Tilted Kilt CEO had us at ‘bacon bar’
The Tilted Kilt’s servers’ skimpy uniforms will not change, but the rest of the interior design is undergoing a remodel.
Tilted Kilt’s CEO Ron Lynch is rolling out a new prototype for the Celtic-themed sports bar and grill, where the servers are known for their skimpy kilts. It will be lighter and brighter, with less kitschy Old World stuff hanging around. It will re-introduce games, the old-fashioned kind like pool tables, shuffleboards and dartboards. It will have a new lunch menu, with healthier options and smaller portions.
Oh, and it will have a bacon bar for happy hour, thick-cut with unique flavors. “There’s a neon light back there, and whenever the neon is lit, the bacon bar is open. You can buy it by the slice, like for a dollar fifty,” Lynch said toward the end of a lengthy phone interview.
In my business, we call that burying the lead.
CEO Lynch saw the bacon bar when he was in California, at a hole-in-the-wall place. “It was brand new for them. They were screwing everybody’s order up,” Lynch said, but he immediately knew he wanted it for his new Tilted Kilt prototype. “We’re going to roll it into the new prototype and see how it goes. All I know is, when I saw it I thought I have to go in there and have some bacon.”
Lynch needs some positive buzz for his Arizona-based brand, which he started 11 years ago. The full-service format did well for the first several years, and then after 2008, “everything went in the dumper,” both in Tilted Kilt itself and across the industry segment.
Average unit volumes are down to around $40,000 a week, compared with $43,000 to $44,000 a couple of years ago. “We’re kind of suffering a little bit of what is happening in full-service dining. We’re down like 4 percent in the last two years, which is kind of what the sector is doing,” he says. And then there are the upstarts biting everybody. “The fast-casual guys are beating us a little bit.”
Tilted Kilt has about 100 units, and Lynch plans to end the year with 110. “After eight, nine years of positive sales growth and all of a sudden you have two years that are down, you go—whoa. It’s a wakeup call,” Lynch says. He will not make the new design mandatory until everything tests out at the 11,000-square-foot corporate-owned prototype, in Tempe, Arizona.
Less kitsch, more light and a return to games are part of Tilted Kilt’s new prototype.
Tilted Kilt started with a strong gaming element, but drifted away from it. “Over the years, when we got busy they’d cover the pool table and add extra seating and then take it out, thinking that a four-top would generate more revenue,” he says. “But they add atmosphere to it, they add fun, and when you take them out you lose that.”
It surprised him a bit, that customers wanted the old-school games rather than new-school video. “Our average age is 37, which is not particularly young,” and they liked the look and feel of a pool table rather than a “loud, garish video game. Our clientele seemed to gravitate back to the older thing.”
Reactions to the sales declines at Tilted Kilt have ranged widely. “We got the whole gamut. We’ve got some who are angry and want to blame somebody, and we have others that are looking introspectively and wonder if it’s something” they are doing, Lynch says. “Probably I would say a quarter of the system is even or up, so we’re not down uniformly across the board.”
Tilted Kilt is also in a bitter dispute with an area developer group in the Chicago area, brothers Robert, Emil, Anthony and Peter Baroud, who is seeking to throw the brand into court-ordered receivership to take over the entire system.
“I will say his lawsuit is retaliatory against us for taking action against him,” Lynch says. “You never, ever want to go there but sometimes it’s necessary to protect the brand.”
One thing that won’t change is that skimpy uniform, which draws regular criticism but Lynch brushes it off. “That’s our differentiator. Our costume, when you put it on the grand scale of costumes out there, you can see more flesh on the Victoria Secret commercial on TV or gong to the beach.”
And if people talk, whether about bareness or bacon, he doesn’t mind. “It will get people talking about Tilted Kilt. Sometimes even when it’s bad, it usually means it’s good because you’re top of mind. And top of mind means sales,” Lynch said.