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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2004 — November — Restauratour

Selling the Sizzle
Sizzler’s new display kitchen and open layout focus customers’ attention on food.

Take an online tour of Sizzler
Photography by Kingmond Young

Customers visiting the new Sizzler in Antioch, Calif., see a lot more than they’re used to.

Their first view of the restaurant isn’t the long, narrow “chute” prominent in older Sizzlers. Rather, one glance reveals a three-station ordering counter with bright menu boards above it and the chain’s signature salad bar and hot food buffet. Beyond that, a gleaming display kitchen offers the sights and sounds of steaks sizzling on a grill.

Looking left and right, patrons see two large, bright dining rooms separated by the salad bar. A golden hue makes the walls look covered in mild sunshine. Pendant lights above tables and stainless-steel sconces with a double-S logo further lighten the look. Ledge rock lends a rugged edge to several walls, while shelves lined with pottery, jars and kitchen implements make the two dining areas look homey.

The colors, finishes, display kitchen and open feeling create a look that astonishes customers, says Michael C. Branigan, vice president of marketing for Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sizzler, which has 180 franchised and 47 company-owned locations in the United States. “They can’t believe it’s the same Sizzler,” he says.

Antioch, Calif.
Opening Day
April 14, 2004
Louis & Partners, Bath, Ohio
5,200 square feet
Average Check
Average Unit Volume
$3.1 million
Expansion Plans
5 in 2005

The prototype is the result of three years of focus groups spearheaded by Ken Cole, who joined Sizzler as president and CEO three years ago. “This isn’t us walking in and saying we like yellow,” Branigan says.

Wide Open Spaces
It’s a remarkable change from the most recent cosmetic remodel, the hallmark of which was “five shades of forest green,” says Kara Alvey, senior designer at Louis & Partners, the Bath, Ohio-based design firm that assisted Sizzler with the remodel.

The firm created the prototype in stages: first as a remodeling program for franchisees, then as an overhaul of the entire building. During the remodeling phase, the designers opened up the kitchen and widened the ordering chute to improve the flow and function of the space. Alvey upgraded finishes and materials to give the dining room a higher-quality look and added signs and graphics to boost the Sizzler brand.

In the prototype, which opened this spring, the opened-up kitchen became a full-scale display kitchen, designed by Dudley McMahon, Sizzler’s corporate chef. “It became a goal to get credit for the grilling, the aromas of the kitchen, all that activity,” Alvey says.

The prototype also abandons the chute in favor of an open vestibule that gives guests an immediate view of the whole house. “We wanted ‘wow,’” Alvey says. “We wanted customers to see the salad bar and the open kitchen.”

Outside, the double-S logo in neon, twin glass towers and an expanded entryway reinforce the open, airy feeling.

Sizzler chose Antioch for the prototype because the market has traditionally been strong for the chain, according to Branigan. Sizzler initially opened there in 1987, and closed in 2001 due to eminent domain. “People were waiting for us to come back,” he says.

Even in a market rife with competitors such as Applebee’s and Chili’s, weekly sales of $60,000 at the Antioch store “are double expectations,” Branigan says.

Minor Adjustments
To date, about half the restaurants in the Sizzler system have adopted at least some elements of the remodel, which is available to franchisees at three levels: $100,000-plus, which includes the exterior; $75,000 to $100,000 for the ledge rock and other accents; and $20,000 to $25,000 for cosmetic changes such as paint and wallpaper.

The Antioch Sizzler is the chain’s first ground-up store construction in the last five years.

Five stores featuring the total redesign will open next year. The prototype cost $830,000 for construction; the company is trying to shave $100,000 from that figure, says Todd E. Peterson, vice president of franchise business development.

The prototype needs a few adjustments, Branigan says. The canopy over the 90-item salad bar and buffet looks attractive but obscures the view from the vestibule of the open kitchen. “It works in remodels, but in the prototype, it’s overwhelming,” Branigan says.

The company also wants to change some of the flooring. Due to washing, the hardwood floor in the vestibule is buckling, so Sizzler is investigating a synthetic substitute. The carpeting in the dining room, despite twice-monthly steam cleanings, holds stains. For future stores, Sizzler will specify a higher grade of stain-resistant carpeting from the same manufacturer.

Slight adjustments aside, franchisees are responding well to the prototype, Sizzler’s first completely new look since the 1980s, Branigan says. The look is “contemporary and on message,” he says.

Sizzlin’ Onion Stack Steak: 8-ounce steak served on a bed of grilled onions and topped with tumbleweed-onion straws, $9.99
Steak & Shrimp Scampi, served with rice pilaf and cheese toast, $10.99
Hibachi Chicken: boneless breast of fire-grilled chicken seasoned with hibachi sauce, garnished with pineapple and served with fries, $8.99
Fisherman’s Platter: two pieces of breaded cod, six fried shrimp and grilled clam strips served with tartar sauce and fries, $9.99
Endless Salad Bar, $8.49 dinner, $6.49 lunch, $3.99 with any entree

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