Chain Beverage Buzz: Jan. 23, 2012

Darden Restaurants Inc. has been recognized for the second year in a row by Fortune magazine as one of the “100 Best DardenCompanies to Work For.” The Orlando, Fla.-based company, which includes brands such as Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, came in at No. 99 on the list and is the only full-service restaurant company to ever appear on the list. Fortune recognized the company for creating the second-highest number of new jobs (5,137) among companies on the list and for championing diversity (42% of Darden employees are minorities).

Robert Towers resigned from his position as president and COO of Ark Restaurants Corp. Towers, who has been with the New York City-based company for 28 years, plans to pursue business opportunities. “Bob has played a key role in our development and we thank him for his services and valuable contribution to our success,” Chairman and CEO Michael Weinstein said in a statement. “We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Liz Smith, chief executive of Tampa, Fla.’s OSI Restaurant Partners, was elected chairwoman of the company’s board of directors. She replaces former chairman Bill Allen, who stepped down Jan. 1. Smith has served as chief executive and a director for OSI since 2009.

Liz Smith

A recent study from Technomic found that 40% of consumers have cut back on away-from-home dinner purchases in the past year, and those who do dine out are more likely to choose restaurants based on the availability of frequent diner programs and happy hour deals. The study, titled the “Dinner and Late Night Consumer Trend Report,” also notes that operators should focus on offering “smaller portions, mix-and-match options and shareable samplers” to meet the needs of millennials, who tend to congregate over food and drinks during late-night hours.

Baton Rouge, La.’s VooDoo BBQ & Grill announced it plans to continue expansion in 2012. The first restaurant outside Louisiana will open this month in Greenville, S.C.; it marks the first of an eight-unit expansion in the Carolinas. Other plans for expansion include locations in Texas and Florida. The chain also plans to embark on a new look for the restaurants in 2012 that will be brighter, airier and more open.

BJ’s Restaurants Inc., headquartered in Huntington Beach, Calif., announced its fourth-quarter and year-end results: a 5.1% increase in same-store sales on a 13-week comparison for the quarter ended Dec. 27, and a 6.6% increase in same-store sales looking at a 52-week comparison. This follows a 5.6% increase in fiscal year 2010. During FY 2011, BJ’s opened 13 restaurants; another 15 are in the works for 2012. BJ’s operates 115 restaurants under the BJ’s Restaurant & Brewery, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse, BJ’s Pizza & Grill and BJ’s Grill brand names.

The Sharon, Pa.-based Quaker Steak & Lube credits its new “Blowout Beverage” menu for the company’s 5% increase in beverage Bar jarssales since the menu’s rollout in October. The menu features cocktails such as the Skinny Berry Lime-n-Ade and the Blazin’ Bloody Mary, which guests can spice up by adding a shot of hot or atomic sauce. Prior to the menu’s debut, employees underwent a three-day bar training with Patrick Henry Creative Promotions that included proper pouring, drink-making techniques and working service drills. The physical menu boasts a MarCom award-winning design featuring a die-cut tire-shaped layout with two steel rings.

Earlier this month, Quaker Steak & Lube kicked off the first of three annual limited-time offers: Munch Madness. Munch Madness features appetizers such as Sweet Potato Retreads and Texas Hold-Ems BBQ Pork Sliders, as well as “7 Wonders of The Lube” — seven rounds of drinks for the over-21 crowd, including the take-home bar jars. Additionally, Quaker Steak & Lube launched a new menu, featuring items such as the Pan Asian Salmon Bowl and the Sizzlin’ Shrimp Roasted Corn Quesadilla.

Black Box Intelligence released its Restaurant Industry Snapshot containing sales performance and trends for December 2011. Highlights of the report include positive comparable store sales of 3.03%, despite negative guest traffic (down 0.3%); positive food and alcohol beverage sales; and a strong sales performance in the Midwest. Download the Restaurant Industry Snapshot online.

Unique Pizza and Subs Corp. is in the final stages of negotiating leases to open a corporately owned Unique Pizza and Subs Sports Bar in the Monroeville, Pa., market. The flagship corporate store will operate as a four profit-center facility: dine-in, bar, take-out and delivery, according to President and CEO James Vowler. The location will house the company’s corporate offices and will be used as a training facility for the chain’s Pittsburgh restaurants and future franchisees.

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