Applebee’s operator says sales are soaring as pandemic eases

Leslie Patton

Sales are spiking at Applebee’s, according to the chain’s largest franchisee, hinting at a possible rebound for beleaguered sit-down restaurants as the pandemic starts to subside.

Flynn Restaurant Group, which operates 444 Applebee’s locations, said the casual-dining chain is doing the best of any of its brands, which also include outposts of Taco Bell, Arby’s and Panera Bread. Greg Flynn, the company’s founder and chief executive officer, attributed the gains to “an incredible bump from stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment and tax rebates.”

Applebee's carside specialist Samantha Pickering, 20, delivers food to diners at their vehicle parked in specially designated spots at the restaurant in Madison Heights, Michigan on June 14, 2006.

“I’m seeing some of the strongest sales I’ve ever seen in my career,” he said in an interview about Applebee’s performance. “People are finally getting vaccinated, spring is here. There’s a light at the end of a tunnel. The rules are all relaxing. People are getting out and they have money in their pockets.”

Dining chains geared toward in-restaurant eating have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which drove people to takeout and delivery options, or simply to cook more at home. Investors have been watching to see which sit-down restaurants will survive until the economy opens up again, which has started to happen as vaccinations increase across the U.S.

Flynn Restaurant Group, which operates 2,355 restaurant locations, recently bought hundreds of Pizza Hut restaurants and nearly 200 Wendy’s from NPC International Inc. Applebee’s is owned by Dine Brands Global Inc.

Of Flynn’s Applebee’s locations, most are open for dine-in at limited capacity while a few in California aren’t yet letting customers eat inside. Takeout and delivery sales are still above pre-Covid levels, and there’s also less competition – both of which are helping results, the CEO said.

“It’s the perfect storm of supply and demand,” Flynn said. “It’s pent-up demand. On the supply side, it’s very sad that a lot of restaurants didn’t make it through.”