Casual Dining/Steakhouse Analysis

Part
01
of four
Part
01

Casual Dining Growth

Between the three years from 2016 to 2019, we estimated the growth rate of the casual dining space in the US at 2.22%. To arrive at his estimated growth rate, we calculated the market size of this space at $78.2 billion in 2016 and $83.53 billion in 2019. However, growth in this space was 3.2% from 2012 to 2016 based on the top 500 chains in the sector. The sector's growth began to dip in 2015 when visits to casual dining restaurants in the US declined by 2%. On the other hand, the casual steakhouses segment in the US witnessed sales growth averaging 0.9% between 2016 and 2017, while the casual dining segments (polished casual and mass casual) declined by -1.9% and -2.3%, respectively.

Methodology

We started by examining reports by the Nation's Restaurant News, NPD, Restaurant Business Online, and others in search of growth analysis of the casual dining space in the US in the last 2-5 years. This investigation produced reports by Nation's Restaurant News (this and this), which looked like they had data of the US restaurant industry by segments and market share, but they were behind pay-walls, so we could not access them. However, we located a report by USA Today, which revealed the market share of the casual dining sector in the US overall restaurant industry in 2016. Also, we found other reports by HVS, Restaurant Nuts, and others, revealing that the casual dining space in the US declined from 2015. Unfortunately, no reports revealed any market analysis relevant to the growth rate or market size of the casual steakhouses segment in the US.
So, to estimate the market size of the casual dining space from 2016, we investigated market research portals such as Statista, Technavio, Markets & Markets, and others in search of insights into the US overall market size by segments and shares. This time, we located a report by Statista showing the market value of the US restaurant industry in 2016, but there was no info regarding its segments or shares. So, we used the data from Statista and USA Today to estimate the market size of the casual dining space in the US in 2016; then, we proceeded to research how the sector grew from 2016 to 2019. However, there was no market report, surveys, or studies in the public domain with insights into the market share or growth rate of the casual dining space in the US from 2016 to 2019, neither was there any data showing how the sector compared to the steakhouses segment within the same period.
Therefore, we expanded our investigation to examine reports by media and consulting domains such as PwC, McKinsey, Forbes, and others. This investigation revealed a study by PwC showing the growth rate of the casual dining space between 2012 and 2016, and from 2016 to 2017 based on the top 500 chains of the segment. Also, we identified a 2018 report by Restaurant Business Online, showing the expected growth rate in the casual dining space for 2018 and 2019, respectively. Hence, we used the data we found from this investigation, as well as others earlier identified, to estimate the growth rate of the casual dining space in the US from 2016 to 2019.

Regarding the steakhouses segment, based on our investigation of publicly available info, there was no study revealing its market size in the US between 2015 and 2019; neither was there any data in the public domain pertinent to its market share. So, we could not estimate how this segment's market size changed from 2015 to 2019 compared to the casual dining space. However, we located a report by Aaron Allen & Associates, which revealed that while the casual dining space declined in the US, the steakhouses segment of the US overall restaurant industry was growing. Thus, due to the lack of info revealing the market size or market share of the casual steakhouses segment, we provided the information by Aaron Allen & Associates, as a proxy for comparing the casual dining space and the steakhouses segment in the US between 2016 and 2017.

GROWTH ANALYSIS OF THE US CASUAL DINING SPACE

Between 2015 and 2016, visits to casual dining restaurants in the US dipped by 2%. This traffic drop pegged the market share of the casual dining sector of the US restaurant overall industry at 10% in 2016, according to a report by USA Today. Based on Statista's report, the US overall restaurant industry was $782 billion in 2016; so, using the 2016 casual dining data by USA Today, we estimated the casual dining market in the US in 2016 as follows:
Casual dining market size in 2016 = [US overall restaurant market size*10%]
= ($782 billion*10%) = $78.2 billion.
Through 2017, the casual dining sector of the US restaurant industry continued to plunge. A report by HVS in 2017 acknowledged that sales in the casual dining space declined significantly from 2015 to 2016, and up to early 2017, and attributed it to factors such as weather, politics, and other things between these. Restaurant Nuts' report noted that casual dining sales shrank further in 2017, although there were no sales or market share figures released, factors the report observed to be responsible for the decline included the sector's average cost of $14 compared to the fast-casual sector that had an average price of $8. Also, Restaurant Nuts reported that the shrinking middle class, revitalization of city centers, declining shopping malls, millennial preferences, and "chef-driven farm-to-table venues" were responsible for the decline of the casual dining space in the US in 2017.

