Applebee's went from being killed by millennial diners to making the biggest comeback in the restaurant business
- Applebee's had the restaurant industry's comeback of the year in 2018.
- US same-store sales were up 5.5% in the first nine months of 2018, after years of slumping sales and dozens of store closures.
- "I love that line, Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining,' 'We're back!'" Steve Joyce, the CEO of parent company Dine Brands, told Business Insider in November.
2018 was a good year for Applebee's. And, it came after quite a few bad years.
Applebee's sales were plummeting, with dozens of locations closing as the chain struggled to reach millennial diners. Millennials, apparently, were killing Applebee's. The chain was simply not cool, and there was nothing that could be done to fix it.This year, Applebee's proved that narrative wrong.
To be fair, the comeback began in 2017. Steve Joyce had taken over as CEO of parent company Dine Brands in September. In October, the chain launched the Dollarita, a $1 margarita deal that immediately lifted sales.
But, it wasn't until 2018 that Applebee's proved that the success wasn't a fluke.
"I love that line, Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining,' 'We're back!'" Joyce told Business Insider in November.
"We had a couple quick wins when people started gaining some confidence - they started to believe," Joyce said. "You can tell there's an attitude that's different in the company if you visit the offices."
For customers, there was a different cultural shift.
"I think the customer was confused as to what Applebee's was because they heard several different messages over time," Joyce said.
Now the message is back to "eating good in the neighborhood," with inexpensive food that doesn't try to be fancy. The Dollarita kicked off a new paradigm of what customers wanted - homey deals with a side of quirkiness.
Joyce says that the comeback will continue in 2019. Food costs are set to drop due to tariffs, and Applebee's is doubling down on delivery, with hope to bring off-venue sales to 20% of sales, up from 10%.