The Sampler Effect
As fast casual restaurants continue to take over the foodservice industry, casual dining concepts are considering new ways to get consumers into their establishments by focusing on the first course – the appetizer. Out of all the sections on a restaurant’s menu, an appetizer can make or break the first impression with a customer, which sets a precedent for the rest of the meal. If the appetizer is affordable, shareable, and most importantly enjoyable, then the job of the appetizer is done.
Appealing to all three, Kansas City, MO-based Applebee’s is putting its food where your taste buds live and is hosting a nationwide sampling event for its “Taste The Change” promotion at almost all of its approximately 2,000 locations on July 21. For Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill dine-in guests only, the concept will be serving up what may become the largest-ever food sampling event by offering free sampler plates of its newest items – Sriracha Shrimp and Churro S’Mores appetizers – along with the option to add other new appetizers at low sampler prices.
The appeal to enhancing the appetizer section on Applebee’s menu follows the tapas-like trend where consumers are opting for smaller, shareable portions instead of investing in one major meal. TGI Friday’s answered to this trend in 2014 by offering “Endless Appetizers” for $10. The premise is that dine-in customers can purchase one appetizer (French Onion Dumplings, Loaded Potato Skins, Boneless Wings, etc.) and receive free refills of the same appetizer “endless” times.
Other casual dining locations try to compete by hosting single appetizer specials like “Bang Wednesdays” where Bonefish’s famous Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer is only $6 at any of the company’s 200+ locations. Also on Wednesdays, Tampa, FL-based Square 1 Burgers & Bar serves a giant stack of its house made, double dipped onion ring appetizer for only $3 at its nine locations. From online, Red Lobster goes a step further and offers a free appetizer or dessert coupon to new Fresh Catch Club members delivered straight to their email.
In due time, other casual dining restaurants will vamp up the appetizer selection and more than likely follow Applebee’s sampler event to bring in and satisfy hungry consumers of all ages.