However, despite dwindling sales in the sector between 2015 and 2016, HVS's report in 2017 observed that the casual dining segment could improve sales by offering innovative menus that met the demand for healthier, providing locally-sourced options; upping overall service delivery; and using technology to automate client-facing processes.
PwC's report in 2018 showed that, although the casual dining space in the US witnessed an average growth rate (CAGR) of 3.2% between 2012 and 2016 for the top 500 chains, the sector only grew by 0.1% through 2017. Thus, using the estimated $78.2 billion value of this space in 2016, we calculated the US casual dining market segment in 2017, as follows:
The estimated casual dining market size in 2016 = $78.2 billion; if the 0.1% growth witnessed by the top 500 chains in this segment represents the entire sector; then, through 2017, the market was valued at [($78.2 billion*0.1%) + $78.2 billion] ~ $78.28 billion.
However, beginning in 2018, the casual dining space in the US began to witness positive growth, as reported by Restaurant Business Online. As per the report, this space grew by 3.2% in 2018 and was expected to grow by 3.4% through 2019. Using this information, we determined the market size of the casual dining space in the United States in 2018, as follows:
The estimated 2017 market size =$78.28 billion. Based on the report that the sector grew by 3.2% in 2018, the estimated market value in 2018 was [($78.28 billion*3.2%) + $78.28 billion] ~ $80.78 billion.
Also, with the industry expected to grow by 3.4% in 2019, the estimated that the market size of the casual dining sector in 2019 would be [($80.78 billion*3.4%) + $80.78 billion] ~ $83.53 billion.
Thus, between the 3 years from 2016 to 2019, the estimated growth rate of the casual dining space is as follows:
  • 2016 estimated market size = $78.2 billion
  • Calculated market size in 2019 = $83.53 billion
  • Then, using the CAGR calculator, we estimated the growth rate of the US casual dining space from 2016 to 2019 at 2.22%.

CASUAL STEAKHOUSES MARKET ANALYSIS

The casual steakhouses segment in the US grew at the same time when the casual dining space was declining, according to a report by Aaron Allen & Associates. As per the report, while several casual dining chains struggled between 2015 through 2017, "casual steakhouses came out on top." Furthermore, during the period when sales in the casual dining space declined, most publicly-traded steakhouses escaped the declining same-store sales during the first quarter of 2017. In short, Aaron Allen & Associates' report noted that "steakhouse restaurant sales were largely positive" even as sales in the casual dining space plunged, which pushed up to seven steakhouses in the US to be among the 50 emerging brands, as of the report in 2018.
Aaron Allen & Associates' report also observed that, while the casual dining segments (polished casual and mass casual) declined by -1.9% and -2.3%, respectively, steakhouses grew at an average of +0.9%, as of the first quarter of 2017, which indicated that this sector grew in 2016, as well. Unfortunately, there was no report in the public domain with analytical insights into the overall growth of the steakhouses segment of the US restaurant industry relevant to its market size or market shares.




Part
02
of four
Part
02

SWOT Steakhouses

In reference to our findings, a strength of the casual steakhouse space in the United States is the fact that it is less volatile to economic swings because even during tough economic times, people still celebrate special occasions by eating out in casual steakhouse restaurants. A detailed SWOT analysis of the casual steakhouse space in the United States follows below.

STRENGTHS, WEAKNESSES, OPPORTUNITIES, AND THREATS WITHIN THE CASUAL STEAKHOUSE SPACE

Strengths

Steakhouses are usually less volatile to the swings that take place in the economy. This is because even during tough times, people still celebrate special occasions. Specifically, this includes casual steakhouses as seen in "most publicly-traded casual steakhouse chains which managed to escape the declining same-store sales witnessed by many others in the Casual Dining segment during the first quarter of the year." For instance, the ONE Group, which is the parent company of STK experienced the greatest growth while Texas Roadhouse and Outback Steakhouse also experienced positive sales during the declining period.

WEAKNESSES

Some media and journal articles allegedly claimed that the food served in casual steakhouses is unhealthy. According to the Business Insider, "among the nation's most unhealthy meals is a 16-ounce prime rib from Texas Roadhouse served with a loaded sweet potato and Caesar salad for a total of 2,820 calories." An article on Eat This, Not That ranked Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion as the second unhealthiest appetizer in the United States while another article on the Washington Post considered Outback Steakhouse's salad as one of the unhealthy dishes served in restaurants in the United States.

