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IHOP hopes its latest menu addition will bring customers for lunch and dinner

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN Business

IHOP wants to give you a new reason to get its food on the go and consider it an option for later in the day.

The chain on Monday added a new line of sandwich melts, including a roasted turkey melt, pulled pork melt, buffalo chicken melt and even a cheese melt (made with three cheeses, on cheese-crusted bread, served with a cheesy dipping sauce).

Portability has become increasingly important to IHOP.

Casual dining restaurants — which feature table service — were hit harder than the broader industry in the pandemic, and IHOP is no exception. In fiscal year 2020, sales at IHOP restaurants open at least 18 months fell by about 33% compared to the previous year. Sales have been improving in 2021. IHOP’s same-store soared 120% in the second quarter, compared to the same period in 2020, when dine-in restrictions kicked in. But sales in the second quarter of this year were still about 3% lower than in 2019, before the pandemic.

While sales overall have dipped, delivery and carry-out orders have been growing — and casual dining restaurants have been trying to figure out ways to keep those sales strong. Applebee’s, which like IHOP is owned by Dine Brands, has experimented with online-only brands that sell chicken wings, which travel well. Brinker International, which owns Chili’s, has also launched a virtual wings brand.

At IHOP, “our off-premise sales have nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic,” said Kieran Donahue, chief marketing officer for the brand. “Today, we’re seeing that it’s still 26% of our sales,” she said, adding that because of the pandemic, delivery and to-go have “become a new choice for [IHOP] guests.”

The latest items are also designed to help the brand entice customers to choose IHOP for lunch or dinner. IHOP has long been trying to drum up interest in it’s non-breakfast menu items.

Over the summer, the chain announced that it is adding alcohol to the menu in a handful of locations, with the hopes that eventually more IHOP restaurants will come on board. By adding an alcohol menu, IHOP hopes to attract customers later in the day. And back in 2018, it briefly changed its branding to “IHOb,” a marketing stunt designed to call attention to its burgers.

It’s a tricky time to launch new menu items, with the global supply chain in disarray and staffing shortages hobbling industries across sectors.

Making sure that restaurants get what they need at this time is “not without its challenges,” said Donahue. To add the new menu items without placing additional stress on franchise operators, IHOP is mostly using ingredients for melts that it already has in its distribution centers for its other menu items. The melts are also variations on items that IHOP knows its customers enjoy, like steakhouse burgers and Philly Cheese Steak Stackers, served on grilled rolls.

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