IHOP last week suggested something with a "b" would be coming, jokingly flipping its logo to read "IHOb" ahead of a big update. IHOP's pancakes aren't going anywhere, but the chain does hope to sell more burgers—which it's actually had on the menu since its start in 1958.
"One of the very first things we did was to gauge people's awareness of burgers at IHOP," says Chief Marketing Officer Brad Haley. "The awareness was low, quite low, I'd say."
Now IHOP wants to serve burgers good enough that people might actually think about coming in for more than just pancakes, at any time of the day.
"Even though we've had them forever, they just were clearly not top of mind," says Haley.
He joined IHOP last summer after more than a dozen years as CMO of CKE, the parent of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, so he knows a bit about burgers.
"For us to make a credible statement around burgers, we had to not just make a better burger, but make the best one we could come up with," he says.
Consumer research was done on the type of ground beef, toppings, name, and so on. The burgers were then tested in four markets scattered across the country.
"We really left no pickle unturned," Haley jokes.
Now the meat is smashed on grills by hand with a burger press. Haley can geek out on the juiciness, sear and so on. The USDA Choice Black Angus ground beef, seasoning and cooking method IHOP now uses are a far cry from heating up the frozen patties as it used to.
"We had to communicate the fact that we have burgers in a very disruptive way," says Haley, all while being careful that IHOP's burger advertising, which comes from Droga5, wouldn't be mistaken for another brand's. Hence, the new name—it's temporary—and a TV spot featuring a restaurant manager shouting from the chain's recognizable pitched blue rooftop.
IHOP isn't the only chain updating its burgers. In fast food, McDonald's is promoting "cooked when you order" Quarter Pounder patties made with fresh beef while White Castle tries appealing to vegetarians with its version of the Impossible Burger.
IHOP's teaser campaign that began June 4 "worked out better than we dreamed," says Haley.
"The vast majority of the guesses were breakfast-related," such as breakfast, brunch, bacon, and biscuits, he says, underscoring the chain's morning feel despite the burgers and other dishes on the menu. "Breakfast and pancakes will continue to be the lion's share of what we do but periodically you'll see us make a serious run at developing this daypart," Haley says of more traditional lunch and dinner options.
IHOP will use IHOb on Twitter and in other places "as long as it's fun and people are having fun with it," he says.
Earlier this year, IHOP reminded patrons its omelettes come with pancakes. While IHOP is promoting its Ultimate Steakburgers with unlimited fries, pancakes are a new side option for those times when a 1/3-lb. burger on a buttered and grilled brioche bun doesn't pack enough carbs for one meal or onion rings, salad or fruit seem too standard.
The burger overhaul comes as IHOP tries to beef up its sales momentum. IHOP's U.S. same-store sales rose 1 percent in the first quarter of 2018, an improvement after falling 1.9 percent in 2017. Parent company Dine Brands Global Inc. has predicted that IHOP's U.S. same-store sales should be flat to up 3 percent in 2018.
Dine Brands (which changed its name from DineEquity in February) also owns Applebee's, where an All-Day Brunch Burger features bacon and onion seared into a beef patty topped with fried egg, crispy hash browns, American cheese and ketchup. One of IHOP's new burgers is the Big Brunch, with hickory-smoked bacon, a fried egg, a crispy browned potato, American cheese and a new "signature burger sauce."
Haley says the brands are different enough and play to different customers.
"I don't think the world has reached the point where there's too many burger choices," says Haley.