Plano, Texas-After almost 25 years in the casual-dining segment, management of Bennigan's Irish American Grill & Tavern realized it "could not define what was unique about Bennigan's hospitality," says John Beck, vice president of marketing for the chain.

With that insight, the chain started a search for a new ad agency, an effort that would lead it to replace its two-year-old "Let's Get Together" tagline, part of a campaign that emphasized the chain's bar but failed to differentiate it from other casual-dining concepts.

Last February, Bennigan's hired The Redlands Group, a Dallas-based ad agency, to handle the $10 million account. Shortly thereafter, members of both the corporate management team and the new agency traveled to Ireland in search of nuggets of the Irish spirit that could be exported to the 325-unit chain.

Timed with the chain's 25th anniversary, Bennigan's resulting advertising campaign is an effort to rebrand the concept, along with a revamp of the menu and introduction of new footprints. Using the tagline "Slante," a Gaelic toast meaning "to your health," the campaign emphasizes what the chain and agency are calling the Irish spirit, a willingness to celebrate small victories, rather than authentic Irish food and atmosphere.

The new campaign, Beck says, is just one piece of Bennigan's efforts to set itself apart from its myriad competitors. Three years ago, the chain began remodeling units and designed a new 4,500-square-foot store layout rather than the traditional 7,000-square-foot plan. The smaller design also reconfigures the bar more prominently in the restaurant, which Bennigan's feels contributes to a more pub-like feel for certain smaller markets.

The chain has worked to incorporate Ireland into the food as well, including an Irish whiskey marinade for its steaks and naming a 1-pound double cheeseburger the Big Irish, an item the chain now sells about 30,000 of each month.

Over the past three years, these efforts have helped the average check climb from $12 to $13.34. Management expects the new rebranding campaign, along with new stores, will help systemwide sales increase 30 percent to $650 million in 2001. -Chain Leader