By the second week of January, many Americans already have wavered in their New Year’s resolutions, but restaurants are still reaping marketing rewards by catering to consumers looking to eat better in 2012.
Chains like Applebee’s and Denny’s are using resolution season as a time to bolster their low-calorie menu sections.
In addition, The Cheesecake Factory, Freebirds World Burrito and Fazoli’s are marketing their lower-calorie menu offerings, but with different approaches to new promotions.
Kansas City, Mo.-based Applebee’s figured from past experience that January and February would be a prime time to push its Under 550 Calories menu, as its top-selling entrée for the first two months of 2011 was that menu’s Signature Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp. The 2,000-unit casual-dining chain has extended the line with three new under-550-calorie dishes: Roasted Garlic Sirloin, Sizzling Chili Lime Chicken, and Sizzling Asian Shrimp & Broccoli.
The brand also cited consumer research it conducted with Harris Interactive in late December that found 90 percent of respondents who have made food-related New Year’s resolutions have broken them, citing onerous restrictions and lack of flavor most often. The study also found that 81 percent of respondents who planned to make a food-related resolution in 2012 said having low-calorie options when dining out would make it easier for them to stick to their plans to eat more healthfully.
Watch a commercial for Applebee’s Roasted Garlic Sirloin; story continues below
Marketing executives at Spartanburg, S.C.-based Denny’s said the 1,670-unit family-dining chain would add several options to its Fit Fare menu this year. But another new addition to the Fit Fare mix is a nutritional calculator for Denny’s online and mobile websites that lets guests calculate the nutrition information of any chain meal, whether they order from the Fit Fare menu or opt for something more indulgent.
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Other players are not extending their low-calorie sections to their menus, but still are using the early-January window to promote healthful items in new ways.
The Cheesecake Factory in Calabasas Hills, Calif., is attempting to build awareness for its five-month-old SkinnyLicious menu with a New Year’s resolution contest on Twitter. The 170-unit upscale-casual brand will award fitness-related prizes, like SkinnyLicious gift cards and workout apparel, to people who share their resolutions in a tweet containing a #SkinnyLicious hash tag.
The Cheesecake Factory’s healthful menu features nearly 50 items with 590 calories or fewer, and the six signature cocktails on the menu have 150 calories or fewer.
Freebirds World Burrito, a division of Emeryville, Calif.-based Tavistock Restaurants, is pumping up its loyalty program to promote its Burrito Bowls, which contain 260 fewer calories and 44 fewer carbohydrates than the 62-unit chain’s signature burrito. For a limited time, Freebirds is offering triple stamps on its Fanatic loyalty card for Burrito Bowls and Freedom Salads, as well as double stamps for all other entrées.
“When people eat a burrito bowl, they’re cutting out the equivalent of a scoop of ice cream,” said Jim Mizes, president of the fast-casual brand. “We want people to know they can satisfy their Freebirds craving without feeling guilty.”
Fazoli’s, the Lexington, Ky.-based chain of more than 240 quick-service Italian restaurants, is hoping to drive traffic in January with its New Year’s resolution promotion. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Jan. 9, Fazoli’s offered a free 500-calorie-or-less entrée to any customer who brought a workout video or DVD into the store. For the rest of the month, guests can get $1 off every $5 put toward a low-calorie menu item by bringing in any workout video.
The chain also debuted a new fitness video starring its mascot, Tony the Tomato, on its Facebook page. Fazoli’s 500-calorie-or-less lineup includes baked pastas, chopped salads and flatbread pizzas.