Romano's Macaroni Grill Celebrates Indulgence


After an unsuccessful flirtation with a lighter Mediterranean menu, Romano’s Macaroni Grill has returned to offering fresh interpretations of classic Italian fare, and an emphasis on the Italian experience in its casual restaurants.

The revamped menu includes customer favorites harking back to the chain’s founding in 1988 by Philip J. Romano, plus 25 new items. Macaroni Grill has also reinstated occasional serenades by opera singers and letting customers pour their own house wine (on an honor system) from a large bottle provided to each table -- unique brand touches that had become inconsistent in recent years (some locations had continued these traditions; others had not).

To spread the news about the changes, spearheaded by a new (as of 2010) CEO, Norman Abdallah, Macaroni Grill has launched a new, national campaign taglined “Something New. Something Classic.”



Spanning television, radio, out-of-home, online advertising and social media, the campaign from the VIA agency introduces a suave brand-ambassador character with a Rat-Pack-reminiscent fashion style.

In the 30- and 15-second television spots, airing on network and cable, the character comments on the food and social interaction as couples enjoy dinner in a romantically lit Macaroni Grill location. The tongue-in-cheek patter incorporates humorous double entendres playing off each couple’s entrée selections (e.g., “Twirl baby, twirl”; “Either she’s got a thing for mussels, or she’s got a thing for muscles”).

Over a number of years, the chain had “kind of lost its path” in terms of hewing to the brand’s “soul” -- “great Italian food and an experience that differentiates it from the standard, monotonous chain-restaurant experience,” says its CMO, Brandon Coleman. Rather than take the predictable casual-chain creative approach, consisting almost entirely of close-up shots of food, Macaroni Grill asked VIA to focus as much on the experience as the food, he says. During the year that the menu and marketing were being revamped, the chain did no television advertising. 

While the restaurants do offer selections for the calorie-conscious (six entrées with fewer than 600 calories), the creative seeks to convey a spirit of “self indulgence” and the ability to have a “big night out” within a casual, comfortable environment, notes VIA chief creative officer Greg Smith.

The online banner ads include click-throughs to visual samplings of new menu items, again with cheeky narration by the brand character. Out-of-home is being used in key markets, and radio has always worked well for the chain (given that so many dinner/lunch decisions are made during drive time), says Smith. Macaroni Grill also has a “robust” Facebook presence, says Smith, who reports that fans downloaded more than 70,000 coupons from Facebook during the first week of the campaign.

Majority-owned since 2008 by Golden Gate Capital (the previous owner was Brinker International), Macaroni Grill currently has 204 locations in 42 states. The chain got its start in Leon Springs, Tex.

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