consumer-news

Applebee's: Your friendly neighborhood disco?

Sep. 21, 2012 at 10:29 AM ET

The hottest club in many suburban towns across America will soon be a Club Applebee's. That's right, starting at 10 p.m., the family-oriented casual dining chain will turn down the lights, pump up the bass, and clear away the cocktail tables to open up the dance floor. 

This is seriously a real thing that is really happening. 

Indeed, “Club Bee's” will have live DJ's, ladies' nights, karaoke, luau, food and drink specials, and all the “Call Me Maybe” covers you can shake a buffalo wing at.

At some of the franchises in Florida, where the concept first started when some franchise owners noticed a younger crowd hanging out towards the end of the night and downing drinks, even have “white” parties. The restaurant hangs white sheets everywhere and patrons are encouraged to sport white colored clothing. Employees then turn on the blacklights to give every surface an ultraviolet glow. 

“This is a pretty good vibe, I'm not gonna lie,” one happy Club Applebee's customer told TODAY reporters when they went to check out the scene. 

“We've come here after ten on Wednesday's for Girl's Night, it's pretty good, I must say I enjoy it,” Analia Fernandez, who normally dines at the chain during the day with her 10-year-old brother, told TODAY's Janet Shamlian. 

“I would definitely come back, this is my second Thursday in a row,” said another. 

What's next? Raves at Dairy Queen? 

The chain hasn't released figures but says so far it's making money. Boozy beverages are the most profitable items on the menu. In a down economy, businesses have to get creative to raise revenue, and regular folks are looking to get down and forget their troubles on the cheap. But how will the raucous vibe play against Applebee's traditional family-friendly and work casual atmosphere?

The chain of some 2,000 franchise locations isn't worried. "Families are a huge part of the business, even for the franchisees that have a strong bar business," Brian Masilionis, senior manager-beverage at Applebee's, told Advertising Age. "Staying open later allows us to have more fun things later at night when kids are in bed. Historically, we may have had more confusion with guests when we closed earlier." 

It's true. When I went to a conference this summer and got back the hotel on the highway strip at a 9:30 p.m., I scratched my head why I couldn't get some food at either the Applebee's or the other restaurants on either side of where I was staying. 

Still, it sounds like an Onion headline. So much so that last year the satirical publication ran a fake news segment on how the chain was trying to drum up business by encouraging hipsters to visit the chain “ironically.” 

The tagline in the fake ad was “Wouldn't it be funny to go to Applebee's?” But judging by the footage and testimonials, the late-night revelers are saying to each other, “Wouldn't it be fun?” 

So while at first blush it all sounds pretty ridiculous, in the suburban towns where Applebee's are frequently found, nightlife options are not. 

“I could see this being hip in some of the burbs by me. I live 20 miles away from downtown and there are no night clubs nearby,” one online commenter wrote . “Plenty of Applebee's, though.”

TOP