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Did Millennials kill Applebee's?

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No.

Aren't Millennials just ruining everything? According to several articles that surfaced in 2017 and set fire to social media, Millennials were to blame for the declining sales and closures of Applebee's locations around the U.S. Soon after, Stephen Joyce, CEO of the casual dining chain, spoke up to put these rumors to rest, stating that Millennials were in fact bringing in some of the most traffic, due to Applebee's ability to adapt to a changing world.

Origin and Prevalence

On June 3, 2017, Kate Taylor of Business Insider published an article titled " Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee's". The article claimed that casual dining restaurants such as Applebee's were suffering from a decline in sales and location closures. According to Business Insider, the Millennial generation was at fault, due to their preference for fast food, delivery, and cooking at home. After the publication of this article, several other news sites ran similar articles that made the same claim, such as Forbes' "5 Industries Millennials Are 'Killing' (And Why)" and NPR's "Applebee's Gives Up On Millennials After Failed Rebranding Efforts". The topic quickly went viral through these and other similar articles being shared on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. The viral nature of this topic can mostly be contributed to the fact that it is a part of the already popular "Millennials are killing X" trend that originated on Twitter in 2016.

Issues and Analysis

According to Danny Klein of FSR Magazine, the CEO of Applebee's, Stephen Joyce, directly said, " I'd like to put to rest false news about the death of casual family dining and the abandonment by millennials of the categories," during conference call on May 2nd. The Applebee's data featured in this article revealed that 26.4 percent of its current traffic is coming from Baby Boomers, 29 percent are millennials, 28.3 percent Gen X, and 15 percent Gen Z. Therefore, it is in fact shown that Millennials are actually the ones that are bringing in the most traffic, rather than Baby Boomers, who were suspected to be the chain's saving grace. Kate Taylor of Business Insider, the originator of the claim, states in a follow-up article that Dine Brands, the owner of Applebee's, also reported a 3.3% increase in sales in the most recent quarter of 2018. In the past six months, it has experienced "its best sustained traffic performance in more than a decade".

However, there does seem to be a struggle as to what millennials want to get out of the restaurant. According to Business Insider, "In an effort to appeal to what executives thought millennials wanted, the chain distanced itself from what Applebee's is actually known for". Joyce revealed in the same article that this was due to a lack of research on what customers across the board wanted, and they have since researched and adopted new tactics, such as "Dollaritas", to remedy the situation.

Joyce also stated that the reason "casual dining" seems to be dying is actually because there are too many restaurants. In an interview with Business Insider responding to the original article, he told Business Insider that all of these "casual dining" chains are "disappearing in a sea of sameness". In order to survive, Joyce believes that they must differentiate themselves from others, like Applebee's has done. His belief seems to be correct, as Applebee's is now on the up-and-up. Unlike what the internet may think, the issue appears far more nuanced: Millennials aren't killing businesses; some businesses are just failing to adapt to a changing consumerist reality. Considering all of this information, the death of "casual dining" does not seem to be a Millennial problem after all.


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The Digital Polarization Initiative is a student-run project which allows university students to investigate questions of truth and authority on the web and publish their results. Learn more, or see our index. Photo credits here. DigiPo members can edit this page.