Cheddar’s Casual Café is adapting to consumer trends with the introduction of Lighter Side menu items, as well as new crowd-sourced burgers, on its spring menu.
Cheddar’s director of culinary research and development Robert Pesch said the new items reflect the chain’s “appreciation that some people are changing the way they eat for health reasons.”
The Irving, Texas-based casual-dining chain’s Lighter Side menu items have less than 575 calories each and include Grilled Baja Chicken, Lemon Pepper Whitefish, Sweet Heat Chicken & Shrimp, Garlic Parmesan Sirloin Steak and Citrus Miso Glazed Salmon.
To develop two new burgers — a Mushroom Swiss Cheeseburger and a Jalapeño Burger — the 130-unit chain tapped its email-club members by asking them to answer the question, “What does a great burger mean to you?” More than 20,000 members responded, the company said. Cheddar’s menu development team then used the responses to create the burgers, Pesch said.
The Jalapeño Burger includes fried jalapeños, pepper Jack cheese, chipotle mayonnaise, onion and tomato. The Mushroom Swiss Cheeseburger tops a beef patty with those two items.
Other new spring menu items include an Asian Salad and BBQ Chicken Salad, and side dishes of edamame, black beans and an apple-yogurt medley. New desserts include a 99-cent mini strawberry cheesecake and Chocolate Croissant Bread Pudding with vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce and almonds.
Pesch discussed the chain's menu with Nation’s Restaurant News.
How did Cheddar’s develop the Lighter Side items?
The new dishes are really focused on flavor first. We recognize that many of our guests are wanting some healthier options. At Cheddar’s, we have all-scratch kitchens. We wanted to make sure there was value and that we could make everything ourselves.
What are your most popular menu items?
Our hand-breaded chicken tenders are one of our best sellers. We bread each one to order with our own signature breading. We also sell a lot of seafood. We cut our own salmon in house. We also sell a lot of catfish and meal salads.
How do Lighter Side offerings balance the traditional items?
We recognize that there are some guests’ favorite items that always will be on the Cheddar’s menu. We wanted to offer some other options.
Did you start with the 575-calorie goal?
That’s not the number we started with. We started with wanting to provide some lower-calorie options that would deliver on flavor and value. I was conscious about being within a framework of calories. We developed the dishes first on making sure they were where we wanted to be in flavor and presentation. We analyzed them after and got to the 575 number. We’re very happy with it.
How did email crowd-sourcing work for the burgers?
It was really cool. We sent out a survey with the question of “What does a really great burger mean to you?” We polled e-club members and had the huge response. We used that information, based on what our current burgers were, and looked at what we could do better. The Jalapeno Burger is a good example. Our guests said tremendously that they wanted to see something like that on our menu.
Do you plan more of that?
It worked out well. We use many different avenues, from going to the tables and talking to guests in our restaurants to listening to feedback from our wait staff and tasting groups. Today’s day and age, the e-club really offers an opportunity for our loyal guests to provide us feedback in our menu development.