March 27, 2008
Party's Over at Macaroni Grill

The Sacramento branch of Romano's Macaroni Grill has closed, and officials of Brinker International in Dallas, which owns the chain, are mum on the matter other than to indicate that the restaurant wasn't performing up to expectations.

Coincidentally, however, officials of Technomic Inc. in Chicago, which tracks and consults for the foodservice trade, have released the results of a consumer survey that could provide insight into Macaroni Grill's troubles.

Several casual-dining restaurant chains are facing "subtle and complex challenges that extend beyond the current economic climate," the survey found.

For one, chain restaurants look to be victims of their own success, having grown so fast in response to a perceived eagerness among Americans to eat out more and more often. "Many chains have overbuilt units, with expansion rates averaging five percent over the past four years even as sales growth was slowing," says Technomic president Ron Paul in interpreting the results of the survey.

"On top of that, many consumers tell us that traditional casual dining chains lack differentiation, that 'they all look alike,'" adds Paul.

On the other hand, more than a third of the consumers participating in the survey said they are turning to independent and fast-foot restaurants as a substitute for the casual chain restaurants they previously patronized.

Though other Romano's Macaroni Grills about the country also have closed, Maureen Locus, a spokeswoman for Brinker International, said the Folsom and Roseville branches of the restaurant are to remain open, at least for the near future. The Sacramento unit has been at 2001 Alta Arden Expressway.

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