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Applebee rethinks menu-NYT

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http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/20/din...

Didn't know whether this belonged in Media or Chains, but here it is in all its glory.

When do you know when an innovation has reach the fad stage? When it appears at Applebees, so I guess its sou vide's 15 minutes of fame.

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  1. I really enjoyed reading that this morning, though the thought of a bruschetta quesadilla (or even the quesadilla hamburger already on the menu), is a little scary. It's as if somehow introducing trendy culinary buzz words into their menu makes dishes more appealing, and I really don't know what a bruschetta quesadilla would be. Grilled bread, tomatoes and basil sprinkled with grated cheese and smashed between two tortillas before being fried?!?

    5 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Well, as long as they don't take the whole quesadilla and put it into a bun....it sounds pretty good....sort of like a taco. Tortilla, cheese, burger?

      A bruschetta burger is prob just a burger served on a bruschettaed piece of bread.

      In any case, let's get real here....this is Applebees for *^^%#@!! sake. Nothing's going to be good.

      My motto when road-tripping and forced to eat at Denny's or whatever, is to keep it simple. You NEVER order the fancy-sounding entree at these places. Bacon and eggs, burgers, club sandwiches, etc....these are the most reliable choices.

      1. re: oakjoan

        But what is a bruschetta quesadilla? Unfortunately, most people have come to associate the word "bruschetta" with the traditional tomato topping, not the toasted bread. Therefore, I'm guessing that a "bruschetta quesadilla" comes with a topping of chopped tomatoes, olive oil, etc., which essentially means it's your basic quesadilla topped with salsa, but with a more Italian flavor palate -- and more important, a more upscale, trendy name. It satisfies their customer's desire for something new and trendy without actually being challenging or unfamiliar.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler

          "Unfortunately, most people have come to associate the word "bruschetta" with the traditional tomato topping, not the toasted bread."

          Sad but true.

        2. re: oakjoan

          I'm not a big fan of Applebee's but living in a restaurant wasteland, sometimes we resort to going there for a quick meal. Reluctlantly.

          But I must defend their bruschetta burger. Bad name but a really nice burger: it's served on ciabatta bread (and don't get started on whether it's "authentic" ciabiatta) that's nice and chewy, with tomato, pesto, and some kind of italian cheese which I can't recall. And it is served with marvelous rosemary-parmesan french fries. I think the bruschetta burger is one of the Tyler Florence menu items. I ran across a recipe for these fabulous fries in the Bistro Laurent Tourondel cookbook, wonder who borrowed from whom?

          A bruschetta quesadilla doesn't appeal, but don't sneer at the bruschetta burger until you've tried it. It is a really good burger.

          1. re: oakjoan

            "as long as they don't take the whole quesadilla and put it into a bun...."
            _______
            oakjoan, your comment made me think of this snl "ad" for taco town:
            http://www.dhadm.com/mediaHolder.php?...

        3. Seasonal dishes - not exactly revolutionary. Bruschetta quesadilla - yikes, what is that? These ideas aren't going to do much to distinguish Applebees from, as Chief Executive Julia Stewart says, "the apostrophe restaurants - Chilis, Fridays, etc. But Applebees is what it is and at least they are trying to shake things up and make improvements. I think the decor needs to be updated at least.

          I do think her idea for the Regional Pancakes across the Country promotion at the IHOP division is a good concept for that particular restaurant. They are known lately for their elaborate french toast and pancake concoctions.

          5 Replies
          1. re: swissgirl

            How about just great pancakes with real syrup for a start?

            1. re: Phaedrus

              Yeah. Isn't it funny how to make something more appealing, instead of making it better, they just make it more gimmicky.

              1. re: Phaedrus

                Phaedrus! What are you, NUTS? Real maple syrup? At I-Hop? Help, I'm suffocating from laughter.

                Anyway, everybody knows that REAL pancakes come with whipped cream (oops, sorry, Kool Whip), chocolate sprinkles, caramel sauce and strawberries that come in 300 lb. vats.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  I know. I am just so unreasonable. Think I'll go jump into a vat of palm oil.

                  1. re: Phaedrus

                    Yeah you can't get a pat of butter at Waffle House.

