expensive to build and staff. Denny’s, which earlier tried and failed with a Denny’s Café concept, is trying limited-menu Denny’s Fresh Express restaurants in six locations. A similar concept, IHOP Express, opened in November 2011 and Friendly’s has Friendly’s Express.
But it’s not just midscale family chains working the fast-casual waters. Full-service Asian chain P.F. Chang’s China Bistro opened Pei Wei Asian Market, a fast-casual version of its Pei Wei Asian Diner QSR, in April. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers has opened four smaller, less–expensive Red Robin’s Burger Works fast-casual locations. Asian QSR Yoshinoya has opened Asiana Grill. There are many more in pizza, barbecue, Mexican and other categories
Researcher Technomic, which compiled a list of 10 fast-casual attributes, reported last month that limited-service (QSR) restaurants now account for 53% of total restaurant sales, with full-service restaurants getting 47%. Ten years ago, it was full-service that had the majority of sales, Technomic says. Limited-service’s ascendancy has been helped by fast-casual brands, which Technomic says account for 14% of the total limited-service category (or about 7% of commercial restaurant sales).
According to researcher The NPD Group’s “Fast Casual: A Growing Market” report, the fast-casual segment was alone in seeing customer growth from 2009 through 2011. For the 12 months ended June 2011, for example, NPD says customer traffic at fast-casual restaurants was up 7% compared the previous year. QSRs other than fast casual saw flat customer traffic, while casual dining declined 2% and midscale brands were off 3% vs. year-earlier levels.