By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor
Published on Tuesday, August 12 2014
The top full-service restaurant chains in the U.S. are featuring more seafood apps and entrees, along with unique, new ways of serving those dishes.
The top 10 restaurant chains based on sales — including Red Lobster, Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, TGI Friday’s, Chili’s and Olive Garden — are some of the nation’s largest seafood buyers. And, thanks to Americans’ growing interest in eating healthy and, seafood is earning a starring role on these chains’ menus.
Plus, eateries that are trying to present a more upscale appearance and food are utilizing seafood. “A lot of the chains are trying to modernize their menus and upscale both their food and their stores,” Lizzy Frier, editor at foodservice consulting firm Technomic, told SeafoodSource.
For example, new Red Lobster owner Golden Gate Capital has indicated that it will move the struggling restaurant chain to a more upscale menu. Under Darden’s management, the chain was servicing customers in between those who want a quick meal and those seeking fine dining, according to Frier. In the future, the feel of the restaurant will be more upscale.
In addition, Olive Garden, Chili’s, Outback and Applebee’s also have plans to upgrade and upscale their units. “They might add some pricier items to accompany the lower-priced items,” Frier said.
Meanwhile, the top U.S. restaurant chains are adding unique pairings of meat and seafood to attract their guests. Instead of the typical surf-and-turf meals, this year Red Lobster is featuring Crab & Roasted Garlic Sirloin, Outback Steakhouse rolled out Sweet Chili Chick & Shrimp, and Applebee’s launched Chicken & Shrimp Tequila Tango and Margarita Queso Chicken & Shrimp.
“They want to be unique. Surf-and-turf is generally steak and lobster or steak and shrimp, but now restaurants are incorporating chicken, a huge protein from last year,” Frier said.
The growth of bolder, Mexican-inspired flavors also lends itself well to seafood entrees. For example, TGI Fridays recently began featuring Ahi Tuna Crisps with house guacamole, jalapeno and Sriracha. Outback’s Crispy Lobster & Shrimp Bites as well as Firecracker Salmon are other notable examples of this trend.
Another hot seafood trend among the top-performing chains is seafood-on-seafood dishes. “We are seeing multiple different kinds of seafood in one dish,” Frier said. For example, Red Lobster is featuring Crab Lovers Trio and TGI Friday’s sells Grilled Norwegian Salmon with Langostino Lobster.