Applebee’s has expanded its test of fast-casual “express” service options at lunch to 23 company-owned locations, saying that the move — if proven successful — could be offered systemwide later this year.
The Kansas City-based casual-dining chain began testing the offer of express lunch service in July 2012 at two locations initially, but the test has gradually expanded to all of the chain’s corporate restaurants, as of January.
Dubbed Applebee’s Express Lunch at those locations, guests are offered the option of ordering at a counter and paying. They take a number and find a seat in the dining room. Their lunch is delivered to the table and they leave when they’re ready — no waiting for a check.
The idea, said Becky Johnson, Applebee’s senior vice president of marketing and culinary, is to offer guests the option of having more control over the time they spend at lunch. Those who want to have the full-service dining experience can still do that.
But often at lunch, she said, “Everyone is pressed for time. They need to get in and out quickly.”
The move, along with Applebee’s value-positioned lunch offerings like the Pick N’ Pair lunch combos starting at $6.99, allow the chain to compete more directly with fast-casual players that offer a similar price point but faster service.
The Applebee’s Express Lunch service is offered in the Kansas City units from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The Express counters include digital menu boards. Guests that pay with a credit or debit card can add items at the table without having to swipe their cards again — servers can enter the order and bring an updated receipt.
Johnson said tips are encouraged and most guests leave a gratuity for the express service.
On average at units offering the express service so far, about 20 percent of guests choose to order at the counter on weekdays, Johnson said.
The move does not appear to impact guest check averages, she said, but it’s too early to say whether the offer of express service will be offered to franchisees systemwide.
The company plans to continue the test for another six months before deciding whether to make the case for franchisees. “It will depend on whether it makes sense for their neighborhoods,” she said.