Take 5 with Brian Masilionis

Manager, Beverage & Brand Marketing
Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill

Brian Masilionis of the world’s largest casual dining chain, Applebee’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill©, oversees beverage business strategy, vendor partnerships, and product development, as well as the execution of national and supplemental beverage programs and promotions. in the Mix caught up with Brian, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife, son, and twin daughters, to Take 5 with us.

1. ITM: Brian, thanks for taking some time to talk to in the Mix. Sounds like you are the keeper of the cocktail list at Applebee’s. What do you look for in a good beverage selection?

BM: A good variety of drinks and flavors that appeal to different taste buds…all at good value. It’s always good to see a blend of familiar classic drinks to cover the bases, but also to have a few signature twists and surprises, particularly any that speak to the neighborhood flavor.

2. ITM: You feature a great list of margaritas and it seems your Skinny Bee™ Margarita idea has your competition following your trend. Do you see the category continuing its popularity?

BM: Absolutely. People want it all…they want drinks and food with fewer calories but they don’t want to compromise on flavor. We’ve had Facebook fans talk about how surprised they are that the Skinny Bee is so delicious, despite having fewer than 100 calories. We hear similar stories about our delicious Under 550 Calorie Food Menu items. We’re filling the same need not just with food but also with beverage, using drinks like the Skinny Bee.

3. ITM: If I’m not mistaken, you were also the first national chain on the block to feature sangrias on your menu. Is your clientele embracing these versions of the Spanish wine cocktail?

BM: We were among the first casual dining restaurants to respond to guests’ demand for the popular drink. Applebee’s launched its signature Red Apple Sangria in June 2006, followed by two line extensions – the Kiwi Melon and White Peach. I believe our guests think of sangrias less as a Spanish cocktail and more as just a refreshing and flavorful drink that happens to be made with wine and fresh fruit. Our guests love these drinks. There has been good response to promotion and the sangrias are seen as an excellent value since they are served Mucho-sized at a great price. They’re a wonderful complement to our extensive margarita line-up.

4. ITM: “Your Summer Starts Now” is your new web-driven concept. What are you hoping to get out of this type of promotion?

BM: This promotion was our first-ever national total beverage incentive contest (alcohol and non-alcohol). Our operators are very competitive by nature. So, not surprisingly, posting weekly performance results of all franchise groups and company restaurants on the website really helped spur this competitive flame to drive results across nearly all domestic restaurants.

5. ITM: How has the way you do business and view your competition changed during this challenging economic period?

BM: We’re in a share war now and the competition for every possible guest visit has never been greater. The biggest change recently has been the system-wide embracing of our brand’s heritage, not only as a great restaurant but also as a neighborhood bar. Applebee’s is now providing more great experiences for our guests, in particular after dinner and during late night, while maintaining our focus and strength for dining occasions. Previously, our guests may have been choosing many of our competitors for these bar-driven occasions. But we’ve been doing a great job regaining more of these occasions and having fun with our friends and neighbors in the bar.