Despite shutting down dozens of locations across the country, Applebees remains popular with a key metric: millennials. 45% of diners are age 34 and below, according to the company. Holding onto that core base may get more challenging as other resturants are trying harder than ever to target this group, offering healthier and vegetarian menu options in hopes of currying favor with the younger generation.
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Chipotle, under the helm of Taco Bell veteran and new CEO Brian Niccol, announced on Tuesday that it was testing quinoa as a base for its bowl offerings.
And Fatburger CEO Andy Wiederhorn said the fast-food chain experimented with creating a vegetarian, lower-in-calories burger, made out of a plant-based protein that tastes like beef, in hopes of appealing to the healthy eater. What Wiederhorn found most interesting was that millennials were willing to pay more for a higher-quality, but more expensive, product.
“You have to innovate, and you have to pay attention to what your customers want,” Wiederhorn told FOX Business’ Charles Payne during an interview on Wednesday. “If you add healthy options or lighter menu options to include everybody, whether it’s some sort of vegetarian product or chicken product, that’s just to round everything out and give those people what they want to avoid the ‘no’ vote.” For some chains, like Applebee’s – which closed 99 locations last year, and is preparing to close between 60 to 80 more – it’s “a little too late” to make some of those shifts, Wiederhorn said. Prior to the closures, the casual-dining restaurant had tried to woo millennials with dishes like barbecue shrimp in a sriracha-lime sauce and chicken wonton tacos. Instead of offering new menu items, the company should have weighed offering some form of delivery service to its customers, he suggested.
That could hold true for Chipotle, as well. The fast-food Mexican grill has struggled to maintain store traffic and regain the trust of customers after a series of food-safety incidents, including a norovirus outbreak in 2015 that forced the temporary closure of several locations. Adding quinoa to the menu is unlikely to help the company rebound, Wiederhorn said.
“Your core items are what your customers want. And I don’t think anybody is coming to Chipotle for quinoa. It’s just not the case,” he said. “It’s not going to move the needle in any material way.”