            2. Okay, Hounds, here's the deal.
              I live in KANSAS CITY. Many times, we meet friends/family in smaller, midwestern towns for a brief lunch, beer, casual dinner. To accommodate the picky crowd, Applebees is where we sometimes go. If you are a road warrior as a sales rep, you know Applebees means a late night dinner in a lonesome, small town.

              Anytime, Applebees is trying something other than chicken fingers, I am happy. Not happy with the food, (The quesidilla hamburger is BAD BAD BAD), but I'm always up for a change.

              1 Reply
              1. re: stellamystar

                I love this article and I love she got the job eventually even though she had been passed over.
                "That’s because what people say they want and what they eat are often different"
                Never have truer words been spoken!

              2. What really killed me in this article was that a franchise owner had to get *permission* to use real maple syrup. Because, you know, " Most people would find it way over the top." YIKES!

                Making things more gimmicky indeed.

                12 Replies
                1. re: LNG212

                  What I find sad is that their PR director says: "We can't seem to make things sweet enough for people". Is anyone going to accept (some) responsibility for theis country's growing obesity rate (esp. worrisome in children)? This type of marketing reminds me of tobacco companies marketing cigarettes to teenagers. Get them hooked early and for life. Why not focus on making the menu just a bit healthier instead?..

                  1. re: TatyanaG

                    That PR director's comment was exactly what I was going to comment on as well. People have been "trained" to want things ultra-sweet by virtue of this type of marketing.

                    I'm still floored that the VT franchise owner had to get permission for real maple syrup vs. the "pancake syrup" that is loaded with HFCS. Way over the top? In Vermont? When real maple syrup is (hopefully) used on a daily basis?

                    Sheesh.

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      The employees don't call it Crapplesleaze for nothing. I had a friend who worked at one in Jersey..crap due to heart attack inducing food & sleaze for the way management treats them.

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        Yes, but eating and food starts at home. Franchises and fast food places don't kidnap kids and brainwash them. They simply respond to bad parenting.

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          I absolutely agree, Sam. But the fast food places still have the marketing power behind them with all of the commercials they throw at the kids during Saturday morning cartoons or whatever they're watching on the Disney Channel at any given time. The power of suggestion in that "this is the next best thing and you have to have it" hasn't gone unnoticed in how people - kids included - are marketed to.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            The same people contantly harping on the chains for their large portions and unhealthy menus are the same people who in other posts, are promoting BBQ joints where they are serving 1#+ portions and often serve few, if any, side dishes.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Good point, Sam. When I was growing up, my siblings and I would clamor for fast food. We got Hardee's once a week--absolutely no more than that (sometimes less). We could whine and cry all we wanted to, but my parents just said "no". Which is what parents are supposed to do!

                          2. re: TatyanaG

                            Its an unending spiral and an untenable situation for both the consumer and the companies. On the one hand your job is to give people what they think they want: more sugar, bigger portions, more fired foods etc. on the other hand you know this is driving the health insurance and medical costs through the roof as well as killing people. But if you don't do it, others will quickly fill the void and your company will go broke because no one is eating there. Mickey D's and Applebees tried to put out a healthy menu and they both died an ignominious death.

                            So either they need to redefine themselves out of the that niche market or do what they have to do. Too much money for them to get out of that niche.

                            1. re: TatyanaG

                              To be devil's advocate, I'd guess most people don't go to IHOP every day for breakfast. The occasional pecan pancake whipped cream sugar fest won't hurt you and IHOP is in the business of selling pancakes - apparently sweetness sells. If someone wants relatively healthy fare at IHOP, well, looking at their online menu, they offer an IHOP for Me menu with lower calorie, low fat and lower carb options. The kiddos also get an IHOP for Me section.

                              I'm an oatmeal-and-whole wheat toast-for-breakfast person but on the occasional forays "out to breakfast" I like a dutch apple pancake or chocolate chip waffle, something sweet and yes, bad for you!

                              1. re: swissgirl

                                Gotta agree with you, swissgirl. I typically eat Uncle Sam cereal w/soymilk or oatmeal w/fruit or yogurt or (on strength training days) a fruit smoothie with protein powder. But today I went out to IHOP--for pancakes, because frankly, I wanted something IHOP-y! Harvest nut and grain (don't kid yourself, they ain't health food!) with maple-flavored syrup--my IHOP favorite.

