Outback Steakhouse has brought its prototype building to the North Texas market with the opening of a new unit this week in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Hurst.

The new 245-seat unit, which was built from the ground up, replaces a 1991 unit that had its parking lot truncated by highway construction. It is owned by Ronan McCaffrey, who has been an Outback operator for more than 20 years.

McCaffrey said the new unit offers customers a larger lounge and patio seating, which was not available at his older unit.

“It now aligns our food with our atmosphere,” he said, adding that the location is the fifth new prototype in the chain and the first new unit in North Texas in more than nine years.

Elizabeth Smith, chief executive and president of Tampa, Fla.-based Bloomin' Brands, which owns the Outback concept, said in a May earnings calls with analysts that the division had “sizable restaurant relocation opportunity” with as many as 100 potential stores. Outback has about 975 units.

“In the past, the company's real estate strategy was one of utilizing less expensive B- and C-grade locations,” Smith told analysts. “This strategy worked well for us in the '90s and early 2000, but with changes in the fundamental dynamics of the casual-dining industry, we believe that some of these locations put us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Relocated restaurants have shown an average sales lift of about 40 percent in the past year, Smith said. “This lift is coming from both dinner occasion growth and the addition of weekday lunch,” she explained.

Those results have led the company to accelerate the relocation effort in 2013 to 10 to 20 restaurants

The new Hurst location is open for lunch. The unit also has freshness cues, such as displaying spices used in the kitchen along the wall of the expanded lobby, where guests wait. The bar has been expanded and now includes community tables for larger groups.

Laura Pitzer, regional vice president for Outback Steakhouse, said. “When you walk in the restaurant, it’s a completely different feel, from the lighting to the music. The ambience of a restaurant is so crucial to a dining experience. … It immediately sets a standard in the restaurant that people are going to have a great time.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
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