The Surprising Restaurant Chain Gaining Traction With Gen Z

If millennials leave Applebee's for dead, Gen Z is poised to bring it to life.

Applebee's is just one of the many pillars of Americana on the long list of things that millennials have supposedly killed, apparently choosing to "eat good in the neighborhood" by skipping Applebee's altogether. In 2017, the restaurant chain made an active attempt to market itself as hip and cool to a younger demographic, but the mission failed, leading to more than 100 of its restaurants shuttering. Yet while millennials seemingly left Applebee's for dead, Gen Z is administering CPR and breathing new life into the brand.

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It's a strange choice for a generation focused on health, sustainability, and social consciousness, none of which Applebee's is known for. But John Peyton, CEO of Applebee's parent company Dine Brands, told Nation's Restaurant News that the brand has increased its relevance with 18-24 year olds by, as the kids call it, going viral.

It certainly sounds like Applebee's has hired an in-touch social media team. I don't follow the brand on any social media platform because I have taste, but apparently it's had some successful viral marketing campaigns as of late. Last July, for example, Applebee's teamed up with Winky Lux to launch Saucy Gloss, a lip gloss line inspired by the restaurant's wing sauces—an idea so strange it's impossible to ignore. And they marketed it with a TikTok song called "Taste My Face" that surely found its way into your FYP between the hot teacher and the 56-year-old virgin.

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Peyton told NRN that the brand "became increasingly sophisticated on social media channels."

"These are all real examples of how Applebee's is connecting with a younger demographic in a way they didn't in the past," he added.

Peyton also touted the chain's low prices as appealing to the early-20s set, which makes sense considering Gen Z is currently in the phase of their lives where they don't command a high salary, are saddled with student loan debt, and can't say no to a $1 margarita. And thanks to clever social media marketing, Applebee's seems cool to these young consumers instead of crusty. The explosion of the country song "Fancy Like" certainly didn't hurt the brand, either.

Other restaurants would do well to take a page out of Applebee's playbook and position themselves within the social media landscape to court younger consumers and save themselves from an untimely demise. It might be too late for Bed Bath & Beyond, but perhaps Sweetgreen could learn a thing or two from the restaurant that brought us the Dollarita.

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