- Bloomin’ Brands is preparing to open its first standalone drive-thru version of its fast-casual Aussie Grill by Outback in Florida next month, reports Nation’s Restaurant News.
- This will mark the third U.S. store location for the chain but the first to feature a drive-thru and indoor seating — the two other restaurants are located in malls. The brand also operates in Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong.
- Construction has continued despite the ongoing pandemic due to COVID-19.
Launching a new restaurant location in the middle of a global pandemic may seem like a bad idea, but Aussie Grill’s format as a drive-thru and takeaway-enabled location may help it gain momentum despite challenges. With two other locations in Florida that do not have drive-thrus, the brand has likely felt the sting of COVID-19 and social distancing orders. Although the restaurant could continue selling through third-party delivery services, some consumers are looking for ways to cut costs, and the added fees that delivery brings maybe one of the first things they drop.
But even for brands that have drive-thrus, COVID-19 will still take its toll. Diners who are concerned about contracting the virus or facilitating its spread, or people who are high risk or who come into contact with high-risk individuals, may be opting out of any non-essential trips away from the home. Drive-thrus still involve human contact, and several people are likely to be involved in meal preparation. A number of major restaurants have already reported employees testing positive for the virus, including McDonald’s, Burger King and Chick-fil-A.
Another factor in Aussie Grill’s favor is the successful performance of its first U.S. store location, which served as an incubator for the chain's international menu. Due to its popularity, the brand launched a domestic expansion, Bloomin’ Brands said in a December press release. This level of demand bodes well, though it will undoubtedly be diluted by the current economic climate.
Bloomin’ Brands has faced recent struggles, announcing last year that it was exploring strategic alternatives including a sale of the company. The announcement followed pressure from activist investor Jana Partners to sell or break up the company. As of last fall, however, its Outback banner had been in the middle of an expansion plan, however, with 50 new locations planned for the U.S. and plans to grow beyond 100 units in Brazil. This may be put on hold, however, as CEO Dave Deno recently announced the company has halted all non-essential spending.