Born at the tail end of the Gen X generation, country music star Walker Hayes is the kind of American heartthrob that many women and girls might swoon over. (Sorry ladies, he’s been married to his sweetheart for almost two decades). In the music video to his smash hit song “Fancy Like,” he appears confident and down to earth as he croons out the lyrics.
It’s a song about taking his girl on a “fancy date” to Applebee’s, the quintessential “neighborhood” restaurant founded in 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia. Released in 2021, the song became the catalyst for Applebee’s revival as a brand perfect for Millennials and Gen Xers such as Hayes himself.
Following the song’s success (originally posted on Tik Tok, it later became number one on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart and nominated for a Grammy), the franchise took reign by rebranding themselves as a music-oriented chain. “Music is in our DNA…a core component of what we do, how we connect,” said CEO John Cywinski on the Extra Serving podcast. Furthermore, he added, “I believe music is important because it allows us to connect emotionally with America.”
As a fan of Applebee’s, Hayes co-wrote the song as an ode to the simple pleasures of life.” The 42-year-old lives in Nashville with his wife and six children. For many Gen Xers and Millennials living on a budget, Applebee’s serves as a perfect neighborhood joint for its affordability and convenience. A place where, like Hayes says, you can spoil your girl with an “upgrade.”
And that’s exactly what Cywinski is betting on. The average check of an Applebee’s diner is slightly on the lower end of the casual dining spectrum, he said, around $30 for a dine-in meal. The average annual household income for a typical Applebee’s customer is around $75,000. Cywinski stated that while their customer base is “balanced across age, ethnicity and income,” 80% of their guests fall within the Gen X and Millennial generation, with the latter accounting for 34% of business.
In addition to incorporating music, Applebee’s is also planning a future with digital. Cywinski said that he hopes to go all digital, doing away with phone orders, and instead, centralized in a single call center to ensure the most efficiency.
It’s no surprise that the joy of “eatin’ good in the neighborhood” means affordability, convenience, and entertainment, all without ever leaving your car. By focusing on music and entertainment that promotes the simple joys of casual dining, the story of Applebee’s descent into music promotion as part of its culture of affordability is the kind of “reaching for your dream” story that Millennials thrive on. In the meantime, you can put in an order to go, or do curbside pickup.