NEW YORK – Red Lobster isnt just for the seafood lover in you. Its also for that eater in every group who just wants a chicken dish.
The chain that brought seafood to the masses is hoping to broaden its appeal by revamping its menu on Oct. 15 to boost the number of dishes that cater to diners who dont want seafood, including lighter options such as salads. Red Lobster also is increasing the number of dishes that cost less than $15 to attract customers who have cut back on spending.
The chain, which is owned by Darden Restaurants Inc., says a quarter of the items on its menu will be non-seafood dishes, up from 8 percent. And the number of lower-cost entrees will rise to about 60 percent from 40 percent.
A lot hinges on Red Lobsters makeover. After a long streak of healthy growth that began in the late 1980s, the casual dining segment has struggled to grow in the past few years because of oversaturation of those restaurants. People also are eating out less or opting for places such as Five Guys burgers, Panera Bread Co. and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. that fall somewhere between traditional sit-down restaurants and fast-food chains. Red Lobster in particular has struggled, with traffic at restaurants falling in 12 of the past 24 months.
When asked about the risks involved making such a dramatic change to the menu, Clarence Otis, CEO at Darden, which also owns Olive Garden, says: the biggest risk would be to not change.
The idea behind Red Lobster rolling out more non-seafood options is to eliminate the veto vote, or that one person in a family or group of friends that rules out Red Lobster because they dont like seafood.
So when the chain began the revamp about two years ago, it started by figuring out how to best fill in the gaps.
We thought, what are the areas were missing? says Michael LaDuke, Red Lobsters executive chef.
Last summer, LaDuke and his team of chefs spent two weeks in Charlotte, N.C., to test about 50 dishes in three restaurants. They wanted feedback from diners, but also from the kitchen staff on any problems they encountered executing the dishes.
One of the dishes that made the cut is a Parmesan-crusted Chicken Alfredo thats served over corkscrew pasta; its for diners who want a chicken dish thats a little more decadent.
Pork chops are on the menu for the first time. Ditto for the Roasted Vegetable Skewers, the first vegetarian entree that isnt salad or pasta. And there are now three salads, including the Bar Harbor Salad, which has dried berries, pecans and bleu cheese.