The explanation of a dying Brand
First of all let me agree with most of you, Applebees does suck. Have you ever ask yourself why? How is it that the largest casual theme dining company can fail so often to meet the expectation of its customers, managers, hourly employees, and vendors? I have many of the answers and will break it up into two categories for you. I know a great deal about Applebees, because I have made this brand my career. I have worked at Applebees for ten years in an upper level management position on both the Corporate and Franchise side of the Applebees fence. This is my opinion.
The failure to the customer:
Applebees has a problem with change. The “promotional” menu changes that happen every three to six months confuse and trick the customer. The menus and the new items also require way too much training for the servers, cooks, and managers to execute. That is why when you try something new at an Applebees that it is more often an awful experience than a good meal. An example here would be the “Mojito” beverage that Applebees tried to promote a few months ago in a dismal failure. The recipe was so vague that there were over twenty different ways it was being made in the field and none of them were right or tasted anything like a traditional “Mojito”. The recipe came from the corporate offices in Lenexa Kansas. The corporate offices also choose the food your Applebees buys. The quality of food has gone down simply because the food Applebees is buying is a cheaper product than ever before. An example here is the Sirloin products and byproducts at your local Applebees. The 9oz house sirloin and the 10oz Bourbon Street Steak is at the top of this family, with the 7oz sirloin being the first byproduct. Then you have the 4oz sirloin that you will find on you Weight Watcher menu and in your Steak Quesadilla Towers. In the past you may have seen some beef tips or even a break away steak that was used in a “Bistro Steak Sandwich” which was the bottom of the barrel and only fit for pet consumption. The point here is that they cut up a cow and then they use all the meat weather it is a good cut or not. They justify bad quality food by saying that they do not waste anything and it is more profitable.
Some consistency here would be the answer. If Applebees were to have the same menu in every location and keep it that way for a year the staff might know something about it. The managers would be able to help and coach the employees to execute it, and the customer would not suffer. A quality versus quantity method might be needed as well, regardless of profit or waste.
Advice to Applebees customers would be to stick with what you like. If you have had it and you liked it, then stick with it. If it changes you will know. If it is prepared wrong you will know. Applebees still has some good menu items and some good values, but make sure you are not going out on a limb unless you have an open minded pallet and are ready to pay for something that you really just did not like the taste of.
The failure to the Managers:
Julia Stewart, the woman in charge, fails every manager in the Applebees system. Recently Julia has made every person in management feel like they are going to lose their job. How would you feel if you went to work every day for ten years, performed well, and then your job was threatened based on unachievable goals and unfair consequences? This failure to the managers needs some history.
Julia Stewart worked for Applebees in an executive capacity. A promotion was available that she felt like she deserved. She did not get that promotion so she quit and took the Chief Executive Officers position at IHOP. Julia took IHOP to new levels of success with her ideas of a franchised IHOP and very few company run stores. Julia did this in a stable economy and when gas prices were below three dollars a gallon. Julia saw her old company Applebees having some trouble. Richard Breeden, a hedge fund owner, had jumped into the Applebees family with millions of dollars and wanted to voice his opinion. Julia used this opportunity to get even with all those people at Applebees that did not give her the promotion that she felt was hers. So Julia talked the IHOP Board of Directors into borrowing TWO BILLION DOLLARS so that she could buy Applebees while it was vulnerable. Julia got her Applebees job back and more. Julia’s first order of business was to fire all those involved in her not getting that promotion and to appoint a puppet of her own who turned out to be Sam Rothchild. Sam had been in charge of the Beverage Department and the Franchise Liaison for years. Basically that means he got ideas from other people and picked which ones he thought were good ideas and never had a genuine idea of his own. That already made Sam a perfect fit to be Julia’s talking puppet. Julia told Wall Street that she was not concerned about the economy, or gas prices, or the weather. She said that these things were out of her control and that Applebees would be successful despite these issues that had an effect on every Applebees customer. Julia told everyone that she would use the same plan that made IHOP a success when she took over in a stable economy. She said she would sell most of the company stores to pay back the two billion dollars that she borrowed. That brings us to the present. The facts are that the economy, gas prices, and the weather all made an impact on Applebees. Sales have been down everywhere. Julia has only sold a few company owned Applebees because no one wants to buy during an economic slump. Julia is now having trouble with that monthly payment on the two billion dollar loan and she is worried that she might get fired. Julia refuses to admit she was wrong. The economy and gas prices hurt her ideas hard and her model for selling all the company run units is a failure. So now that Julia has failed, she wants to take as many of the managers down with her as she can. Julia is a selfish, self centered and emotionally detached leader that is only interested in personal gain. Julia has taken a great bonus program and made it unattainable for her managers. Julia has attacked the practices of successful leaders that she disagrees with and eliminated the jobs of hundreds of Applebees employees so far. So the next time you see your Applebees manager and that expression of fear is on their face, it is because they do not know if they have a job the next day and are wondering how their children will eat. Thanks to Julia that is how most managers have to feel everyday when they go to work.