                                You CAN make your selection lighter, because the options are there. But I don't think that's what folks want when they go out. Maybe if I went out to eat all the time, I'd opt for the healthier options, but going out for breakfast is not all that common for me, so I'll get what I want. FWIW, the pancakes have gotten smaller, though I suspect it has to do with the inflation in food prices, not any nod to the obesity epidemic. And Applebees/IHOP, etc., are businesses, not social service agencies. They are in the business of selling and "healthy" fare just doesn't sell as much.

                              2. re: TatyanaG

                                They're a business, they're supposed to be providing products that people want. If people want things more sweet, the business owes it to their shareholders/owners to give them things that are more sweet.

                              3. re: LNG212

                                It reminded me of a Dunkin Donuts near me--a few years ago, they asked the corporate mothership for permission to serve kosher donuts in their heavily Orthodox neighborhood. IIRC they had a difficult time convincing the HO that it would be a good idea. Conformity at all costs!

                              4. The feminist side of me applauds a female CEO who triumphed over the men who initially passed her over for the top slot at Applebee's. She certainly seems to be doing her best to bring an acceptable-to-their-customers amount of "sophistication" to the menu, and she seems very aware of the dated decor. (I don't think I've ever set food in one, but I've seen the decor in their TV commercials.) The foodie in me is dismayed by the corporate-designed combinations they come up with. I wish her great success in her efforts to update and lighten the menu, but the heavyweights whom I have seen waddling across the parking lots probably will continue the fried and/or sugary foods.

                                1. As some one who deals with this type of thing all the time, I do think it is pretty revolutionary. Understand that a) most of the customers at say, Applebees, love it. They love that they can get the same thing in every city, every time they go. They love their favorite dishes and they love the portions. And that b) As much as Chowhounds want the companies to take more risk, the fact is they'd just go out of business, because they would lose that love of most Americans, and CH 'ers just can't keep a chain of that size in business.

                                  It sucks, but that is how it is. The fact that she is willing to take some of the risk is pretty impressive, as I'm sure anyone who has worked in restaurants catering to large groups of people will agree.

                                  I remember having read a study a while back about how having low-cal/healthy stuff on the menu always got people into restaurants, but that they didn't actually order it once there. Kind of goes along with what she is saying.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: dagoose

                                    Exactly. And you can't blame restaurants for not wanting to put food on the menus that their customers won't order.

                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                      No, you can't blame businessmen for being afraid that, if they try something healthy, their competitors will roll over them....You can, however, blame the whole culture of advertising and news programs and movies, etc.

                                      The customers DO share the blame, of course, by shoveling in all that crappy, fake, high-calorie food, but they've been brainwashed in every way (especially now that cash-strapped schools are displaying ads for Coke, etc.).

                                      As an ex-smoker, I realize that I started to smoke and continued for years and that was my fault. However, when the mainstream press and tv shows started campaigns to stop smoking...I stopped in an American Cancer Society class...people started to quit.

                                      I say that lots of bad publicity about obesity, along with snappy billboards, catchy phrases and ads could do a lot to stop this. The very fact that Applebee's mentions healthy foods is a tiny step forward.

                                      Sorry for blathering, but the problem is much more complicated than just blaming folks for eating crap.

                                      Oh, and one more thing (really, just one more) -- they don't have to change overnight from giant cheeseburgers with potato puffs to braised kale and quinoa. There are obviously steps in between.

                                      1. re: oakjoan

                                        Smack dab in the middle of Chain Restaurant Hell, aka Tulsa, Oklahoma, a new restaurant called D'Novo just opened. Their concept is "Lean Gourmet." Every entree and dessert on the menu is less than 500 calories. I am eager to try it, and I hope it succeeds in this unlikely market.

                                        1. re: oakjoan

                                          I'll surprise myself and sound like some self-rightous crank, but I do blame people--I blame parents and bad parenting. Not the chains and fast food empires.Talk to your kids about healthy and unhealthy food choices, allow them to have a bit of junk and fast food to maintain balance; but provide healthy food and information at home. My five year old eats well, is getting more and more conversant about what she eats; and her pediatrician appreciates that she is not chubby like so many Colombian kids (although obesity among adults here is not a problem).

                                    2. Applebee's problem is not a menu. They revamped their menu a couple years back and added some pretty good options.

                                      Their problem is execution. Their kitchen staff cannot execute the menu items that are on the menu..