08/30/2012 01:54 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2012

Club Applebee's: Chain Courts Party Crowd With 'Bee's Late Night'

For the past couple of years Applebee's has been trying to broaden its appeal by experimenting with "Club Applebee's" in a handful of locations. Their latest move suggests that this club-ified, late-night version of the chain might be the future of the company: Applebee's is taking the model national, calling it "bee's Late Night."

The after-hours makeover will involve late hours -- locations will be open until 2 a.m. -- and will feature cocktails, strobe lights and other elements established by the already popular Club Applebee's.

Ad Age reported earlier this month that the re-imagined eateries offer half-price appetizers and drink specials against a backdrop of dance music or karaoke. Several have theme nights like trivia night, '80s night and even a luau. Before the national rollout, about 100 locations called themselves Club Applebee's with roughly half of them in central Florida.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently ventured into one such location in the St. Louis, Missouri suburb of St. Charles, offering an on-the-ground view of the business model. One teenager, after taking in the karaoke scene, proclaimed it "actually kind of fun,” adding, “I mean, there’s not much else to do around here. It’s the suburbs.”

BusinessWeek also spoke with Applebee's senior vice president Becky Johnson, who explained that bee’s Late Night was inspired by a slang term for McDonald's, "Mickey D's":

“That was a street slang term, people playing with the name. We found out that ‘the bee’s’ is how the kids are describing Applebee’s.” By “kids,” she means twenty- and thirtysomething singles who may eat at Applebee’s with co-workers or family members, but who generally go elsewhere—like, to an actual bar—at night and on the weekends. “The bee’s is an overt invitation to them,” says Johnson. “We want them back.”

Before the late night re-branding, most of Applebee's 1,870 locations in the U.S. closed at 10 p.m. BusinessWeek notes that Chili's and Ruby Tuesdays close at about that time as well, but TGI Friday's usually stay open later.



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