As a casual dining chain, Applebee’s belongs to the broad landscape of full-service restaurants (FSRs). These types of sit-down establishments offer table service and wait staff and can encompass anything from family-style eateries to Michelin-starred restaurants. In the United States, full-service restaurants generated sales of over 297 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, mainly attributable to the growing number of franchised branches. That year, an estimated 33,160 franchised full-service restaurants operated across the country and employed over 1.11 billion workers nationwide.
Applebee’s is owned and operated by Dine Brands Global Inc., one of the world’s largest full-service dining companies. The California-based powerhouse, previously known as DineEquity, franchises both Applebee’s and its sister brand International House of Pancakes (IHOP). In 2019, Dine Brands reported total assets of 2.05 billion U.S. dollars and an annual net income of 104.3 million U.S. dollars. While the company managed to boost its global revenue figures in 2019 after several years of decline, it could not match the revenue that was generated a decade earlier, when Applebee’s first merged with IHOP. According to Dine Brands’ annual reports, Applebee’s franchise restaurants generated sales of 3.95 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, down from 4.2 billion the year prior.
With overall sales figures declining, many of Applebee’s branches were forced to shut down in recent years. In 2019, a total of 1,787 Applebee’s restaurants operated worldwide, a net reduction of 50 units compared to the previous year. The franchise reported closures across most of its international locations in 2019, the most drastic cut being witnessed in Mexico, one of Applebee’s key target markets outside of the U.S. Back home restaurant numbers reached 1,665 units in 2019, marking the fifth consecutive year of nationwide closures.
To appeal to younger audiences and take advantage of their purchasing power, Applebee’s introduced technological features like server tablets, tableside payments, and Wi-Fi across most locations. The company also implemented online ordering and delivery services. As a result, Applebee’s was able to respond to the early stages of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the U.S., by boosting its curbside pickup and other off-premise sales while most of its dining rooms remained closed.