OPPORTUNITIES

The fact that seven restaurants in the top 50 emerging restaurant chains are casual steakhouses shows that there is plenty of room for growth in the market including in the international market. Public U.S.-based casual steakhouses are betting on international markets because out of the "eleven steakhouse brands owned by public companies, only four don’t have locations in other countries." Outback Steakhouse is at the forefront in exploiting this opportunity because it has around 300 locations in foreign markets such as Brazil, Hong Kong, and South Korea, which are the chain's primary international markets. On the other hand, Texas Roadhouse concentrates its international presence in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

THREATS

One of the threat that remains in the United States casual steakhouse space is the labor costs that impact sales. According to Texas Roadhouse President Scott Colosi, "even after posting positive sales for the first half of 2017, further growth was hindered by labor inflation (some of which was attributed to changes the company made to avoid being negatively affected by potential overtime rules)."
The federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 per hour, a rate that has remained the same since 2009. However, 30 states have passed laws that increased the minimum wage within their jurisdictions in recent months. For example, in Washington state, the minimum wage is $11 per hour while in Seattle, a phased policy will bring the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022. Although it remains unclear whether the federal government will take a similar step anytime soon, statistically speaking, the federal rule should change soon for a raise in the minimum wage because "the U.S. is currently in the midst of the third-longest stretch without a minimum wage hike in its history."

Another threat within the casual steakhouse space is overtime. A policy that was "drafted under the Obama administration would have expanded who was eligible for overtime pay, increasing the number of eligible workers to an estimated 4.2 million." However, a group of businesses won a temporary injunction from a U.S. court in Texas resulting in the rule not taking effect and under a new administration, the Labor Department has begun to take steps to roll the policy back entirely. These steps are expected to result in the rule being rewritten from the beginning.

TRENDS WITHIN THE CASUAL STEAKHOUSE SPACE

The trends that are currently being witnessed within the casual steakhouse space include:

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS

SWOT ANALYSIS OF SOME KEY PLAYERS IN THE CASUAL STEAKHOUSE SPACE IN THE U.S.

STRENGTHS
WEAKNESSES

OPPORTUNITIES

THREATS



STRENGTHS


WEAKNESSES


OPPORTUNITIES


THREATS

Part
03
of four
Part
03

Smokey Bones Competitors, Comebacks & Rebrands

Two competitors to casual steakhouse Smokey Bones that have either successfully rebranded, or had a comeback after a business decline are LongHorn and Texas Roadhouse.

Methodology

During the initial stages of our search, we found the competitors of Smokey Bones to be Longhorn and Texas Roadhouse. These were the franchises we selected because they have changed their business strategy after a decline in performance in their respective franchises. They changed their business strategy to regain good standing and increase their profitability in the steakhouse casual dining space. We used reliable sources such as the Darden Restaurant Report, American Recruiters, Seeking Alpha, Food News Feed, and Benzinga for the research brief.

Longhorn

Overview:

Before Darden acquired Longhorn, the franchise had 287 restaurants. However, it experienced a decline in 34% (or 39.4 million) on reported revenue of $986 million profit in 2006. Additionally, the franchise’s profit decreased by 24% (or $10.2 million) during its second quarter in 2007. It reported having $269.2 million in revenue during that quarter.

Rebranding:

After Darden acquired the franchise in 2007, several changes were made to the brand. The franchise was still recovering from a $1.2 billion debt during the year of its acquisition. However, since then, it experienced growth by becoming a Darden restaurant. Moreover, it saw an increase in total sales by 4.9%, which was concluded to be higher the industry’s growth rate. The franchise has been doing so well that it is planned to expand to California by 2019

Change of Business Strategy:

Darden’s CEO, Gene Lee, decided to change the franchise’s business strategy. He agreed that the franchise should lessen menu offerings, simplify its operations, and create complication-free special offers that are engaging but simple to make. He believed that by reducing menu items, the franchise could start offering something new, instead of a different variation of the same item. He also emphasized creating a healthier culture and team engagement. By making these changes, Longhorn then became an industry leader for employee retention rates for managers and line staff.

Another change in the business model for the franchise is to maximize as many offerings in one store and then open another store close to it. This resulted in 45 new restaurants in Atlanta. The CEO described this strategy as “from the back door to the table,” because it simplified the preparation process, grilling process, and plating to customers. It started to produce more "high-quality meals and service to customers."

Results:

In 2019, the franchise saw a 6.4% increase in profit of $842.9 million, compared to 2018’s reported profit of $792.1 million. Additionally, in November 2018, there were 510 Longhorn Steakhouse restaurants.


