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Changes on the Horizon for Three Iconic Restaurant Chains

May 27, 2014 By: Jack Robertiello


Red Lobster and TGI Friday’s are two iconic restaurant chains, known worldwide as symbols of American casual dining. For both of them, however, significant change is on the way, as the companies who own each have decided to sell out to private investment firms. And for Taco Bell’s parent Yum, serving beer and beer milkshakes will have to wait.

DardenRed Lobster’s sale is contentious and may be stopped by activist investors who have come out in force against Darden Restaurants’ plan to sell the seafood chain to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital.

The initial plan was to create two independent restaurant companies but after considering a number of options, Darden concluded the $2.1 billion Golden Gate deal would create the most value, the company said in a statement last week.

In addition, after growing Fridays from 12 locations in 1975 to 934 in 2014, owner Carlson Restaurants is parting ways with its restaurant side, selling the well-known brand to a pair of New York-based investment groups for around $800 million.

Carlson RestaurantsThese sales are bellwether moves in the chain restaurant environment. Originally the first mass market singles bar in New York City, Friday’s grew to become a bar and restaurant phenomenon, with the red and white striped color scheme signaling a fun night out. While Friday’s has been making moves to liven up their units recently, it will be under new owners that the retained management team will be asked to speed changes.

The impact on beverage programs is unknown of course, but new owners rarely do nothing after spending so much money for assets. Undoubtedly, both chains will be called upon to make decisions about their entire menu as the American casual diner demographic undergoes revolutionary change.

Yum RestaurantsHow much things are changing can be found in Huntington Beach, Ca, where the first, of what could be hundreds, U.S. Taco Co. & Urban Taprooms opened. While the new Yum Restaurant casual dining concept won’t be able to serve alcohol as originally planned, the world won’t likely have to wait long for the U. S. Taco-promised beer milkshakes and other alcohol-based beverages.

Due to a snag securing a liquor license, this Taco Bell outgrowth will serve soft drinks like Mexican Pepsi in a bottle and Olde Brooklyn soda for its July opening. “We literally sat down and tasted 100-something sodas last week,” Taco Bell’s senior brand manager, Jeff Jenkins, was quoted as saying.

Original plans to recommend taco-beer pairings, such as lobster tacos with blueberry beer from Maine, will have to wait for the first licensed unit. They also plan to serve milkshakes spiked with Guinness stout and tequila.

U.S. Taco now will have a model with or without a bar, and the search is on for more locations, specifically in Southern California. The model that includes a bar is targeted to serve 50 beers with up to six draft selections.


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