On The Border remodeled an Alpharetta, Georgia, unit that paused operations due to COVID challenges. It returned with a palette of white adobe and rustic colors. New chairs, tables, and barstools. On The Border added artwork inspired by the chain’s heritage. It even enlisted the same artist who created the first cowboy painting for On The Border’s original restaurants.
As chief real estate officer Mike Wood put it, “After almost four decades of learning and growing, our company has decided it’s time to go back to what first brought people to our brand—and that includes offering bolder-than-ever Tex-Mex food and pulling together design elements that are inspired by On The Border’s legacy.”
The best way to describe it is that On the Border’s updated prototype looks a lot more like its first locations, but with some modern fixes. The store improved signage for to-go orders and upgraded the bar with 10 TVs.
Ward says On The Border could retrofit throughout the system. It’s still analyzing assets. But every single store will eventually do “some sort of transformation,” he says, in the next five to seven years. “However fast we can get it done,” Ward says.
Echoing Wood’s sentiment, he adds, “And really make the world know that On The Border is not only back, but we’re better than ever.”
Some things you should expect to see: Many of On The Border’s older bars have mirrors, and they’re old, rustic, with wooden tables and metal chairs that don’t exactly portray comfort.
In redesigns, the chain stripped the mirrors and flushed the space with TVs (like the Georgia unit). It then added cushioned cottage chairs.
A lot of On The Border’s locations are “quite large,” Ward says. And there are divider walls to separate the bar and dining room. This allows it to imagine the space with a family-oriented section and a bar-centric area with louder music or sound when a big game is on.
“What we’re going to do,” Ward says, “is bring the communities and families together. They asked us for happy hour and for us to be a place to meet their partner or friends to have a drink with.”
Speaking of that, back in July, On The Border launched an elevated Happy Hour menu with $5 appetizers and an all-new offering—Queso Sampler—as well as discounted Dos Equis beers. For an additional $1, customers could upgrade to a grande Dos Equis draft or a grande House Margarita or try a grande Strawberrita or grande Mango Tango for $5.
An interesting COVID kickback, Ward explains, has been the shift of the lunch daypart. Before, lunch ran from about 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Lately, likely thanks to remote work, people are showing up closer to 12:30 p.m., and service is running all the way into Happy Hour. In some cases, lunch and Happy Hour are one and the same for customers.
“It’s just really changing the way we’re doing business,” Ward says. “People want to come and enjoy our margaritas and fajitas at any time. And it’s different and it’s fun.”
Meanwhile, dinner dine-in sales continue to climb and have hiked in volume and comp over the last 60–75 days or so. To-go dinner business, surprisingly, has hardly dropped off. “Which has really shocked us,” Ward says.
“We thought we would trade to-go off for dine-in,” he adds. “Now, that is the opposite for lunch. We did a lot of catering to businesses and we did a lot of lunch for businesses. And that’s just not come back strong. And that’s where we’re still lagging behind a little bit because we were so heavy into that before. But if that comes back anywhere near where our dinner is doing, we will be extremely happy.”