Fast Casuals: Applebee's Tops In Online Impact


Among fast casual restaurants, Applebee's generated the largest online impact between November 2010 and January 2011, according to the latest quarterly report on the segment from media measurement technology firm General Sentiment.

Applebee's realized online exposure that would translate to more than $9.5 million if purchased through traditional media. Its buzz was driven in large part by its addition of three new Weight Watchers-endorsed entrées (it already offered two), according to the report.

General Sentiment tracks volume of mentions across online news media, social media and Twitter and factors in positive and negative sentiment to calculate purchase equivalent media values. As some brands within the top-10 list demonstrate, negative events don't necessarily depress the overall media or impact value. (Isolated perception value performance is measured separately.)



Second-ranked Denny's ($6.2 million in media value), got good buzz on its introduction of energy-efficient LED lighting in several Colorado and Illinois restaurants, as well as for having prevailed in a class-action suit filed by a New Jersey consumer with the support of nutrition advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The suit, which alleged that the chain was engaging in fraud by failing to adequately warn consumers about the high sodium content of menu items, was dismissed in November, and that decision was upheld by an appeals court in January.

Other top-10 performers:

  • #3: Chili's ($6 million) Chili's benefitted from buzz around its faster seating, resulting from testing a combination oven/conveyor belt, In impact terms, commentary about staff reductions made in order to control pricing also apparently worked to its advantage.
  • #4: IHOP ($5.9 million) A video of a "wild brawl" in an Orangeburg, S.C. unit went viral ... and IHOP got tough, saying it would push prosecution of the perpetrators.
  • #5: Olive Garden ($5.6 million) Darden Restaurants announced that it will begin testing units offering side-by-side Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants in smaller markets.
  • #6: Red Robin ($5.2 million) The chain ran an online "Obey The Egg" contest (with prizes of free burgers for a year) to promote its fried-egg-topped Royal Red Robin Burger. It also amended its shareholder rights plan to discourage acquisition attempts.
  • #7: Red Lobster ($4.4 million) The chain announced a plan to remodel all 700 of its restaurants to feature a seaside village theme, introduced new "flavors of America" entrées, and said it will open an eco-friendly unit in Eugene, Ore.
  • #8: Hard Rock Café ($3.4 million) Two employees in the chain's largest unit, in Orlando, Fla., sued the company, charging that it had failed to pay minimum wages.
  • #9: Buffalo Wild Wings ($3.1 million) Currently running a promotion through SCVNGR's location-based gaming platform in which consumers can win instant prizes and chances to attend the NBA finals with former Chicago Bulls player Scottie Pippen.
  • #10: Waffle House ($2.9 million) A Florida man was sentenced to 62 years in prison for a 2007 robbery of a Waffle House unit that triggered a police chase. A patron of another Florida unit demanded an apology from a 73-year-old man who allegedly hit his nine-year-old son with a menu.

Looking at the separate measurement of perception value, or quality of the exposure created, the top five winners were Lone Star Steakhouse, Carrabba's Italian Grill, Rainforest Café, Chevys Fresh Mex and IHOP.

The biggest perception value losers were Ruth's Chris Steak House, Bennigan's, Landry's Restaurants, Bahama Breeze and Macaroni Grill. (Ruth's took a hit for a racist email message sent internally by a Mississippi unit manager, which found its way to the customer and was widely distributed on social media.)

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