America's favorite restaurant chain didn't earn its throne by resting on its laurels. In the restaurant business, an infamously fickle industry that ebbs and flows—and lives and dies—by trends, it's pivotal that brands evolve and change in order to not only survive, but thrive. Such is the case with Texas Roadhouse, a company that's emerged as the de facto steakhouse of its era, and the fastest-growing chain in the country. But it didn't become the biggest steakhouse chain overnight, and it wasn't without hefty changes.
If there's any lesson that Texas Roadhouse has taught us, it's that complacency equals stagnancy, which in some cases can lead to restaurants fully falling out of favor. Change is key to sustained success, as Texas Roadhouse has so dexterously proven time and again, and this year's chain-wide updates have helped solidify its status atop the steakhouse totem pole.
From savvy tech enhancements and necessary price hikes to focus on expansion, these are six major changes that Texas Roadhouse introduced in 2023.
One inevitability of being in the hospitality business is that prices will rise. It's a ripple-effect certainty that starts at the source, and reverberates down the supply chain and into kitchens and dining rooms. Perhaps more so than any other time in recent memory, restaurants—chains and independents alike—were rocked with supply chain issues and price hikes this year, leading businesses to react accordingly. For some, it was a death knell. For Texas Roadhouse, it was the theme of 2023.
The most visible change at Texas Roadhouse this year, as any regular can attest, was the higher price tag. Things started changing earlier this year, and they went up yet again in October. The reason? The costs of beef and labor skyrocketed, which led to a 2.2% increase on the menu in the spring, followed by another 2.7% uptick this fall. Considering the declining cattle production and the fact that Texas Roadhouse is first and foremost a steakhouse, this meant an unavoidable rise in prices on the most notable menu items. However, customers apparently aren't scoffing too much, because Texas Roadhouse is on track for a banner year—reporting $3.4 billion in revenues before the end of the year already.
A Burgeoning Burger Business
Diners come to Texas Roadhouse for beef, but not necessarily for burgers. If the brand's plans for its spin-off chain are any indication, though, that's all about to change. While most of Texas Roadhouse's over 700 locations are steakhouses, the company's burger-centric spin-off, Bubba's 33, is now on the rise.
The sports-themed entity first emerged in 2013, but it's been flying under the radar ever since. Craft burgers take top billing on its comfort food menu of pizzas, sandwiches, and wings. Earlier this year, there were 40 locations across the country, but looking to the future, the company wants to grow that exponentially.
In an earnings call this past spring, Texas Roadhouse CEO Jerry Morgan emphasized expansion goals not just for the bread-and-butter brand, but for Bubba's 33 as well, which saw an 8.7% revenue increase for same-store sales in the first quarter of 2023. "We are all in on Bubba's," said Morgan, illustrating a commitment to the concept, and a goal going forward. "We have got great food there. We have got a great energy and environment and ambiance that really does fit with what we are trying to accomplish."
In July, head of investor relations, Michael Bailen, echoed sentiments for expansion: "In the next couple of years, we want to be in that five to seven Bubba's openings with a maybe next goal after that getting closer to 10 openings." One thing is for sure, both for Texas Roadhouse and its burger-loving sister concept: the future looks beefy and bright.
While restaurants have always had to adapt to advancements in technology, this is a facet of hospitality that really came into focus during the pandemic, as companies needed to pivot, implement, and evolve in order to retain customers and stay profitable. The lingering effects, even in a post-pandemic world, have led to continued upgrades in technology in the dining space, as evidenced by Texas Roadhouse's launch of Roadhouse Pay in 2022. The service was all about streamlining and convenience, allowing customers to pay their bill at their table using a tablet.
Considered a key to the chain's success, an earnings call earlier this year indicated that executives view Roadhouse Pay—and likeminded tech strategies—as a driving force of the company's expansion. After starting out smaller, testing it as a payment option to streamline service and help turn over tables more quickly, Roadhouse Pay became available company-wide in 2023. It expedited the payment process, while also allowing Texas Roadhouse to more seamlessly promote its loyalty program.
On the call, CEO Jerry Morgan cited positive customer feedback as part of its focus on technology. "On Roadhouse Pay…we have gotten great feedback not only from the guests but from our operators, so we absolutely believe that guests that want to get in and out have the ability to execute that on their own," he said. "Roadhouse Pay is definitely another enhancement to the service level and maybe even a little bit of the speeding of a table turn."
The most visible change for Texas Roadhouse this year was just how many more of them there are now. In January, the company opened its 700th location in El Paso, Texas. And the fast-growing brand showed no signs of slowing, setting ambitious expansion goals—and then easily exceeding them. Although the chain has typically been anchored in suburban communities, a goal for this year was to widen its presence in more urban areas. The company expected to open at least 27 new locations by year's end, according to its most recent update, with an eventual goal of 900 across the globe.
This includes the company's largest location yet, fittingly in the Texas city of Lubbock. During the chain's 2022 Annual Report, CEO Jerry Morgan also noted plans to open several new locations in international markets, building off the 38 outposts the company already has in countries like Mexico and South Korea.
If you're a die-hard fan of the chain, you can now show-off your brand loyalty in many different ways, like putting a Texas Roadhouse collar on your pet. That's thanks to the company's ever-growing line of merchandise, which became a huge focus this year, and saw the launch of an online store. As is the case with many brands, from Disney movies to Taylor Swift concert swag, Texas Roadhouse recognized the profitability of turning its own intellectual property into a new revenue stream. So, the chains's famous dinner rolls are now Christmas ornaments, and the accompanying honey-cinnamon butter is now a wax melt. Candles come scented with saddles and Texas sky, while socks, bandanas, and hats allow loyal fans to dress themselves up as walking billboards.
Those famous rolls, which give steak a run for its money on the menu, underwent another big leap this year. Parade reports that Texas Roadhouse nearly broke the internet when loyalists discovered a frozen roll hack. For the first time, diners were able to pick up boxes of frozen rolls from restaurants and bring them home—just in time to show off for Thanksgiving.
Although the chain doesn't normally offer frozen rolls to-go, and this appears to be a one-time thing that savvy social media users were able to finagle, it's a marked change that sparked excitement, signaled new experimentation for an increasingly beloved brand, and got fans dreaming of more frozen to-go orders in the future. It's not yet known if Texas Roadhouse will offer a similar offer in the future, but if there's one thing this wildly successful company has proven, it's an impressive capacity for change.