Brian Masilionis, senior manager-beverage at Applebee's, credits
a Florida franchisee, Neighborhood Restaurant Partners Florida,
with popularizing Club Applebee's. Pamela Jones, VP-marketing at
Neighborhood Restaurant Partners Florida, said that after patrons
started calling it that , the franchisee began using the
clubapplebees.com domain name for its franchises.
The Club Applebee's locations typically try to have themes most
nights of the week, such as karaoke night, trivia night, '80s night
and even the occasional luau.
"There's been significant traction the past two years" in the
late-night daypart, said Mr. Masilionis. "This particular daypart
has been a strong driver in 2010 and 2011, and we still see
opportunity moving forward."
Club Applebee's is not marketed nationally; Mr. Masilionis said
that it's still a relatively small number of locations -- 100, give
or take -- that actually call themselves Club Applebee's. More than
80% of Applebee's locations are open until midnight or later, and
the chain in 2010 began marketing itself nationally as being open
until midnight or later.
Trying to capitalize on the late-night drinking crowd is one of
the few ways for chain restaurants to grow sales, as drinks are one
of the most-profitable items on the menu. "Any chain trying to
figure out how to drive incremental sales has focused on alcohol
and has implemented it on the local or regional level," said David
Henkes, VP and head of the beverage alcohol practice at Technomic.
"It's a smart strategy because it's an underdeveloped daypart when
you look at casual dining," and chains can only grow so much in the
Some of Applebee's competitors, such as TGI Friday's, Chili's
and Buffalo Wild Wings, have been drawing in the drinking crowd
with appetizer specials and a stronger emphasis on the bar, but Mr.
Henkes said those efforts could muddle the brand messaging for
chains such as Applebee's, which are seen as more of a family
establishment than a late-night bar.
"They're viewed as a family chain," said Mr. Henkes. "A lot of
[these chains] are, and that 's the challenge: How do you position
yourself as a destination for those that are looking for a bar,
while maintaining a [family-oriented] clientele?"
Applebee's isn't concerned. "Families are a huge part of the
business, even for the franchisees that have a strong bar
business," said Mr. Masilionis. "Staying open later allows us to
have more fun things later at night when kids are in bed.
Historically, we may have had more confusion with guests when we
As for what's next in Applebee's late-night world, he said that
there are no plans to take Club Applebee's national, but that the
"open until midnight or later" messaging will continue. "We're not
done talking about it nationally. ... Stay tuned in terms of how
messaging will evolve."