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Hooters joins the casual-dining discount battle

ATLANTA Just as high school, college and professional football players nationwide are putting on the pads for a new season of hard-hitting competition, the 450-unit Hooters chain Monday is meeting casual-dining rivals helmet to helmet in the how-low-can-you-go price point battle for traffic.

Officials at Atlanta-based Hooters’ parent Hooters of America Inc. said the new limited-time, football-inspired menu includes two shared-portion appetizers: Loaded Chips, or thick-cut potato chips topped with guests' choice of blue cheese, ranch or jalapeno cheese sauce and covered with bacon, diced tomatoes and scallions for $4.95; and the Hooterstizer Combo of fried pickles, onion rings and mozzarella cheese sticks with dipping sauce for $5.99.

Also part of the package, which will be supported through national television advertising, are a build-your-own Bloody Mary cocktail, a prime rib sandwich with curly fries for $8.99, and a Hooters’ signature sandwich of chicken strips tossed in wing sauce, topped with two cheeses and served on a toasted ciabatta roll with fries for $6.99.

“For our fall seasonal menu this year we brought back a Hooters classic as well as added some new dishes tailored with our football customer base in mind,” said Scott Kinsey, Hooters corporate chef. “We are excited about this menu not only for the new options, but also because of the low price points and great value of each item on the menu.”

But if the Hooters promotional menu represents the long-bomb pass for a traffic-building touchdown, the chain known as much for its servers as it is for its food will have to get past a crowded playing field of defenders. Virtually the entire casual-dining segment has pulled similar Xs and Os from their playbooks to overcome the declining same-store sales from slumping visits and reduced consumer spending that have plagued dinnerhouses in recent months.

Among the segment’s many promotional offerings this month are the $5.95 Pick ‘N Pair Lunch Combos at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar; the 3 Courses for 2 People for $20 special at Chili’s Grill & Bar; the two meals for $14.95 option at O’Charley’s; Olive Garden’s Endless Pasta Bowl with unlimited breadsticks and salad for $8.95; and Outback Steakhouse’s 15 Meals for Under $15 as well as its newer “3 new taste adventures at just $9.95” selections.

Some other chains are eschewing limited-time menu specials by calling value-play audibles at the line of scrimmage. For instance, T.G.I. Friday’s is offering guests the ability to take $5 off the price of each entrée ordered by up to nine friends at the table via its Bring Your Own Buddies Summer promotion. Famous Dave’s, for its upcoming 15th birthday Dave’s Day promotion, will offer a free entrée valued at up to $15 for anyone in a participating unit on Aug. 30 who can prove their name is Dave or David. Those with a qualifying middle name will get their entrée for half price. And Ruby Tuesday has its ongoing promise of endless fries with burger purchases, free refills of teas and lemonades, and unlimited trips to its Fresh Garden Bar salad bar.

Hooters had estimated U.S. systemwide sales of $916 million from 122 company-operated and 270 franchised domestic restaurants for the fiscal year ended in December 2008. The chain also has about 58 international locations.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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