How Applebee's Is Rebranding Its Music

For many restaurantgoers wanting a positive dining experience, ambiance is everything. Whether it's soft lights illuminating cozy rounded tables or classical paintings bringing life to an extravagant dining room, the look and feel of an establishment are sometimes just as important as the taste of its food. According to a University of Denver survey looking at more than 2,700 restaurants in New York City, overall, consumers felt more influenced by ambiance than food quality. 

Diving even deeper, a press release from Technomic's Consumer Brand Metrics (which offers insight into 123 U.S. chains based on data collection on consumer perception), the company revealed that music was an especially important factor in whether someone would choose a restaurant, with 52% of Gen-Z and millennials saying it was a major factor. Meanwhile, 43% of older consumers agreed. This mentality might not fit everyone, but it's still a quality worth noting.

While many restaurants have reached a happy medium in pleasing the five senses of their customers, from quality décor to a relaxing soundtrack, Applebee's is doing especially well. In fact, it was one of the most popular chain restaurants during the pandemic. And while it has certainly thrived in the past, the neighborhood spot is taking a new direction to keep up with changing times. And it all starts with a pretty big change to its music.

But first, Applebee's history with millennials

To appeal to Gen-Z and millennials, the fast-casual chain is looking to make its locations more music-oriented. More on that in a moment. However, if the past is any indication of success to attract newer demographics, let's hope it works out better than eight years ago. According to The New York Times, the brand's revenue had been falling every year, so management finally decided to make a change. 

Over the years, Applebee's traditionally has strived to serve food in a friendly neighborhood setting. But in 2014, individual franchises underwent massive renovations to make them more hip and modern. The changes even included updated employee uniforms. 

As company president John Cywinski said at the time, the effort failed miserably (via The Washington Post). After only three years, the pivot to appeal to millennials forced Applebee's to shutter 135 locations. While most people weren't fans of the brand makeover, regulars were left confused by it all. 

Applebee's has occasionally struggled while adapting to the times, but it's not all bad. Per Business Wire, it has thrived especially in recent years, outperforming the rest of the casual dining industry for much of 2021.

What Applebee's is changing about its music, and why

While Applebee's struck out in 2014 during its rebranding efforts, the chain is now going all in on country music. According to The Takeout, Applebee's has rebranded itself as a music-oriented fast-casual chain — and, once again, it's looking for younger folks to grace its locations. The spark for this idea came almost a year ago when country star Walker Hayes released his hit song "Fancy Like."

An ode to affordable luxuries, the massive hit details a day spent at Applebee's. After its release, the track unexpectedly blew up — it won a Grammy and topped the Billboard charts — and once again put Applebee's in the spotlight. Cywinski took note of the song's influence — it even spawned a viral TikTok dance craze — which prompted the restaurant to pivot its focus toward country music.

According to Restaurant Magazine, seeing the song revive Applebee's brand image in the eyes of younger generations, Cywinski decided to use it in a marketing campaign — and boy did it pay off. Per Rolling Stone, Applebee's crafted an entire TV commercial around "Fancy Like," and the campaign's huge success helped Applebee's to rebrand as a favorite for country music fans. 

Today, 80% of Applebee's guests are Gen Xers and millennials, per The Takeout. So maybe not all millennials prefer to drink at home. And while Hayes should be credited for some of the newfound popularity, some of it is definitely thanks to the unique experience Applebee's has to offer its patrons.