The $300 million casual-dining chain plans to open almost three new restaurants near almost every big or medium-sized neighborhood in 44 states. At this rate, the chain's present 700-plus restaurants could double by the end of this decade.
Combine convenient locations with a variety of food, such as fajitas, pasta and stir-fry on the same menu, and average guest checks under $8.50 per person, and it's what one observer calls "the fast-food concept of the '90s."
That label is fine with Robert Martin, 65, exec VP-marketing at Applebee's International.
"I really can't say it's been any one thing that has made Applebee's a success," says Mr. Martin. "It's what psychologists call gestalt, that the sum is greater than the total of the parts."
Food quality and presentation are the centerpieces of the chain's ongoing ad campaign from Wyse Advertising, Cleveland, themed "America's favorite neighbor." The chain spends more than $15 million annually on advertising, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
The strategy is to focus on a food-specific theme. The spring ad flight focused on "Pasta Americana," a slew of new pasta dishes, and the summer theme will focus on, naturally, "Summer Fare.'
"My view is what we've got is a nifty package," says Mr. Martin. "And showing the food the way it comes out of our kitchens is our best advertising."