Since so much of the food served at Outback Steakhouse is not very different than most other steakhouse chains, you may feel justified in questioning if the restaurant really has anything to do with Australia. Is Outback a transplanted Australian chain that hit it big in America?
The answer is no, not at all. A typical Outback Steakhouse may have boomerangs and kangaroos on the walls, and its appetizers may be called “Aussie-Tizers,” but it has nothing to do with Australia. Just because the menu names are “Australia-themed” don’t think they are exotic Australian fare.
Outback Steakhouse was started in Florida in 1987 by three very experienced restauranteurs named Robert Basham, Timothy Gannon, and Chris Sullivan, none of which had ever been to Australia. The founders claim they decided on the Australian themes because Australians are fun-loving, gregarious, and laid-back, which was the kind of atmosphere they wanted for their restaurants.
This was right about the time when the movie Crocodile Dundee II was in theaters and Paul Hogan was still having his 15 minutes. The trio even considered naming the restaurant Dundee’s, as well as Sydney’s. They decided on Outback because it invoked a “rugged, outdoorsy quality” and they felt it had good potential for marketing.
The trio was marketing a themed restaurant that owed a lot to what Steak and Ale, where all three owners had worked during the 1970’s, had started before them. They were also updating the Western frontier concept of chains like Bonanza, Ponderosa, and Western Sizzlin’, with a theme that was right in tune with the 1980’s. The Australian Outback was the Wild West of the Australian frontier.
Turns out they knew what they were doing. In a time when the country was turning away from beef and moving towards chicken, they were able to start not only a successful chain of steakhouses, but one that soon became the sixth largest chain in the country. This success cannot be said to be owed solely to the theme, of course. An efficient back of house, manager ownership opportunities, and clever menu names like Jackeroo Chops, Shrimp on the Barbie, Chicken on the Barbie, Kookaburra Wings, and, of course, the Bloomin Onion 1, didn’t hurt. The Bloomin Onion, in case you were wondering, was not invented by Outback and it is most definitely American in origin.
By 1994 there were 210 Outback Steakhouse locations bringing in an estimated revenue of $544 million. By 2005, the number of restaurants had ballooned to 1105, with $3.3 billion in revenue.
Outback Steakhouse in Australia
The amount of revenue that actually comes from Australia can probably be ignored, since, at the time of this writing, there are only seven Outback Steakhouse locations in Australia.
There is one major difference on the menu of Australia locations: There are no Kookaburra Wings. The Kookaburra is Australia’s national bird. Instead, they are called Chookaburra Wings. As well, many of the cutesy names are missing. Since Australians tend to call all shrimps prawns, regardless of size, the word prawn is used on the menu, but it is not Prawns on the Barbie, but simply grilled prawns. The brownie sundae dessert, Chocolate Thunder from Down Under is just called Chocolate Thunder. There are no Aussie-Tizers, but simply appetizers. The Aussie Chicken Cobb Salad has morphed into a Crispy Chicken Salad. The Alice Springs Chicken, named after Alice Springs, Australia, curiously, is still featured, and, of course, the Bloomin Onion’ takes pride of place.
Who Owns Outback Steakhouse Today?
The original founders of Outback are still its owners, under their company //Bloomin’ Brands, Inc. Their company now also owns Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Bloomin’ Brands is one of the largest casual dining restaurant companies in the world, operating in over 48 states and 22 countries.
Steak and Ale, which began in 1966, may deserve some credit for inspiring the Outback chain, was probably the first of many cheap and casual steakhouse restaurant chains that are now all but extinct. In 2008 the chain abruptly dissapeared after its owners realized that, should they continute operating, they would throwing away money that could be paid out in dividends to shareholders. All 58 locations closed after a chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. Today, however, a comeback of sorts is in the works. The new owners, Legendary Restaurant Brands, LLC, owners of Bennigan’s restaurant chain, are offering new Steak and Ale franchises with an updated concept.
- The Bloomin Onion is probably the most recognizable single menu item in America, and in the late 1980’s it spawned a mini-industry of its own, with devices being sold to help you make your own bloomin onion at home.