Things aren't looking good for the so-called "casual dining" industry, which refers to such eateries as T.G.I. Friday's, Ruby Tuesday, Chili's, Bennigan's and the lot. Reports today's USA Today, the chains are resorting to offering deep discounts and cheap combos -- a fairly uncommon practice during the eat-out holiday season. Says Clay Dover, chief concept officer at Plano-based Metromedia Restaurant Group, "It's like a perfect storm hitting casual dining right now." There are any numbers of reasons for the dip, among them everything from real estate and construction prices to the fact folks just don't wanna spend a lot of money at a Bennigan's.
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MRG's the parent company of such chains as Bennigan's and Steak & Ale, and it's been planning for this downturn for some time. According to USA Today, the company's about to debut in Dallas a prototype eatery called Bennigan's Quick Grill -- "with food ordered at a counter and no waiters." Turns out, the company announced the new restaurant in August in Fast Casual, where Dover said the eatery will be relatively small for a Bennigan's (2,600 square feet) and relatively inexpensive (you should be in and out for between $10 to $12). “I’m a big fast casual fan," Dover told the trade site. "I think casual dining still has its place, but I believe we need to be able to adapt.” No word on how they're revamping Chotchkie's. --Robert Wilonsky