If the all-American beef patty nestled between a couple of buns and bottomless fries aren’t enough for you, Red Robin also offers over twenty-two variations on the burger theme. Among them are the Pot Roast Burger, Banzai Burger with teriyaki and grilled pineapple rings, and the Five Alarm Burger with enough jalapenos to satiate any spice fan.
While chains like Fatburger and Johnny Rockets take a more retro/nostalgic approach to their brand and menu, the key to Red Robin’s brand success has been offering a menu that appeals to the burger connoisseur as well as diners looking for other types of casual fare. Entrees like Southwest chicken pasta, steak fajitas, soups, salads and desserts are washed down with the chain’s signature Mad Mixology specialty beverages. If there is one common thread to the Red Robin menu (including its burgers), it’s variety.
As a part of its strategy to appeal to families and particularly women, teens and tweens, the company intentionally locates its restaurants near high-activity areas, including retail centers, big-box shopping centers and entertainment centers. The restaurant atmosphere is colorful, if not slightly frenetic -- regardless of whether the restaurant is actually packed with patrons or not.
The restaurant industry in general is considered by financial analysts to be a mature market with low profit margins and no lack of fierce competition. With the rise of two-working adult families since the 1980s, Americans have less time and energy to prepare their own meals, choosing to eat out more frequently. Hence the menu variety to appease all ages is a key factor in the consumer’s decision-making process of just where to eat out.
Red Robin takes its positioning of “gourmet burgers” and translates its core offering to price. In other words, burgers aren’t exactly cheap. Portions are generous and the money paid goes toward a much more exotic and higher quality menu than the average burger joint. From a brand positioning perspective, the marriage of proposition pitch (high-quality, gourmet burgers) and a higher price strategy complement one another and combined is one of the brand’s key differentiators – particularly over fast food competitors.
Since incorporating in 2001 and becoming publicly traded in 2002, the company has taken off in growth and sales. Red Robin owns and operates 100 restaurants in 13 states, and has 98 additional restaurants operating under franchise or license agreements in 17 states and Canada. For the first two quarters of 2003, net income rose 45 percent with more restaurants slated in the future both as company owned and franchise/license agreement based.
Where the Red Robin brand falls behind the curve, especially in comparison to the competitive landscape, is the consistency of its brand message. Fatburger and Johnny Rockets have created a brand experience that is absolutely consistent from their visual identities to the restaurant interiors. Johnny Rockets takes its brand experience to almost a “Hollywoodesque” level by outfitting staff in the uniforms of a bygone American era.
Red Robin sports a visual identity that appears from menus to website to signage that also has a slightly 1950s retro look. The building structures on the other hand are contemporary and the interiors a mishmash of bar, pop culture and nostalgic memorabilia and décor thrown together (think neon signs juxtaposed with carousel horses). It’s a bit reminiscent of the bar from the television sitcom Cheers – only Red Robin is for families, kid-friendly and minus the alcoholics.
Unlike the molded plastic furniture of the fast food hamburger chains that gets ‘em in and gets ‘em out, the furniture in Red Robins is comfortable and invites a longer, social stay with friendly, polo-clad waiters to accommodate customers. Considering even McDonald’s, Jack in the Box and Wendy’s are branching out to more eclectic offerings on their menus at considerably lower prices, this is yet another key differentiator for Red Robin via the brand experience.
According to the Red Robin website, team members are encouraged to provide “unbridled” guest service while living by the Red Robin core values of honor, integrity, continually seeking knowledge and having fun. While the Red Robin core values are admirable, from a branding perspective, it lacks differentiated and relevant communication attributes (i.e., adjectives that describe the brand in optimum and aspirational ways) that are articulated throughout the brand verbally, visually and experientially.
At the end of the day, the quality of the Red Robin’s core offerings (i.e., food) and its customer service are quite appealing. But the experience and look and feel of the brand suffers from mixed messaging and a lack of a consistent brand identity -- perhaps from trying to please such a broad range of customers.
As most marketers are aware, maintaining a brand past its growth stage and keeping it fresh, differentiated and relevant is a key challenge for any company. In August 2003, the company hired Dwayne Chambers (former VP of marketing for Sonic Drive-Ins) as Red Robin’s VP of Marketing to “take the brand to the next level.”
According to a press release statement made by Chambers, "In today's marketing environment, the key to success is building long-term relationships by making emotional connections with consumers, I can't think of any brand that is better positioned to deliver that than Red Robin."
I’ll eat to that.