NEWPORT BEACH Calif. The 63-unit Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar plans to introduce an extensive burger bar menu this September as it seeks to offer more value in a tough economy that has been particularly brutal to higher-end restaurants.
Russell Skall, corporate executive chef of the Newport Beach-based chain, said the menu is still in the planning stages but is expected to include 11 different burgers, including a prime sirloin bacon cheeseburger that debuted last month as part of Fleming’s new 5 for $6 ’til 7 promotion. The deal showcases five cocktails, five wines by the glass and five appetizers available for $6 each until 7 p.m. Dishes currently featured in the promotion include tenderloin carpaccio, sweet chile calamari, Cajun barbeque shrimp, seared ahi tuna and jumbo lump crab cakes.
“The 5 for 6 til 7 [promotion] has been great,” Skall said. “It’s been very successful for us; the bars are busy. I can’t speak for every restaurant, but for the company, it’s doing very well. We put the prime burger on the menu in June, kind as a prelude to our burger menu in the fall."
All of the upcoming burgers will be 8 ounces and priced at $6 until 7 p.m. and then $12 during the rest of the night, Skall said. Possible menu items could include a crab burger, a lobster burger, an ahi burger, a chicken burger, and "an all cheese no burger burger" served with ratatouille, he said. While nothing is finalized yet, he said the menu would be completed later this week and that Fleming's would soon begin testing the burger bar items.
Upscale restaurants have been especially hurt by the economic downturn as customers cut down on dining out or trade down to less-expensive eateries. Steakhouse chain Morton's recently shuttered three restaurants  as it struggles with falling sales. Fleming's, whose average per-person is $69, saw same-store sales fall nearly 20 percent in the quarter ended March 31, according to its parent company, Tampa, Fla-based OSI Restaurant Partners LLC.
Skall said the 5 for $6 'til 7 promotion and the upcoming burger menu could attract new kinds of customers to the steakhouse chain.
"This is a great way to get different groups of people — a business traveler who just wants a drink or two and a smaller but satisfying meal or someone who always wanted to try the food at Fleming’s but couldn’t before because it was too expensive,” he said.
Skall said Fleming’s burger bar menu also would be the chain’s answer to rivals like Morton’s, which renamed its bar area Bar 12-21 and now serves burgers and sliders, as well as new burger concepts from celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and David Burke.
“People are looking for reduced prices on drinks and food," Skall said. "We’re in the same spot as everyone else, but it’s a tough economy and our guests want value. We know that so we’re going to try to [offer] that and try to stay ahead of the competition."