New Uses

Consumers are changing the way they use restaurants and a night out does not always mean a typical full-service, casual dining experience anymore. P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. is responding to the new way restaurants are being used not only with its menu, but also with the look of its restaurants. 

“We are the evening out versus part of the evening out,” CEO Rick Federico tells Food & Drink International. “Guests can order a couple small plates and a glass of wine and maybe sit at the counter, community tables or in the dining room. A lot of work and focus has gone into crafting our menus to give guests other opportunities to use the restaurant other than for just full-service, casual dining.”

P.F. Chang’s has spent the past year looking at its core menu and developing the types of dishes its guests want. “We will start to offer things we haven’t been able to in the past,” Federico notes. “We have added equipment that allows us to do different things with the menu and be more aggressive on the creative side.” 

Innovative Dishes

For the past 15 years, P.F. Chang’s was exclusively a Chinese restaurant, but it now offers a broader array of Asian cuisine that can be seen on its new menu.  A new menu launched in March that expanded its small plate dishes, featuring a Korean jicama pork taco dish, and its sushi bar with new menu items like the lobster avocado roll. “More variety and smaller plates so the customer can try more things is an incredibly popular way in how the consumer is using restaurants,” Federico notes. 

Along with the small plates and sushi, new entrées have been added and a new happy hour platform features trendy cocktails, more tap beers and more local craft beers. In the middle of this year, P.F. Chang’s will introduce new salad choices and a new lunch platform that promotes the flame-grilled bento boxes. The box offers lunch appropriate portions and is similar to the small plate concept, allowing customers to try new flavors while getting in and out within 45 minutes. In fourth-quarter 2015, P.F. Chang’s plans to add a couple different platforms, but knows for sure at this point it will create a better-for-you category. 

Although its core menu was a major focus, P.F. Chang’s also updated its gluten-free menu to offer its guests with dietary restrictions more flexibility and variety. “If we are going to be perceived as being on the front-end of this dietary requirement, we need to have a level of ongoing innovation that takes into account what that guest is looking for,” Federico says. “We want to give those guests a unique experience within their dietary requirements that we would give any other guest.”

The company launched a gluten-free menu more than a decade ago – before there were many options for people with celiac disease or people began adopting it as their diet. “We took an approach back then to jump in with both feet,” Federico notes. “We have a very robust gluten-free menu and modified some of the recipes of our most popular items.”

For years, its marinade process precluded the company from including items such as beef to its gluten-free menu. Through new partnerships, P.F. Chang’s was able to develop a gluten-free marinade and now offers Mongolian Beef and other proteins from its main menu. “Because of the popularity of the gluten-free menu, we will start to develop unique items only that can be found only on our menu and give guests a voice in menu development,” Federico says. 

Welcoming Environment

P.F. Chang’s restaurants are adorned with rich colors and textures of wood and stone complemented by distinct metal accents. A mural depicting ancient China is visible from the main dining room while several terra-cotta warriors stand guard.

To fully adapt to how consumers are using restaurants today, P.F. Chang’s is remodeling its restaurant interiors to be more accommodating. The company will remodel 20 locations this year and has three different design approaches it is now testing to determine which one will become the standard design. “Community tables have become very popular, as well as lighter colors and we are removing the blinds from the windows,” Federico says. “Consumers are telling us what they love and it’s an opportunity to evolve the business.”

At the minimum, each restaurant’s color palette on the walls and booth fabric will change and the company also will select new tables and fixtures. In terms of completely redesigning the physical layout of its restaurants, P.F. Chang’s is waiting to see which layout its consumers respond to more. “Now it’s a process of evaluating the size of the investment to the prize,” Federico explains. “We are not sure how much of a physical remodel we will do because that’s much more invasive. We are waiting to see whether those decisions will have a meaningful impact.” 


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