Tilted Kilt has always, unabashedly, embraced its persona. In some ways, much of what has defined Tilted Kilt has kept it insulated from the industry-wide challenges crippling casual dining. But not completely. In 2016, average unit volumes dropped about 4 percent to $40,000 per week, compared with $43,000–$44,000 a couple of years earlier.
The restaurant, founded in the Las Vegas Rio Hotel and Casino in 2003, needed to evolve. And, in doing so, accentuate those same differentiators that buoyed Tilted Kilt to such early success.
In August 2016, Tilted Kilt debuted its prototype store on the southwest corner of Warner Road and Priest Drive in Tempe, Arizona. The design was built to showcase the brand’s future—and the conversation has only continued since.
Logan Reves, who was promoted to chief operating officer from vice president of operations in July 2016, says Tilted Kilt is embracing the present opportunities.
“Our evolution was in response to a shift in the industry at large and opportunities we saw,” he says. “It’s about keeping an open mind. Keeping to your standards. Keeping to your brand pillars. And that’s what we’ve done.”
This year, Tilted Kilt defined two new restaurant prototypes. They were completed early September and are both fresh to the brand. One is a traditional 6,500-square-foot setup while the other is smaller at 4,800 square feet. Reves says the scaled-down model will allow Tilted Kilt to approach different markets nimbly, and be open to areas with smaller populations. The new units also were designed to improve kitchen flow. For example, placing work stations near where produce items might be stored, or beer taps near the actual kegs, and so on.
Regardless of the footprint, every new Tilted Kilt will be built around the brand’s strength: entertainment. In the designs, there are three distinctive areas within the architecture to capture the restaurant side, the bar side, and the entertainment side of Tilted Kilt.
Whether it’s sports viewing, live music, or karaoke, guests will have the ability to experience each section individually or together, in whatever combination they desire.
The Tempe remodel is an 11,000 square-foot store with an outdoor patio complete with communal fire and water structures. Inside, there’s a gaming area that throwbacks to old-school nights at the pub, with billiards, darts, and shuffle boards, as well as a designated section for live entertainment. The seating package was updated to include high tops and raised booths. Tilted Kilt also freshened up its ambiance by ditching dark wood blinds and dimmed lightning. The new unit has lighter-colored wood wainscot, window shades, cobble stone rock accent, some strategically placed old Chicago firebrick, and “charm pieces” to give the restaurant an old-world feel. Large video walls were also installed to enhance the experience.
Reves says Tilted Kilt’s goal was to modernize the brand. Part of that included restructuring the menu to feature smaller, lighter portions and lunch-crowd items. In September, Tilted Kilt debuted its latest menu in time for football season. Some items are: Loaded Tilted Tots: Golden tater tots smothered in Fat Tire Ale Bee; and Citrus Crusted Codd: Three cod filets pan-seared in a house made lemon citrus sauce, served over a bed of rice pilaf with assorted stir-fried veggies.
“Our food product is made from scratch, we have a high-value menu,” Reves says. “We have a lot of variety now. So while we are an ‘eatertainment’ brand, we’re always going to have great food. One of our brand pillars is great food.”
The food is what led Tilted Kilt to start exploring some business streams it passed over before. Catering, banquet sales, and a growing to-go program have been “extraordinarily” successful for the company, Reves says.
To-go was launched earlier in 2017 and, Reves says, Tilted Kilt has “seen that business continue to evolve and pick up for us.”
The new prototype built an area in “Poet’s Corner” for banquet seating, fit for parties of 20. There are also spots ideal for community gatherings called “Captain’s Tables,” and “Crew Tables,” which are bright orange four-legged six tops for close friends and family.
Reves says the banquet seating has been a major traffic driver, especially for fantasy sports and football games. There are also events like retirement parties, corporate meetings, and other events. Titled Kilt has the audio-visual hookup and a menu Reves says can now satisfy everybody who sits at the table. The capability to cater to these parties with reserved, quartered-off seating has exposed Tilted Kilt to a whole new market, he adds.
Additionally, the catering program helped Tilted Kilt take its cuisine on the road, and introduce the brand to new audiences that might have identified it too narrowly before.
“We wanted to take our great food out onto the streets,” Reves says. “I think sometimes people inadvertently think of us as a sports bar. We do offer premier sports viewing but we’re so much more.” Catering to big box outlets and business groups, or large companies that host lunches, as well as sales representatives who take clients out to eat, were groups Tilted Kilt wanted to attract.
There are currently more than 70 locations with about 20 more in some stage of development. Reves says Tilted Kilt wants to grow smartly and also increase its corporate presence. There are only two company-operated stores at the moment. Reves says Tilted Kilt wants to eventually up the count to 10 percent of the entire system. It will be important, he explains, to aid in ongoing development, training, and test facilities.
The company is also continuing to dip in technology and is in the early stages of developing a loyalty program. That’s on the books to start sometime next year, Reves says.