P.F. Chang's Eats Recessions For Lunch

It’s easy to dismiss P.F. Chang’s as the Applebee’s of Chinese food, but judging from the way the chain is handling itself during the recession, there’s more fresh, original thinking behind the scenes than the somewhat bland menu would indicate.

In its newly redesigned, white space-heavy pages, Newsweek reports that P.F. Chang’s is thriving when many restaurants are diving. While many have shuttered locations, P.F. Chang’s plans on opening eight more in 2009.

P.F. Chang’s rode the trading-up boom of this past decade, opening stores in tony malls and economic hot zones and becoming the first Chinese-food chain to reach $1 billion in revenue. But the days when you could simply open the doors and welcome consumers armed with credit cards and cash from mortgage refinancings are over.

In this downturn, the company has avoided wholesale restructuring and panicked discounting. For many restaurants, Chinese and otherwise, 2009 is the Year of the Closing. But no P.F. Chang’s bistros have shuttered. Rather, it simply has worked hard at doing a better job running things. Co-CEO Rick Federico says that in early 2008, when traffic first softened, management went through “all elements of our business that don’t touch our guests or our product” in a search for efficiencies. P.F. Chang’s cross-trained prep cooks and line cooks, so the folks who dice chicken and vegetables can fry them up in woks, too. It also hired an expert to develop a new scheduling tool to better manage staffing.

The article goes on to say that P.F. Chang’s introduced some well-timed discount meals last year, including lunch specials and a giant-sized dinner for two for under $40. It’s a business model competitors may find as tantalizing as a lettuce wrap.

By the way, P.F. Chang’s offshoot Pei Wei offers comparable food for lower prices.

P.F. Chang’s Simple Recipe for Profits [Newsweek]

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