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This Week in Foodservice: Amazon to Expand with Curbside Grocery Pickup; September Sales Show Confidence; and Noise Drowns out Food Taste

News worthy of a second take:Restaurant sales continued to roll on in September according to the Commerce Department. Knapp-Track continues to show weak sales at casual dining chains. Amazon is going the brick-and-mortar route with the internet giant announcing they are moving into the c-store business and opening drive-in locations for the pickup of groceries ordered online. A study shows that noise can make food taste bad. Read more...

Chain Innovators: Sizzler USA

Think stodgy when you think Sizzler? Think again. The 53-year-old steak and salad bar chain has recently made big moves to contemporize its menu, its look and feel, even the ways it goes to market. It's all part of a recently launched turnaround strategy designed to bring the chain back into action as a compelling fast-casual choice.

Sizzler USAThe revamp starts with the menu, where fresh ingredients and from-scratch preparations are now the order of the day. Certified meat cutters cut fresh, USDA Choice tri-tip steaks in house. Burgers are fresh, not frozen. Fresh salmon and trout are offered and Sizzler's Endless Salad, Soup, Hot Appetizer and Dessert bar now features made-from-scratch soups, hand-tossed salads, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, and breads and desserts baked in house. An Ultimate Value Menu bundles a steak, chicken or shrimp entrée with the salad bar for as low as $9.99.

A new interior prototype brings Sizzler's ambiance in line with its new food focus, says CEO Kerry Kramp. And new customer friendly initiatives such as an interactive ordering kiosk (in test), and a Weigh to Go takeout program, which lets guests pay for salad bar items by weight, are boosting sales. Since the 2009 unveiling of Sizzler's new prototype, 14 locations have implemented the new design resulting in sales increases ranging from 15 percent to 80 percent. Several more units are currently undergoing conversion.

Sizzler's even hitting the food truck space. One unit is in test and more are on the way. "It's a fun way to re-introduce people to Sizzler," says Kramp. "If they think we're cool enough to do great food on a food truck, they may think we're cool enough to check out our restaurants."

Fast Facts

  • Year founded: 1958
  • Headquarters: Culver City, Calif.
  • Menu specialties: Steak, seafood, salad bar
  • Service model: Fast-casual; family/casual
  • Units: 260 worldwide, 176 domestic
  • 2010 sales: $277 million
  • 2010 growth: Comparable store sales increased .03 percent systemwide
  • Key expansion markets: West Coast, Denver
  • Typical location: Freestanding restaurant
  • Average unit size: 5,000–6,500 sq. ft.
  • Average kitchen space: 1,800 sq. ft. (est.)
  • Average covers per day: 414
  • Average check: $11.95
  • Total equipment investment per unit: $350,000 (est.)
  • Total unit cost: $1.3 million (est.)
Key Players
  • President and CEO: Kerry Kramp
  • Chief Strategic Officer: Dennis Scott
  • Senior Director, Operations: Forbes Collins
  • Senior Director, Training and Safety: Khaled Bagul
  • Senior Director, Construction/Purchasing: Keith Ortiz
  • Director, Franchise Business Development: Mark Lyso
  • Food Distributor: U.S. Foodservice
  • Smallwares and Equipment Dealer: The Wasserstrom Company
  • Creative: Kovel/Fuller
  • Public Relations: Brad Ritter Communications
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