Applebee’s president steps down and a new leader is appointed

Applebee’s, which struggled over the past year to boost sales in the hotly competitive casual dining market, has a new president.

DineEquity Inc., the parent company of Kansas City-based Applebee’s, announced that Michael Archer has stepped down and has been replaced by Steven Layt, previously Applebee’s senior vice president of operations.

The leadership change took effect Tuesday, DineEquity said.

DineEquity, based in Glendale, Calif., said only that Archer left the company to pursue other interests. Archer joined Applebee’s as president in 2008.

Layt has been with Applebee’s since January 2012. He previously was chief operating officer at Buffets Inc. and before that held senior management positions at Yum Brands Inc.

“Steve is an outstanding leader,” Julia Stewart, chairman and chief executive at DineEquity, said in a statement. “He is well respected by Applebee’s franchisees, is a true innovator and a team player.”

Layt was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The management move came as Applebee’s reported a 0.7 percent decline in fourth-quarter same-restaurant sales compared with the same period in 2012. Same-restaurant sales, for locations open at least a year, are considered a key performance and growth measure for the industry. For the year, Applebee’s same-restaurant sales dipped 0.3 percent from 2012.

“Applebee’s continued to outperform its category, but we know that we can do better,” Stewart said Wednesday in a separate announcement of DineEquity’s fiscal year 2013 financial results.

Stewart told Nation’s Restaurant News that bad winter weather was a factor for Applebee’s sales numbers in the fourth quarter. But she also told the trade publication that “more needs to be done to drive consistent and sustainable positive same-store sales and traffic.”

She noted that to boost traffic Applebee’s has enhanced its menu with healthier options, has a new kid’s menu and has revamped its bar program. The restaurant also said late last year that it was rolling out tabletop tablet technology at all restaurants nationally so customers could more conveniently order and pay.

Applebee’s same-restaurant sales are expected to range between “negative 2 percent and positive 1 percent” in 2014, DineEquity said in its earnings announcement.

Applebee’s had 1,988 franchise restaurants and 23 company-owned locations at the end of last year.

DineEquity also operates IHOP, which reported a 4.5 percent increase in same-restaurant sales during the fourth quarter and a 2.4 percent increase for the year.

DineEquity reported net income of $18.1 million in the fourth quarter, down from $18.8 million in the same period in 2012.