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Why is Outback Steakhouse Australian?

Outback Steakhouse is known for its Australian theme, featuring boomerangs, maps of Australia, and Australian lingo on its menus. However, while the decor is Australian inspired, Outback Steakhouse is far from an authentic Australian restaurant. So why does this American chain embrace Australian motifs when there’s little inherently Aussie about Outback’s food and origins? There are a few reasons behind Outback Steakhouse’s savvy Aussie branding.

Outback Steakhouse’s American Origins

Outback Steakhouse was founded in 1988 by Bob Basham, Chris Sullivan, Trudy Cooper, and Tim Gannon in Tampa, Florida. The founders were inspired by the Australian “outback” but set out to create an American interpretation of an Australian steakhouse. As Chris Sullivan explained in an interview:

“It’s an American perception of an Australian theme. But it’s authentic to what American people think Australians are like.”

So while Outback Steakhouse riffs on Australian imagery and slang, the restaurant is 100% American at its core. The founders had no direct connections to Australia when conceptualizing the brand.

The Appeal of Australia

Although inauthentic, Outback Steakhouse’s use of Australian motifs is a savvy branding move. Australia has an exciting, rugged, frontier image in the American imagination. The remote Outback evokes a sense of adventure and exploration. By borrowing Australian references, Outback Steakhouse is able to tap into this spirited Outback mystique even though its food and ambiance is thoroughly Americanized.

Australia also has a laidback, fun-loving reputation, which aligns well with Outback Steakhouse’s casual dining concept. The Australian lingo injected throughout Outback’s menus adds to this lighthearted Aussie vibe. Overall, the hints of Australia provide a unique, playful personality that differentiates Outback Steakhouse from other U.S. steak chains.

History of Australian Restaurant Branding

Outback Steakhouse isn’t alone in embracing Australian or Outback themes without authentic Australian ties. Casual dining chains like Steak and Ale, Sizzler, and Fosters Grille once incorporated fake Australian motifs in their branding as far back as the 1970s. Outback Steakhouse simply carried on this restaurant trend of appropriating tongue-in-cheek Aussie references to seem free-spirited and adventurous.

The Success of Outback Steakhouse’s Australian Image

While absolutely contrived, Outback Steakhouse’s Australian theming has been highly successful for the brand. The chain expanded rapidly through the 1990s, propelled by its unique and lively Outback concept. Today, Outback Steakhouse has over 1,000 locations globally and continues to lean heavily into its Australian inspirations.

Menus remain peppered with Aussie slang like “Bloomin’ Onion” and “Wallaby Darned.” Décor evokes the Australian bush through didgeridoos, surfboards, and faux kangaroo heads mounted on walls. These Australiana touches differentiate the brand and spark curiosity among customers. Outback Steakhouse likely concluded that diluted Australian authenticity matters less than creating a distinctive ambiance.

Criticisms of Outback’s Inauthentic Australian Roots

While mostly successful, Outback Steakhouse’s liberal use of Australian stereotypes has garnered some criticism over the years. Actual Australians have complained about the “fake Aussie vibe”, lacking any real integration of Australian cuisine or culture beyond superficial clichés.

There’s an argument that Outback Steakhouse participates in cultural appropriation by reducing Australia to its most caricatured imagery. The brand profits extensively off Australiana motifs while lacking meaningful ties to Australia.

Outback’s Expanding Beyond Its Australian Theme

Despite these complaints, there are no signs of Outback Steakhouse dropping its Aussie-inspired branding anytime soon. However, the chain has branched beyond its Outback concept in recent years. Models like the Craftworks Bar & Grill and Aussie Griller aim for a more modern and elevated aesthetic compared to the campy Australiana of flagship Outbacks.

The company has also diversified its brand portfolio, acquiring or launching fast-casual concepts like Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, and Cheeseburger in Paradise. As Outback Steakhouse expands, its focus on stereotypical Australian themes may gradually lessen while still retaining dashes of Aussie flair.


To summarize, Outback Steakhouse utilizes Australian theming not out of authenticity but because Australia’s rugged, freewheeling associations align with the brand’s identity. The faux Aussie styles pioneered in the 1970s proved popular with Americans, inspiring Outback Steakhouse’s lighthearted yet exaggerated adoption of Australian references.

While arguably inauthentic, the Australian gimmick successfully differentiates Outback in the casual dining market. The chain will likely stick with its winning formula but has shifted priorities towards modernizing its core Outback locations and diversifying its overall brand portfolio. So Outback Steakhouse will remain proudly Australian on the surface but intrinsically American at heart.