This is the story of a bar meant for college students that grew into a full service gourmet burger restaurant that evolved into female-, teens- and kid-friendly niche operation that created a great “mocktail” menu which now accounts for more revenue than cocktails.
“Red Robin in the late 70’s had an adult-oriented beverage menu. Drinks with pretty risqué names for the day like “Flat on Your Beak” and “Electric Watermelon” were very popular and are still on the menu, but the beverage program has became a more well-rounded appealing to a family crowd,” says Neil Culbertson, vice president of marketing.
The first of what grew to be a 135-unit chain first opened its doors in 1969 in Seattle on the University of Washington campus as a tavern. Today, the company has grown to be a powerhouse, with most locations in Colorado and the West, with a smattering of units in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
Red Robin executives, Scott Schooler (VP of food and beverage) and Neil Culbertson (VP of marketing) are surrounded by Red Robin team members.
Four years ago in 1996, Mike Snyder, CEO for his own Snyder Group, the first and largest franchisee of Red Robin, became president and CEO of Red Robin International. His unique philosophy and forward thinking has helped the company grow to 156 units, with plans to have another 25 to 30 opened by the end of 2000. The concept is expanding to the Midwest where they never heard of Red Robin, opening restaurants in St. Louis, Indiana, Chicago and Minneapolis.
It’s Snyder’s philosophy that his management team credits for the soaring success of Red Robin, a philosophy that takes into account both employees and customers, and one that includes, at its core, fun.
WHAT MADE RED ROBIN SOAR?
Three years ago the R&D and marketing departments put their heads together to try to brand their beverage program. In mid-1998, Red Robin launched its first “Mad Mixology” program. “Our bartenders have always been called mixologists, so it wasn’t a big jump to use that name with a science theme,” Culbertson says.
Using laboratory items like beakers and test tubes, execs created the Mad Mixologist character and sent out lab coats and funny glasses to Red Robin mixologists. Three new alcoholic and two non-alcoholic beverages were created. The promotion was successful, well beyond the company’s wildest dreams, and Red Robin discovered something new: non-alcoholic drinks could outsell the ones made with alcohol.
“We have run promotions for two years now and the non-alcoholic outsells the alcoholic,” Culbertson adds. “Most of our guests say they want something non-alcoholic. That is pretty unusual for this category. I don’t think anyone else has dedicated the time and energy we have into non-alcoholic drinks.” The proof: of beverage sales, which account for 25% of overall revenue, more than half come from alcohol-free drinks
Demographics have played a huge part in the decision to go with no-alcohol cocktails. Fifty-nine percent of Red Robin’s clientele is female, making it the strongest concept for females in casual dining today. And 20 percent of guests are tweens (9-12 years old) and teens. “We don’t want to be a direct competitor with Champps, Houlihans or Fridays. We are a family friendly concept that families feel great about. We meet their needs, or needs that they don’t even know about,” Culbertson says.
Red Robin develops a drum beat of enthusiasm for its seasonal beverages with constant promotion.
This last summer Red Robin ran the “Synchronized Splash summer food and beverage celebration.” Two new gourmet burgers were introduced, three new alcohol-free beverages and two beverage alcohol cocktails. Introduced were the Groovy Smoothie, a thick smoothie blended with strawberries, wildberries, peaches and bananas; and two tea-based beverages: Raspberry and Peach Sunset teas, iced teas and lemonade poured to create a layered effect resembling sunsets.
New cocktails included Tropical Fiji and Nuclear Green Teas, multi-colored cocktails that resemble Long Island Iced Tea and made with Absolut Mandrin and melon liqueur.