Restaurant Revivals

Carley regularly connected with front-line staff members who touch customers and claim a grassroots perspective on the operation
Carley regularly connected with front-line staff members who touch customers and claim a grassroots perspective on the operation

Best practices to transform restaurant companies, from struggling to surging

In September 2010, Steve Carley walked into a corporate storm — the swirling funnel-cloud-type of storm that ultimately brings a company to its knees.

When Carley assumed the CEO spot at Denver-based Red Robin, he quickly noted a restaurant company pelted with challenges.

Red Robin had endured several years of startling weak numbers. Competition overran collaboration, and the dysfunction rivaled that of a reality show. The brand’s casual-dining rivals, meanwhile, had reframed and left Red Robin behind.

“The company languished and there was little vision for the brand,” Carley acknowledges.

Action and, more importantly, results were needed.


Red Robin CEO Steve Carley has revived the Denver-based burger chain with a mix of front and back-of-the-house initiatives.

Decisively and swiftly, Carley, a no-nonsense executive who led a turnaround at quick-service player El Pollo Loco before entering Red Robin’s ranks, moved. He spearheaded menu modernization initiatives, launched a loyalty-card program, and harvested cost-saving ideas throughout the organization. He approved new marketing campaigns, refocused the concept’s bar and alcohol efforts, and authorized a stock repurchase program.

Whatever it took, Carley stood determined to revive Red Robin and its more than 450 U.S. units.

The painstaking efforts produced results. In 2011’s first quarter, Red Robin’s profits skyrocketed 76 percent.

Today, Red Robin’s positive tale continues amid a five-quarter run of same-store sales increases. The chain has removed itself from life support, re-energizing its future in the process.

“We’re getting there,” Carley says.

In the full-service space, restaurant revival stories remain rare, specifically as operators rally against greater expenses, myriad moving parts, intense competition, and consumers’ changing lifestyles.

Yet tales of rejuvenated full-service restaurant companies exist, and a few common traits generally share responsibility for transforming a struggling restaurant concept into a surging one.

Next: Recognize change is needed



Chains have inherent problems...1. Lack of fresh made food...2. Corporate culture limits customer percepotion of local ownership.3. On site team is afraid of nitty gritty customer interaction4. Penny pinching response to poor customer experience..."free dessert" rather than..."Comp the whole meal" don't promise to deliver a grade B experience...the entree was the whole experience was bad...let them know you know. 

Steve Carley is a master at turning around a struggling brand and he has proven that time and again.  It is a reflection of his down to earth straight forward persona....Kudos to Steve and RR


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