Texas Roadhouse

Overview:

Texas Roadhouse claimed that it experienced issues due to "inflation of labor." It was affected by the unemployment rate at the time, and because of this, it increased their prices by 0.3%. In 2017, the steakhouse franchise saw a 12% decrease in shares, but then increased by 9% in 2018. It also received a reduction in margin by 76 basis points during the same year.

Overall, the steakhouse had a hard time balancing labor, food costs, operational expenses, and purchasing power found in the steakhouse’s customers. Its inability to also house enough customers is one of the franchise’s main problems.

Shift in Strategy:

The franchise decided to concentrate its resources on reducing the turnover rates of its kitchen staff. Additionally, the franchise also aims to increase its restaurants. It had already opened 14 new restaurants in 2018, and it is planning to open 30 more by 2019.

Going green is also essential for the franchise, as it started to invest more in "environmentally friendly go-to packages." It also established an online platform and mobile app. The president of the franchise, Scott Colosi, claims that the franchise is "not in a rush" to better its delivery services. He stated that the franchise is aiming towards delivering a “legendary dining experience” for consumers.

Online ordering and the franchise’s mobile app decreased callers and increased company sales. Moreover, the customer dining focus model promoted by the franchise increased traffic growth for the company.

Results:

The franchise saw an increase in comps by 4.7% and an increase in the guest count by 3.6% during 2018. The “to-go” segment of the company also increased by 3% during the last five years. The increase in the franchise’s sales was attributed to the use of the online platform, and the franchise’s mobile app.

Moreover, the franchise has now 555 units and has experienced an 8.8% growth in labor dollars per week, and 3.2% growth in hours. There was also a decrease in the margin by 112 basis points in 2019. The franchise has also decreased its overall turn rate for kitchen staff, stating that it is almost close in reaching a single-digit turnover rate for its kitchen staff. They’ve done this by offering their employees "flexibility in their schedules." Additionally, the franchise experienced an average unit volume (AUVs) of $5.2 million in 2019. This was on top from the past decade’s $3 million AUVs.
Part
04
of four
Part
04

Smokey Bones Bio

Over the last ten years, Smokey Bones has transitioned their brand from Smokey Bones Barbeque and Grill — a log cabin focusing on BBQ, to Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill — a modern, casual restaurant, with a full menu that includes a selection of smoke and grilled flavors for families, sports fans, and customers looking for a full meal after midnight.

HISTORY

Darden Restaurants opened the first Smokey Bones restaurant in 1996. By 2006, the restaurant chain had over 125 setups, spread Southeast, Southwest, Northeast, and Midwest of the US. In 2007 Darden Restaurants closed off more than 50 restaurants and sold off the remaining 73. In early 2008, Barbeque Integrated Inc, a subsidiary of Sun Capital Partners purchased the Smokey Bones Barbeque & Grill chain for about $80 million. Research on the brand showed women didn't like the heaviness of the all-BBQ menu.

BRAND JOURNEY

After buying Smokey Bones, Sun Capital Partners decided to re-brand and redesign the restaurant to capture a new customer base. Most notably, the name was revised from "Smokey Bones Barbeque and Grill to Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill."
In August 2008, Smokey Bones finished its first restaurant makeover at one of its locations in Orlando, Florida. It replaced its frontier decor with a contemporary restaurant setting, with highlights such as an "extended bar area, high-definition televisions throughout the restaurant/bar, and updated employee uniforms." It also rolled out new menus that focused more on grilled and smoked flavors and placed less emphasis on barbeques.

The chain continued the makeover of its restaurants through the year 2012. In that year, Christopher Artinian, former CEO of the high-end chain, Morton's, joined Smokey Bones. Artinian was aware that Smokey Bones would not survive by focusing solely on BBQ because it would be impossible to maintain consistency across the brand since BBQ flavors have regional definitions. Also, people don't care to eat BBQ regularly.

Smokey Bones broadened its menu by adding salads, lighter fare, and more drinks. They also provided Ziosk smartphone tablets at each table to encourage people to reorder drinks and play games. Customers also used the device to pay with credit cards. In March 2015, the chain opened its first new restaurant after eight years in Peabody, MA, and it soon became one of the top five earners in the chain. Smokey Bones planned to open two new restaurants in Chicago and Pennsylvania before the end of 2015 and six to eight new locations by 2016 in places where they already had a presence.

