The off-premises target for Applebee’s is an ambitious one. By 2022, the brand hopes to double the growing segment’s share of current total sales, up from about 9 percent. And recent signs suggest Applebee’s is making significant progress. To-go sales jumped 31 percent in the second quarter, year-over-year, which accounted for nearly half of Applebee’s total comps growth. This was worth tracking considering it posted domestic same-store sales gains of 5.7 percent in the period, Applebee’s highest quarterly increase in more than a decade.
Year-to-date, as of August 1, Applebee’s witnessed a 4.5 percent lift in same-store sales, which represented a 1,160-basis point swing form a year ago. The Dine Brands’ chain also started fiscal 2018 with 26 consecutive weeks of positive comps and improved its business across each daypart and every single region in the country. And, with all of that said, once again, about half of that hike came from off-premises.
Applebee’s is no real stranger in the to-go realm. It’s one of the originators of Carside To Go in casual dining. But there is still plenty of room to grow, executives said. In that 31 percent growth, delivery represented a relatively small slice of the overall pie, being offered in more than 500 Applebee’s with at least one of its national brand partners, as well as some regional ones. “We expect this number to increase meaningfully by year-end,” president John Cywinski said in August. For comparison, about four months earlier, Applebee’s was testing delivery with leading providers, including GrubHub, DoorDash, and Amazon in more than 200 locations.
In March, Applebee’s announced an enhanced to-go platform highlighted by a redesigned mobile app and online ordering setup. The goal was to speed up Carside To Go and To Go orders. It also coincided with new to-go packaging “and an elevated focus on operational execution,” said Scott Gladstone, vice president, strategy and off-premises.
Taking a similar route as sister brand IHOP, Applebee’s announced September 10 that it just struck its largest, national delivery partnership yet with DoorDash. It’s spotlighting the deal with a football-focused offering that promises free delivery every Monday throughout the NFL calendar (September 10 to December 24) at locations covered by DoorDash. For the first three games, customers can access free delivery on all orders over $25. For the remaining 13 games, it increases to $30. For a limited time, guests can also order 30-ounce fountain drinks for 99 cents.
“Applebee's was one of the first casual dining restaurants to offer the convenience of Carside To Go, which means we have been creating easier ways for our guests to enjoy our food wherever and however they like for quite a while,” Gladstone said in a statement. “It's only natural that we now partner with one of the nation's leading delivery platforms, DoorDash, to bring our great tasting food right to your doorstep.”
“And there is no better time than football season when we don't feel like leaving the couch on Monday nights—except maybe to answer the door—to make ordering Applebee's To Go even more enticing with free delivery," he added.
Applebee’s said its new to-go packaging technology was designed to keep boneless wings, steak, and burgers at the right temperature. The company is also integrating DoorDash into its point-of-sale system, it said. This “allows DoorDash to scale additional Applebee's restaurants at a faster pace, while programmatically updating the online experience to account for menu changes, item availability and limited time offers,” Applebee’s said. DoorDash itself is now powering delivery at more than 500 locations nationwide. However, this infrastructure hints at rapid growth.
“As one of the first in its category to offer off-premises dining options, we're thrilled to be partnering with Applebee's as their largest on-demand logistics provider delivering from more than 500 locations nationwide and counting," said Christopher Payne, chief operating officer at DoorDash, in a statement. "DoorDash values the high-quality selection and added convenience we bring to our customers, and this new partnership comes at the perfect time so that football fans can get their Applebee's favorites delivered to their couch without missing prime time plays."
As of June 30, there were more than 1,700 Applebee's franchise restaurants in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and 13 other countries.