In September, Bloomin’ Brands began to pilot a delivery-only brand in its home market of Tampa Bay, Florida. “Tender Shack,” sprung to life out of a Carrabba’s Italian Kitchen via DoorDash, with a focus on chicken tenders and sandwiches.
Michael Stutts, Bloomin’s chief customer officer, told FSR in an email results thus far have inspired the company to enter phase two—Tender Shack is expanding out of the Sunshine State.
Starting Wednesday, the ghost concept will serve four Texas markets (Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio); four in Louisiana (Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Metairie, and Shreveport); two in Kansas (Kansas City and Wichita); Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Independence, Missouri. Like the initial run, Tender Shack will be available exclusively on DoorDash.
“Our customers and our operators have been very pleased with the test and we’re excited to expand the test to additional areas,” Stutts said.
Tender Shack specializes in combos, tenders, sandwiches, “party tenders,” signature sauces, fries and desserts, and drinks.
A look at some options (check out the menu in Tampa):
Nashville Hot AF Tender Sandwich: Crispy chicken tender sandwich on brioche bun with housemade pickles, shredded lettuce, and signature Tender Shack sauce ($10).
Dang Good Seasoned Tenders Combo: Five “Dang Good” seasoned crispy chicken tenders, with sauce, fries, and drink ($10). There’s also a Nashville Hot AF version.
The “party tenders” section offers 20 seasoned tenders or Nashville Hot AF tenders for $25.
Tender Shack showcases six sauce options—a signature flavor, Carolina Gold BBQ, Ginger Soy Glaze, Buffalo Parmesan, Buttermilk Ranch, and Honey Mustard.
A $1 cookie is the lone dessert for now, while seasoned fries are $2.
Bloomin’s foray joins category peers in the virtual chicken game. Chili’s “It’s Just Wings” tested at seven Dallas stores for roughly two months before flipping to 1,000-plus locations essentially overnight in June (the power of a ghost rollout). Parent Brinker International noted it’s looking to add more virtual options in the future as it aims to build margins, which stood at 6.4 percent last quarter and 12.2 percent in June. CEO Wyman Roberts shared in August It’s Just Wings was generating more than $3 million per week in sales—or a comps boost in the low-single to mid-single digits.
The launch featured little to no capital investment on Brinker’s part. It didn’t need any additional equipment, either.
Barbecue brand Smokey Bones boasts “The Wing Experience.” It’s spread to 61 locations. CEO James O’Reilly said growth surged as COVID-19 darkened dining rooms and heightened focus on the off-premises arena.
“As the pandemic hit the industry and forced restaurant dining rooms to close across the country, we as a company leaned into our off-premises capabilities faster and more aggressively than we had been,” he said.
Dine Brands also touts “Neighborhood Wings by Applebee’s.”
One company that has resisted the pull is Darden. CEO Gene Lee said in September the Olive Garden and LongHorn owner would “focus on brands that we’ve got 20-plus years and hundreds of millions of dollars invested in trying to build, and we want to make sure that they’re executing at a high level.”
He called the virtual path “a distraction.”
For Bloomin’, which directs Outback, Fleming’s, and Bonefish Grill in addition to Carrabba’s, business outside the four walls was a growing directive even before COVID. But, naturally, it’s picked up of late.
THE COVID-19 ROAD SO FAR FOR BLOOMIN’ BRANDS
Pre-virus, the company pushed about $10 million per week in total off-premises business. It peaked around $32 million in April prior to reopenings. With most of the footprint back, Bloomin’ generated $23 million in off-premises dining in mid-July on $52 million of total sales.
And the company has hinted further adjustments. With real estate opening up from widespread industry closures, Outback will have a chance to move restaurants to more convenient trade areas, it said in Q2, and build updated units designed to capture off-premises business. Expect to see more to-go rooms and delivery-focused assets. Bloomin’ previously set a target of 100 Outbacks it could relocate.
Of Outback’s off-premises mix this past period, to-go represented 55 percent, in-house delivery 13 percent, and the rest third-party.
In July, the company also said it was holding more than 50 percent of off-premises volumes built up during dining-room closures in April.
Outback added third-party users skewed toward new guests and lower party sizes. Core customers tended to go direct for delivery and pickup.