PRESS COVERAGE STARTING IN 2013

Nov 1, 2013 — Jason Gronlund, VP of Culinary at Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, along with many volunteers, will be preparing 4,000 pounds of turkey, 3,000 pounds of ham, 800 gallons of gravy, and all the fixings, for the annual Helpings From The Heart Thanksgiving Feast in Orlando, Florida.
March 14, 2014 — Comic announcement of March Madness. Smokey Bones, with help from its ad agency, created "three instructional videos to assist those in need of watching college basketball to figure out ways to get out of work." They announced a prize for the best game day photo and a grand prize for the best of the tournament.

June 3, 2013 — Orlando City Firefighters and the Arena Football League’s Orlando Predators. The firefighters and football players went head-to-head during Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill’s 4th annual nationwide Burger Battle. It was a four-against-four timed relay, in which the team that consumed the specialty burgers the fastest took home the title of Burger Battle Champs. Cash awards went to the winner's charity of choice.

NEW CEO

Ryan Esko was announced as Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer. In 2016, with 66 locations in 16 states, Smokey Bones moved its corporate headquarters from Orlando to Aventura FL to be closer to the home office of Sun Capital Partners. With plans to invest tens of millions of dollars in continuing to modernize existing locations and expand the chain. Esko said “BBQ and smoked food are still key to our expanded menu, and we take pride that we have two smokers firing up at all times making fresh food,” The expanded menu includes grilled steaks, fish and chicken, soups, sandwiches, tacos, salads, signature cocktails, and over 50 types of beer. From being a log cabin BBQ chain, the brand became a place with surrounding HD TVs to watch sports. It was also branded as an "anytime from lunch to 2:00 am," with a full menu and kitchen open between those times.

The NEWEST BRANDING EFFORT — DESSERT

From April 2019, Smokey Bones started to offer three new menu items which it described as "every dessert-lovers fantasy — milkshakes topped with a full-sized, delicious dessert," to strengthen the appeal to families.
All three vanilla shakes either oreo cookies, chocolate layer cake or cinnamon donut toppings. Adults have the option of adding a shot of vodka, bourbon, rum, or Kahlua to the dish.

ANALYST OPINION

While "consumer habits have shifted, and more people are going to restaurants,...Smokey Bones has gotten ahead of this change. The company is working in a good segment … it has done well before and will have an even bigger growth story in the future.

Sources
Sources

From Part 01
Quotes
  • "Casual dining should see a 3.4% gain in sales next year, an uptick from this year’s 3.2% pace, according to the Technomic data."
Quotes
  • "A casual dining industry analysis shows that during 2016 the sector experienced more rapidly declining sales and traffic than others. Although the slipping sales have been attributed to everything from the weather to politics, the fact is the industry has seen a downward trend in growth since the beginning of 2015."
Quotes
  • "10 percent: Overall market share of casual dining restaurants"
  • "2 percent: Drop in visits to casual dining restaurants in the second quarter of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015"
Quotes
  • "This figure was forecasted to rise again in 2016 to more than 782 billion."
Quotes
  • "A shrinking middle class, declining shopping malls, the revitalization of city centers, chef-driven farm-to-table venues, and millennials have all been linked to the decline in the casual-dining segment."
  • "While the average cost of a meal at a casual dining restaurant comes in at about $14, fast-casual, on the other hand, comes in at almost half the cost with an average of $8."
Quotes
  • "While many Casual-Dining chains struggled, casual steakhouses came out on top. "
  • "Most publicly-traded steakhouse chains managed to escape the declining same-store sales witnessed by many others in the Casual Dining segment during the first quarter of the year. In fact, steakhouse restaurant sales were largely positive. "
  • "There are seven steakhouses among the top 50 full-service emerging brands."
Quotes
  • "In 2017, growth stalled for the top 500 restaurant chains — in almost all market segments, particularly in casual-dining, where revenues grew only 0.1 percent in 2017."
From Part 02
Quotes
  • "Despite the recent struggles of some pockets of the restaurant industry, steakhouses have provided a bright spot in even the most dismal dining segments. While many Casual-Dining chains struggled, casual steakhouses came out on top."
  • "Most publicly-traded steakhouse chains managed to escape the declining same-store sales witnessed by many others in the Casual Dining segment during the first quarter of the year. In fact, steakhouse restaurant sales were largely positive. The ONE Group (STK’s parent company), for instance, experienced the greatest growth. Fleming’s was not quite as fortunate, registering a 2.9% decrease."
  • "Of course, there remain challenges on the horizon. Labor costs, for instance, will of course impact sales — but just how much remains to be seen. Even after posting positive sales for the first half of 2017, Texas Roadhouse President Scott Colosi told investors that further growth was hindered by labor inflation (some of which was attributed to changes the company made to avoid being negatively affected by potential overtime rules)."