[During RRGB's 11/3 quarterly analyst call, CEO Steve Carley acknowledged the impending Burger Works opening and called the concept a way to enter urban sites as well as colleges, airports, military bases, food courts and other nontraditional sites where a a full-size Red Robin cannot go.]
The sluggish economy is pushing yet another casual-dining chain to test how well a simplified, lower-price, limited-service concept might work. The latest with the courage to think small is Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, which on Nov. 21 plans to open a fast-casual concept with burgers, beer and wine called Burger Works. The first location will be in the upscale Northfield Stapleton mixed-use center in northeast Denver according to its website.
Burger Works borrows a few menu items—including the Whiskey River BBQ, 5 Alarm, Royal and Banzai burgers—from Red Robin’s menu. At Burger Works, these burgers are priced at $5.99 and are 1/3-pound, the same as regular-size Red Robin burgers. At the Red Robin in Boulder, Colo., burgers with the signature Bottomless Steak Fries offer are priced from $9.59 for the Whiskey River to $9.99 for the fried-egg-topped Royal burger. Red Robin’s most recent LTO, the Oktoberfest burger, was introduced in September at $6.99.
Burger Works’ pricing puts it in line with fast-growing, Denver-based fast-casual burger chain Smashburger, whose basic Classic with Cheese burger is $4.99 for a 1/3-lb. patty, $5.99 for a half-pound.
Like Smashburger, but unlike Red Robin, Burger Works will offer customers a Build Your Own Burger customization option. Start with a 1/3-pound “Fire-Grilled Burger” for $4.49 on choice of brioche or wheat bun. A 1/3-pound cheeseburger is $4.99 and starts with American, Cheddar, Swiss or Pepper-Jack Cheese on brioche or wheat bun. A chicken breast on one of those two bun choices starts at $5.49.
Free burger add-ons include mayonnaise, chipotle mayo, Thousand Island dressing, house bourbon BBQ sauce, Thai Chili Ketchup, Red’s Relish, pickles, lettuce, Roma tomatoes, jalapeños, raw or grilled onions, Beer Mustard Onions and Fire-Roasted Salsa.
Premium add-ons are Cheddar, Swiss, Pepper-Jack, or American Cheese (50¢ each); guacamole ($1); apple-smoked bacon ($1); onion straws ($1); sautéed Portobello mushrooms ($2); fried egg ($1) or extra beef patty ($2).
Burger Works will open with a few signature menu items of its own. These include the Tavern Double burger ($4.99) with two patties, American cheese, lettuce, Roma tomatoes and mayo. Also new are three Hand-Breaded Chicken Tenders ($4.99) with Bourbon BBQ, Ranch or Dijon dressing. A Veggie Portabella Burger also is offered, at $5.99.
Salad choices include the Whiskey River BBQ Chicken Salad ($5.99)—with mixed greens, grilled chicken, Bourbon BBQ Sauce, onion straws, tomatoes, Cheddar cheese and Creamy Ranch Dressing—and the Crispy Chicken Tender Salad ($5.99) with mixed greens, crispy chicken tenders, hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, onion straws, bacon, Cheddar and Creamy Ranch Dressing.
Of course Burger Works has fries, but they won’t be bottomless. Regular fries are $1.99; sweet potato fries with Thai Chili Ketchup are $2.49; onion straws are $1.99. Get ‘em all for $4.49 or pick two for $3.49.
Like many fast-casual, “better burger” concepts, Burger Works will serve beer and wine. Other beverages include soft drinks and iced tea, along with real-ice-cream shakes.
Red Robin is among several casual-dining chains that have opened or announced plans for smaller, limited-service concepts. Famous Dave’s, The Cheesecake Factory are among the fast-casual dabblers. Ruby Tuesday is converting some of its high-end casual-dining locations to lower-price Lime Fresh Mexican Grill or Marlin & Ray’s seafood concepts.
Earlier this year, a Red Robin executive told Nation’s Restaurant News that the company was interested in developing a fast-casual burger concept in order to “leverage our brand expertise.” According to the website, “Burger Works was created to keep it simple. Basically, we’re burgers…A simple concept that makes scrumptious sense.”
Red Robin—which has 321 company stores and another 137 franchised locations—will announce 2011 Q3 financial results on Nov. 3. The chain has shown some sales improvements this year—including positive comp sales (+3.1%) during the quarter ended July 11, 2011—after a series of disappointing years. Company same-store sales were -0.6% in fiscal 2010, -11.1% in 2009 and -1.4% in 2008 after growing by +2.4% in both 2007 and 2006, according to the company’s 10-K filing. Average annual unit volumes have steadily declined from $3.33 million in 2007 to $2.779 million in 2010.
Former El Pollo Loco chief Stephen Carley joined Red Robin as CEO last year and has begun turning around sales while bringing in new executives and fresh thinking. Apparently that includes bold thinking about what the right footprint, pricing model and menu might be.
© BurgerBusiness.com 2011