As convenience, independents, and technology flood the restaurant lexicon, casual dining has clawed for an identify. That’s far from a new challenge, but there is a movement emerging as millennials mature into the marketplace. This massive swath of consumers is starting to age and have families. And while delivery is great for the urban dweller, it can present a pretty pricy proposition for large groups. It’s one reason chains like Olive Garden have resisted it, electing instead to focus on carry-out. With deals like the Buy One, Take One, and Carrabba’s Bring Homemade Home Event, casual brands can trigger off-premises occasions by catering to families and groups that measure value beyond speed.
It also offers experience-driven brands, which casual chains aspire to be compared to counter-service competitors at least, to let their in-restaurant expertise drive a compelling off-premises proposition. One where the consumer wants to come and pick up because the value and quality is appealing. Darden CEO Gene Lee has railed on this subject previously. The main reason being that he’s not comfortable asking guests to rethink Olive Garden’s value equation. And those guests are mostly families planning to order multiple meals at once. If they’re carrying the cost burden of third-party delivery, it changes the overall experience. In the case of the family dynamic, though, is the convenience trade-off worth the added price tag? “At this point, I’m just a little uncomfortable with that,” Lee said in June. “That [being] what percentage is the consumer long term willing to pay of their overall check to have that convenience? That has to be proven out to me over time [before] that’s something that we want to do.”
The result is an opportunity Red Robin plans to market to the fullest. The burger chain recently commissioned a OnePoll survey to find out what kids today really want. This was inspired by data that showed, on average, American families spend just 37 minutes of quality time together per weekday. Red Robin’s study, what it’s calling the “Full of Family” survey, suggests an optimistic future ahead for sit-down brands and those courting experience over straight price: Parents and children want more time to connect. And restaurants can give it to them.
Red Robin’s survey found 70 percent of parents wish they had more time to connect with their children and 73 percent of children said they’d like more time to do so with their parents.
"Red Robin has long been a place for families to connect, and we want our restaurants to be a place for families to bond and find moments of joy," said Jonathan Muhtar, executive vice president and chief concept officer at Red Robin, in a statement. "We create memorable experiences in-restaurant all year long, and the August theme nights are a fun way for us to invite kids and their families to celebrate the survey findings."
As Red Robin rightfully points out, today’s families are facing steep competition for attention, whether around the dinner table or beyond. While 75 percent of parents said they understand their child’s interests, 44 percent of children feel their parents don’t understand social media. Another 40 percent said they don’t think parents understand today’s music or movies, and one third believe they don’t get what it’s like to be a kid today.
Red Robin took this information and ran with it. It plans to celebrate “full” days in-restaurant every Thursday in August to encourage connections and conversations. Families that come in-restaurant for the theme days should be on the lookout for Red Robin employees to showcase their connections, the company said.
Here’s a look at a few events:
Family Date Night—August 8
Red Robin invites children to take mom and dad out for a fun date night.
Kids Choice Day—August 15
Kids take the lead on ordering for everyone at the table. What will they choose for you?
Dessert First Day—August 22
Dessert comes first. Then meal. Then appetizer. No exceptions
20 Questions Day—August 29
Choose one family member to think of a person, place or thing, and the rest of the family asks up to 20 yes-or-no questions and tries to guess the answer. Then switch.
Red Robin launched the “All The Fulls” marketing campaign in July. It will run through the end of the year. It features a TV spot supported by radio, out-of-home, digital, email, direct mail, PR, social, and influencers.
The Red Robin study in full:
- Blood is thicker than water: nearly half (49 percent) feel closer and more connected to their family over their friends and 79 percent wish they could spend more time with their parents.
- There are several activities kids identified as those they wish they could do more of with their parents: including exercise (36 percent), playing sports (35 percent) and going to the beach (37 percent)
- On average, 71 percent of kids surveyed wish they had more one-on-one time with their parents.
- More than half of kids surveyed (52 percent) think that ordering the meals for their family would make going out to dinner more interactive and help them connect with their parents.
- Nearly 60 percent of kids surveyed wished they could decide the order of the meal (dessert first) when ordering out with their families.
The chain’s double-opt in survey of 2,000 school-aged children (6–17) and their parents was conducted online between June 26 and July 2.
Red Robin has struggled generating traffic lately, closing fiscal 2018 with negative 4.2 percent in-store guest counts. In the first quarter of 2019, the chain’s same-store sales dropped 3.3 percent as comparable traffic fell 5.5 percent, year-over-year.
Off-premises has enjoyed steadier results. At quarter’s end, it was mixing 11.6 percent of total revenues at Red Robin, growing 20.6 percent versus the year-ago period.
Interim CEO Patty More said last quarter Red Robin began adding sales employees supported by targeted marketing. And that it shifted its value message to focus on its gourmet line as new products, like the Porkiyaki Burger, got pulsed in. She added Red Robin was in in the final development stage of a new omnichannel creative campaign, set to launch in July. The company moved media weight from Q1 to Q3 so Red Robin could ensure it’s ready from an operations and staffing perceptive to solidify restaurant routines ahead of the new promotion.
That campaign has officially arrived.
“It all starts with the guest experience and improving the customer experience, and the return of sales, and return of customers won't happen in a straight line,” Moore said in May. “But we do have marketing initiatives that, as we talked about, will kick off in the second half of the year.”