Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oh Monte Cristo, how my waistline shall miss thee...

First off, I just wanted to say I spent a few years in Casual Dining Management (apparently just got out in the nick of time). So, as most already know, Bennigans' parent company abruptly filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy yesterday, shuttering 150 Bennigan's as well as about 80 Steak and Ales. For the last couple years, most in the business have known MRG has been fighting an uphill battle to keep Bennigan's prevalent. They've tried new concepts (Plano & Southlake Tavern & Bennigan's Sport) with very little success. With the economy in such a shaky condition, this was bound to happen, unfortunately. It is tough, because there's some good hard working folks now looking for a job in a market that seems to be heading the opposite direction.
Having spent years working for Brinker International, I was fortunate enough to get a first hand glimpse into just how ambitious many chain restaurants can be when it came to expansion. At one point while I was working for Brinker, the plan for Chili's was 400 new restaurants in four years. Considering at the time the number of units was already at 1,000+, this was definitely an ambitious design. It seems as if everytime a housing development pops up in the suburban sprawl of Dallas, a Chili's goes in right alongside the Wal-Mart and fast food restaurants. Unfortunately, with the fast rising prices of commodities necessary in the restaurant industry, coupled with the current economic well-being of the average suburban resident, we are starting to see some nasty consequences of such an over-saturated market. To go along with MRG filing Chapter 7, Brinker International has been trying to sell off Macaroni Grill for over almost a year, and is reportedly close to selling for nearly half of the initial asking price. Applebee's was sold to IHOP about a year ago, and it will be interesting to see if they can turn things around.
It seems like there are mixed emotions on this situation. On one end, you have many who are concerned that another large industry is facing heavy losses, further weighing on our economy. On the other end, I have seen many happy to see these restaurants shrinking away a bit. Some are happy for the opportunity it provides for local owned restaurants. One interesting concept I saw was the effect of casual dining restaurants on the household. I have read where some believe that cheap quick food choices have enabled us to lead even busier lives and turned "dining out" away from being a luxury, as well as cut down on "quality family time." So, my question is where do you place yourself on this scale? I figured this was bound to start happening, and I could see it getting worse before it gets better. So does it sadden you to know your neighborhood won't have quick, easy access to an Applebee's, Chili's, and Friday's? Or is this going to help open opportunity for small, quality dining options, as well as more folks eating at home and spending quality time with their family? Where do you stand?

1 comment:

Natalie said...

I enjoyed this post.

You know I don't care about Bennigan's, but Steak n Ale is probably my favorite restaurant. We went there every year for my birthday since I was about 15. We actually went on Sunday and I am really glad we did. Oh well.

Hope you are well!