Innovating in a pandemic: Aussie Grill builds with off-premises in mind
Aussie Grill, part of the Bloomin’ Brands Inc. family of restaurants (Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar), operates six restaurants in Florida. The latest store, a free-standing unit with counter service inside and a drive-thru, opened during COVID-19.
For Bloomin' Brands, which operates more than 1,450 restaurants worldwide, Aussie Grill is the company’s first fast-casual restaurant, according to concept president, Suk Singh. Aussie Grill is designed to produce made-to-order meals in just four minutes, allowing guests to enjoy casual-dining caliber food with a fast service experience.
Were the concept’s development plans affected by COVID-19?
We faced a decision: open during the pandemic or wait to see what happened. We decided to move forward with the May 2020 opening, about a month later than originally planned, and with a 25% capacity limit in our dining room. The drive-thru was a popular option because many guests were still hesitant to dine in. The drive-thru has continued to have a big impact—currently 50% to 60% of customers prefer our drive-thru service.
Takeout and drive thru will be a big part of our business moving forward and we’re designing future restaurants to optimize this experience for guests. Technology will also be important to ensure order accuracy and speed of service and to make ordering and pickup procedures really convenient.
How has the pandemic affected Aussie Grill’s menu options? Were there any new menu items created to meet stay-at-home needs?
Our menu is compact with 23 items across categories of handhelds, large platters, salads, sides and snacks, and desserts. We found that we didn’t have to change or adapt any of the menu items because they were perfect for eating on site or at home. We did alter our packaging to ensure that the food maintains temperature and integrity in transit.
How has Aussie Grill connected with its customers during the pandemic?
We made sure to personalize the order experience by training team members to walk guests through menu offerings over headsets at the drive-thru, or in person (at a safe distance) as they entered the dining room to order. Guests could access our menu on their phone through a QR code, which also connected them to our ordering platforms.
For marketing efforts, we connected with our neighbors in the community through localized social media posts and through special events. One of our more successful was a “drive-in” movie night at Aussie Grill where we showed a family friendly movie outdoors on a big screen. It was a free event around Halloween, so we also gave out popcorn and candy for the kids. The event had a good turnout and it generated a lot of buzz. We have received comments from guests thanking us for bringing some normalcy back to the community.