It's Saturday night, and we're stuck in the 'burbs South of San Francisco. After viewing the wait outside BJ's (and realizing we could do better than Hooters), our trio agreed to Red Robin across the way. We spotted an unusual flaming logo, but thought nothing of it.
While the Tustin Marketplace location shut down last year, migrating down the street to The District did not merit any noticeable updates. Yet when our host (clad in all black) asked for a name and phone number for the wait list, then proceed to input everything in his iPad— we realized something was afoot.
Turns out the iPads were part of an interactive training program; over 1,000 were rolled out in the process. While all sites are doing over the way customers are treated, only about 20 were selected as test laboratories. It is at these spots where change would happen at all levels. From the menu to the logo and even seating arrangements were being updated. Their goal– move away from a kids environment, and promote themselves as an adult hangout.
For example, we caught ourselves dropping the f-bomb during our conversation. While we imagined it was just luck no children were within earshot, our server explained the three zones diners were seated between. Groups with little kids were towards the rear of the restaurant. Teens and older kids were more in the middle. Adults-only groups gathered around the new flat screen monitors in the bar.
Speaking of the bar, Red Robin's "Taking Back the Bar" initiative includes seasonal treats, like a Sam Adams Oktoberfest beer milkshake. CEO Stephen Carley states that this "is not simply a remodeling project, but part of our overall strategy to make the brand more relevant to our guests and to attract them more often." Even before the test kitchens, they were introducing new concepts like their Burger Works DIY chain and being the first casual chain to use ghost peppers in their burgers.
We typically lower the bar for national chains, but in this case we appreciate Red Robin's efforts to stay in the game. If all goes well, expect a company-wide roll out of all approved changes during the third quarter. Until then, our Bay Area location remains an anomaly. And yes, bottomless steak fries are still bottomless.