After the success of the Fancy Like’ campaign, Applebee is now rebranding itself as a music-oriented brand that is affordable and convenient. It is also aiming to reach 100% digital ordering by 2023.

Applebee’s and the pandemic

Many fast-casual dining brands like Applebee's had a tough time during the pandemic, when dining rooms closed down across the United States. But, "Fancy Like," a song by country musician, Walker Hayes, turned the fortunes of Applebee's for good measure. With the world returning to a new normal in 2021, Applebee's had planned marketing campaigns to bring a turnaround. But when the song was released and became a viral hit, the franchise decided to change course and rebrand themselves as a music-oriented chain.

The song that broke the slump

Fancy Like" was released in August 2021 and talks about taking a partner out for a 'fancy date' to the neighborhood restaurant, Applebee's. The songwriter also created a TikTok dance to the song along with his daughter, which went viral. And the song turned out to be the catalyst for reviving Applebee's as a brand. As Applebee's president John Cywinski said, the song connected with America and gave Applebee's an idea for a marketing campaign. The brand eventually won the Effie Award for the viral campaign.
The brand launched a campaign that brought back the Oreo Cookie Shake, which is mentioned in the song along with the Bourbon Street Steak, in commercials that featured the song and the viral TikTok dance. The commercials were a bid to create a buzz to draw customers in, cashing in on the song's popularity.
And they succeeded, as the song helped recreate nostalgia in millennials and Gen Xers and also created awareness about the brand with the younger generation. The increase in vaccination rates and demand for dining out also pushed the jump in revenue generation.

Applebee’s turnaround

Applebee's recorded sales that were higher than they have been in the past several years. The brand's sales hit $3.7 billion, a 34% rise over the same period in 2020, and average unit volumes were $2.3 million, an increase of 31%.
But the turnaround wasn't just due to "Fancy Like". It was also a result of a sustained campaign to build awareness about the chain as a place where people could come and relax. As per data, Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X now make up 80% of Applebee's customer demographics, with millennials having the largest share at 34%. As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-pandemic saw the price of fast casual menu items rise at a faster pace as compared to full-service restaurants, but keeping the price point at the lower end of the spectrum also turned out to be a point in Applebee's favor.
Although Applebee struggled to get its staff back to full operations in 2021, the addition of Cosmic Wings, a delivery-only brand, and ghost kitchen outlets helped the brand expand its reach. The success of the innovative Restaurant Trends and side steps can be gauged by the fact that 25% of Applebee's sales comes from curbside pickups and delivery.

Focus and future plans

After the success of the "Fancy Like" campaign, Applebee's shifted focus to rebranding themselves as a music-oriented fast casual chain that is affordable and convenient.
With an average Applebee's customer having to pay around $30 for a dine-in meal, the brand is now focusing on entertainment and music that talks about the simple joys of casual dining to cultivate the ideal of reaching for the dream that millennials, who make up the largest customer base, love.
Apart from focusing on music, the fast-casual chain also aims to reach 100% digital ordering by the end of 2022. The focus on digital ordering is also to bring in a customer base that has a higher meal tab as compared to dine-in or phone orders.
The strategy seems to be working, as Applebee's same-store sales saw a rise of 14.3%, even with the negative impact of Omicron early this year. The first quarter also saw dine-in sales reach 90% of the pre-Pandemic levels.
In order to achieve a 100% digital ordering goal, the store is also working on a cost-engineered, modernized store design', as per Cywinski, which helped optimize some areas of the overall restaurant management, like the back of house and kitchen. The president emphasized that they had not compromised on the decor, design, or size.
After closing down nearly 300 underperforming locations over the past five years, the brand plans to open six ghost kitchens and six traditional locations in 2022 and will be closing 15 locations, the lowest in 10 years.
The fast casual chain also intends to focus on increasing sales at drive-thru pickup windows instead of curbside pickup. They already have four locations which cater to late-night off-premises and plans are to reach 15 drive-thru pickups by the fiscal year-end.

The inspiration for the Song

The idea for "Fancy Like" came to song writer Walker Hayes after a conversation with kids about enjoying a meal at McDonald's or 'Fancy like Applebee's'. That simple conversation with his six kids created a song talking about the reasonable pleasures of life, which became the biggest country single of 2021. The song was on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart for more than 10 consecutive weeks and now ranks fifth on Rolling Stone's Top 100 Songs.
If you listen to the song, you will find the mention in the chorus- "We fancy like Applebee's on a date night/Got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake/Get some whipped cream on the top too/Two straws, one check, girl, I got you."
The lyrics about affordable pleasures have resonated with middle and working-class suburban families in the United States and other countries. Applebee's president, John Cywinski, said that they were fortunate enough to have a country music star write about us'.

Know more about Applebee’s star fan

Fancy Like" was not only the catalyst for Applebee's turnaround, it was also the breakthrough hit of musician Walker Hayes' career at the age of 41, after working in the industry for more than 10 years. The video created for the song about Applebee's by Hayes and his daughter also made the country singer a Social Media media star and Tik Tok sensation.
The singer is a fan of Applebee's and co-wrote the song to pay ode to the simple pleasures of life. The singer, who lives in Nashville with his wife and six kids, says the fast casual chain is a perfect joint for many Millennials and Gen Xers on a budget who want to spoil their partners with an upgrade.

Pop culture and food

Cashing in on the success of songs about food is not new. Food has often been mentioned by many as a way to convey pleasure and happiness. Food has also been used in songs to speak about double meanings or hidden desires. Red Lobster saw a rise in sales on the weekend Beyonce released "Formation', which talked about food as a reward for sex. Even Taylor Swift mentioned Olive Garden in the song "No Body, No Crime" and Eugene Lee, CEO of Darden Restaurants had thanked her. "Fancy Like" is just the latest example of how a simple song can help a Restaurant Marketing campaign gain recognition and fame and turn tables.