Del Frisco’s Grille

Sister brand of high-end steakhouse taps into growing polished-casual market

Del Frisco’s Grille is operating in a sweet spot in the U.S. economy, appealing to disposable-income-rich, affluent diners, as well as aspirational consumers looking for a more upscale experience.

Capitalizing on the prestigious name of its much pricier sister concept, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, this smaller, polished-casual chain booked $44.1 million in sales at its 11 units open at the end of December 2013, an 83.8-percent jump from the year earlier, when it had five units. Del Frisco’s Grille has opened two more locations so far in 2014, in Burlington, Mass., and Irvine, Calif.

The brand is a bar-centric concept, offering craft cocktails and bar snacks such as cheesesteak egg rolls and ahi tuna tacos, as well as burgers and flatbreads, along with USDA Prime steaks with the usual sides. Mark Mednansky, chief executive of Grille parent company Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc., said the Grille locations in suburban locations handle robust brunch business, too.

“The concept really has proven to have legs in many different cross-sections of the country when it comes to real estate,” he said. He noted that, while Del Frisco’s Grille was planned for urban locations as places where people who entertained corporate clients at the steakhouse could go on their own dime, he has found that it resonates with upscale guests everywhere. In addition, consumers with less of an upscale flair may go to the Grille as a special occasion.

Keys to success:

Multiple dayparts: The brand appeals to consumers throughout the day, as guests frequent the restaurants for brunch, lunch, cocktails, dinner or late-night. “If you just come in for a cocktail, we’re thrilled to death,” Mednansky said.

Local feel: Different designers are used for almost each restaurant to make sure the ambiance appeals to the local community and consumers. Additionally, about 20 percent of the menu is left to local management’s discretion so they may use purveyors in the area or offer dishes they know appeal to locals. Craft beer and local wines are offered, and the wine list is largely left to local management’s discretion.

Great real estate: As part of the larger parent, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, the Grille brand has the clout and resources to locate and hold on to great locations, including the chain’s flagship restaurant at Rockefeller Center in New York, as well as a location in Santa Monica, Calif., across from the well-known and often-visited pier.

Strong corporate culture: “We empower our general managers to run the business the right way,” Mednansky said. “They’re responsible for every aspect,” he added.

Staff is also retained with benefits including free health insurance — not only for managers but also for hourly workers who work more than 25 hours per week. Hourly employees pay for part of their insurance until they’ve been with the company for two years, when Del Frisco’s picks up the full cost. Del Frisco’s also offers 50-percent matching funds for 401(k) retirement accounts for employees who have been with the company for a year or more.

“The happier our employees are, the happier our guests are,” Mednansky said.

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