Applebee’s: Making the Menu

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

August 17, 2004

It used to be that dining out on a diet required planning ahead and a healthy dose of willpower. But that was before Applebee’s and Weight Watchers joined forces. The result? An array of satisfying meal choices that are as healthy as they are delicious.

The new Weight Watchers menu at Applebee’s is proving to be one tasty dish, or ten to be exact. How does a Tortilla Chicken Melt sound? Or Grilled Tilapia with Mango Salsa? Dessert, anyone? Yes, they’ve got that too... and the POINTS® values, as well as calories, fat and fiber figures for each item are right on the menu, so you can truly have your cake and account for it too.

But what’s the real story behind the new menu? To get the scoop, we went directly to the source, Jim Doak, Executive Director of Menu Development and Innovation for Applebee’s International. How did the idea of adding Weight Watchers choices with POINTS values to Applebee’s menus first come about?

JD: It’s not often that a casual dinner conversation between an HR exec and his sibling turns into a massive business partnership, but that’s exactly what happened at Applebee’s. When Chief People Officer Lou Kaucic’s twin sister was visiting from out of town, she joined him for dinner at one of our Kansas City-area Applebee’s and commented how "fabulous" it would be if a restaurant would offer healthy meal options and include the calories, fat and fiber information for them right on the menu. “Make it easy and simple for someone watching his or her weight to dine out,” she said. Were there a few “test” markets where items were added to menus? Or did you hire “food taste-testers”?

JD: After conducting focus groups, we test launched our Weight Watchers menu in five markets (70 restaurants) in November 2003: Birmingham, Alabama; Buffalo, New York, the Kansas City metro area; Portland, Oregon and Providence, Rhode Island. Each of the five markets tested 11 of 18 potential items on the menu. How was the number narrowed down to the 10 items now featured?

JD: After months of extensive testing in those five markets, we selected the best-of-the-best items in terms of guest popularity for our national menu launch. And on May 17 of this year, Applebee’s introduced its new Weight Watchers menu in all of its 1,600 restaurants nationwide. Can diners rest easy that the POINTS values on the menu are correct?

JD: We knew that people on Weight Watchers would be counting on us to deliver accurate POINTS values, so we put an incredible focus on proper execution in the kitchen. We’ve taken a number of extraordinary steps in both the prep and cooking processes to ensure we live up to the trust our guests have in us. Will this menu ever change?

JD: This is a permanent menu, although we will likely change a few Weight Watchers items a couple of times a year to keep the menu new and exciting for our guests.

WW: What was the “top” choice for the new menu?

JD: Several of the items were huge hits with our guests from the very beginning, including the Teriyaki Shrimp Skewers, the Sizzling Chicken Skillet and both of the desserts, Berry Lemon Cheesecake and Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake. What were the goals in developing this menu?

JD: Three out of four Americans are concerned about eating right, so we know we are addressing a real need for healthier menu options. One of the surprises we learned from our test was that non-Weight Watchers guests love the new menu items as much as guests following Weight Watchers do. At Applebee’s, we know that taste rules. That’s why when we developed our new Weight Watchers menu, the most important thing was that the items had to taste great. And they do.

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