Applebee's fast casual is well equipped for to-go business.

Applebee's Introduces a Fast Casual in Alabama

IHOP is also bringing a counter-service brand to market in the spring.

Count Applebee’s as the next sit-down giant to try its hand at fast casual. Birmingham’s Quality Restaurant Concepts, which runs 60 Applebee’s across Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi, has opened the first “Applebee’s Express” in Mobile, Alabama. The unit is 2,500 square feet and allows guests to order at the counter.

There is a 72-seat dining room as well. Applebee’s full-service venues are typically 3,800–4,700 square feet with roughly 200 seats. The restaurant is located inside the Shoppes of Westgate at 7450 Airport Boulevard.

The Applebee’s Express store features an abbreviated menu with a focus on the brand’s core classics, such as the Quesadilla Burger, boneless wings, Riblets, burgers, salads, and two entrees—Three Cheese Chicken Penne and Classic Broccoli Chicken Alfredo.

The unit is well equipped for off-premises business, too. Rick Houser, vice president, operations, Quality Restaurant Concepts, told Business Alabama, “We’re excited to bring Applebee’s back to Mobile. We’ve been working closely with the Applebee’s team to bring this first-of-a-kind restaurant to life for our brand and look forward to serving our new neighbors.”

READ MORE: Why Applebee’s is finally ready to grow again

Applebee’s has had a busy start to the New Year. The chain added to its All You Can Eat offer with Boneless Wings. Guests can now order All You Can Eat Boneless Wings, Riblets and Shrimp starting at $12.99, for a limited time. Diners can also mix and match each All You Can Eat plates.

The brand then unveiled its latest Neighborhood Drink of the Month—a $1 Vodka Rum Frostbite made with a blend of rum, vodka, blue curacao, creamy coconut, and pineapple.

The 1,667-unit (domestic) chain reported same-store sales declines of 1.6 percent in the third quarter, year-over-year. Applebee’s figure compared to Q3 2018’s 7.7 percent jump—the brand’s highest quarterly sales increase in more than 20 years and best sustained sales and traffic performance in at least 14.

Here’s how same-store sales are trending at Applebee’s:

  • Q1 2016: –3.7 percent
  • Q2 2016: –4.2 percent
  • Q3 2016: –5.2 percent
  • Q4 2016: –7.2 percent
  • Q1 2017: –7.9 percent
  • Q2 2017: –6.2 percent
  • Q3 2017: –7.7 percent
  • Q4 2017: 1.3 percent
  • Q1 2018: 3.3 percent
  • Q2 2018: 5.7 percent
  • Q3 2018: 7.7 percent
  • Q4 2018: 3.5 percent
  • Q1 2019: 1.3 percent
  • Q2 2019: –0.5 percent
  • Q3 2019: –1.6 percent

Applebee’s Express also follows sister brand IHOP’s December announcement it was working on a spin-off fast casual concept called “Flip’d by IHOP.” The unit is expected to open next April in Atlanta. Unlike Applebee’s Express store, however, which is a test, Flip’d will be a stand-alone concept within Dine Brands’ portfolio and is targeting urban entries, such as New York City, Washington, D.C, Denver, and San Francisco, the company said.

Here’s a deeper look into what the concept will look like.

Applebee’s Q3 off-premises sales bumped 13.7 percent on top of last year’s 36.6 percent lift.

To-go currently represents about 70 percent of Applebee’s off-premises mix. Delivery makes up the balance, with more than 1,400 units offering the service through Applebee’s website and third-party activations. Roughly 65 percent of the brand’s off-premises orders are now placed digitally.