Despite its turnaround approach, one consultant isn’t convinced that a revival can happen easily or long-term for Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Gary Stibel, the founder and managing partner of New England Consulting Group, based in Westport, Connecticut, says Romano’s needs to make dramatic changes to update its menu and extend its clientele beyond Baby Boomers to attract more millennials, Generation X and Y, in order to succeed.
Major changes and a path forward
“Most of the stores haven’t been remodeled. They’ve given lip service to modernizing, and added new menu items and value meals, but they haven’t repositioned the entire experience for Generation X or Generation Y. They’re classically stuck in the middle,” Stibel says.
He adds that Mangiano’s Little Italy, the 52-unit Brinker-run brand, offers a more upscale atmosphere and better value, as do a score of local Italian eateries in the many cities where Romano’s is located.
Additionally, Romano’s has ignored many strengths in its marketing campaigns such as its flame pits and brick ovens. “Nowadays you can’t get permits for flame pits and brick ovens. It enables them to create theatre,” he says, and yet he wonders why it’s not highlighted more. But asked about flame pits, Machado says that most guests don’t pay much attention to them, hinting it’s not a major selling point.
Romano’s needs a total rebranding and overhaul to appeal to a wider clientele, Stibel says. In fact, he recommends that it consider changing its name since most people are unfamiliar with the original chef Romano, and use the firepit and brick ovens as their signature to lure new customers.
Stibel says that Romano’s management has “already signaled its game plan. They’re going to try to find another restaurant chain for sale.” But he says, “It would be far better to put Romano’s on a growth trajectory and postpone acquisition until they do so.”
So far, Romano’s turnaround is showing early signs of success. Machado says revenue spiked 5 percent in June from the previous year and climbed double digits in May. He attributed the spike to “reestablishing the brand identity and our core message, building an integrated marketing strategy and plan, reaching guests through a variety of platforms including digital, print, radio and home advertising, without a massive marketing budget.”