Seafood's presence on mid-tier menus only growing

Seafood is becoming more affordable and available to American diners, as steakhouses and other restaurant concepts lower prices on their surf-and-turf specials and mid-tier operators offer a wider range of fish.

"Seafood is starting to hit the menus of restaurants that have check averages of between USD 5 and USD 12," said Darren Tristano, executive VP of Chicago-based foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic.

For example, Panera Bread Co. this spring launched lobster sandwiches for USD 16.99 each, adding to the growing number of fast-casual and casual chains turning to American lobster to lure value-conscious consumers.

"We are seeing premium products across the board in multiple segments," said Tristano.

Steakhouse chains and mid-tier operators, such as Outback Steakhouse and Ruby Tuesday, are also adding more variety to their seafood offerings and prices.

"Outback has been adding more seafood items and combinations for a while," said Tristano. Outback's beef-and-seafood combinations include Filet and Shrimp Scampi and Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie.

Even though its average check is around USD 14, Ruby Tuesday is offering surf-and-turf entrées for around USD 15.99 each. But the Marysville, Tenn.-based chain, with more than 900 restaurants nationwide, is balancing out the higher-priced items with a variety of hamburgers at USD 10 or less, said Tristano. Surf-and-turf options on the chain's current menu include steak and lobster, along with steak and lobster macaroni and cheese.

Ruby Tuesday has experienced a financial turnaround over the past year, and has, coincidentally, placed a major spotlight on seafood. The chain recently added a crab cake dinner, Trout Almondine and Salmon Florentine too its list of entrées, while seafood is also prolific on its salad and appetizer menus.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based Carrows Restaurants, with about 80 restaurants mainly in California, recently added three new surf-and-turf options to its menu: sirloin steak and grilled shrimp, sirloin steak and shrimp scampi pasta, and sirloin steak and fried shrimp. Also new to its list of entrées are grilled shrimp skewer with pineapple glaze, a Norwegian salmon fillet and a sole fillet.

"Family-style restaurants are really pushing surf-and-turf below the traditional prices," said Tristano.

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