November 30, 2015
American casual dining chain Red Robin has experienced nearly half a century of growth and prosperity. From the time the first Red Robin was established in Seattle in 1969, the brand has evolved to become a popular success and a familiar presence in cities and towns across the country. Today, there are more than 520 Red Robin locations nationally, and the brand is well known for its gourmet burgers, family atmosphere and quality beer options.
With the recession taking its toll on the economy in the late 2000s, the restaurant chain found itself at a crossroads. In the midst of considering a brand refresh, Red Robin received some initial feedback from guests that made it clear the brand could benefit from strategic upgrades and changes. Paying homage to its beers-and-burgers DNA and reflecting its brand overhaul, Red Robin had already formally changed its name to Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews. But the company seized the moment and resolved to engage in a comprehensive brand transformation initiative. Instead of simply tweaking the menu and making a couple of superficial changes to the restaurant décor, Red Robin approached the brand transformation process with an open mind and a commitment to engaging in a “deep dive” — a wholesale review of virtually every aspect of its operation. From people and places to products, plating and presentation, everything was, quite literally, on the table.
Understanding that consumer preferences and perspectives evolve over time, Red Robin went right to the source and asked its guests what they wanted. The company invested an enormous amount of time and resources performing extensive research and securing detailed customer feedback. The results were a full suite of changes designed to address existing opportunities, refresh the Red Robin brand image and position the organization for long-term success.
Structural design changes were implemented to address concerns about noise level in the restaurants. From sliding divider panels to adding carpet in parts of the dining room, a number of noise reduction measures became part of the new Red Robin design concept. Always a popular family dining destination, Red Robin took steps to ensure that all demographics could enjoy the restaurant experience. Three distinct areas of the restaurant were created to better meet the needs of various guests: the bar, a strictly 21-and-over area with beer-themed décor and a mature vibe; the gathering space, an area of the dining room where guests can sit in comfortable new red lounge chairs with a particular appeal to teens and young adults; and then a family dining area intended for families requesting kids menus.
Wally Limburg, partner with Strategic Retail Advisors, founding partner with X Team International and broker for Red Robin’s Southern California presence, has extremely positive feedback on the reception of the brand transformation initiative, stating: “The evolved Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews concept is widely attractive to landlords because they have found a way to provide three unique consumer experiences in one dining destination, broadening the potential traffic significantly.”
Thematically, Red Robin embraced its Americana theme, injecting energy and creativity into its traditional décor and design. Red Robin has always been a brand that celebrates its American identity, and that inspiration continues to run through new decorative accents that remix American classics in sometimes surprising ways. Newly updated artwork continues up the wall and onto the ceiling; a work inspired by famed pop artist Roy Lichtenstein is made up of “pixels” that are, upon closer inspection, made from individual crayons; and an Uncle Sam mural is made up entirely of 8-track tapes! The overall experience is intended to be lighthearted and fun, but also interesting and unique — taking familiar items and ideas and presenting them in a manner that invites conversation and exploration.
Patrons will discover a number of menu changes as well. Red Robin has taken steps to emphasize and expand its beer selection, unveiling new “can crafted cocktails” (creative drinks that mix beer and liquor in interesting ways) and a line of beer milkshakes — as well as adding several craft beers to their selection to better meet the elevated preferences of their guests. More menu changes will be rolled out gradually over time, but Red Robin is very aware that longstanding menu favorites, like the Whiskey River® BBQ burger, have a strong guest following, and familiar classics are not going anywhere. A rotating menu of limited-time offerings will introduce new items periodically and give diners a chance to try something different.
Plating and presentation have been upgraded across the board. Red Robin has done away with its familiar red plastic baskets and all food is now served on plates. And the brand’s youngest fans have not been neglected: new kids’ plates are actually small pieces of art themselves, designed to feature many of the images and shapes that young diners see mirrored in the décor around them.
Jason Rusk, VP of brand transformation with Red Robin, explains that the brand transformation is “… less about a moment in time as it is an ongoing process.”
Rusk says that, given the scope and scale of the changes being implemented, the timeline is fairly rapid. “Most Red Robin locations can be completely upgraded in just 3 to 4 weeks, with renovations occurring only at night. The older locations may take closer to 5-6 weeks.”
Red Robin first started the brand transformation process in 2012, testing changes at 21 different restaurants. An additional 160 restaurants will be upgraded by the end of 2015 bringing the total to date to more than 300 restaurants conforming to new brand standards, including new restaurant openings. Red Robin aims to substantially complete its brand transformation program next year, with 69 corporate locations to be upgraded during 2016. While only 10 of the approximately 100 franchise locations have been renovated so far, Rusk said that Red Robin is working closely with franchisees to accommodate different capital resources and timelines.
Red Robin is pursuing an aggressive growth plan the next 3-5 years. Currently, the company has 25 Red Robin locations scheduled to open in 2016, with the possibility to increase the growth rate thereafter. In addition, the company has an emerging fast casual concept, Red Robin Burger Works, in development designed for dense urban areas. From a current base of 10 locations, the brand aims to open 5-10 units next year and accelerate growth thereafter.