Tackling Lent, a seasonal “Super Bowl for seafood restaurants”

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Published on
December 31, 2019

After all of the end-of-year festivities have faded into happy memories, and Q4 sales have been tallied, marketers within wholesale, foodservice, and food retailing communities are evaluating and planning the next best way to promote seafood. While Valentine’s Day, observed on 14 February, is a great time to roll out extravagant, exotic, and somewhat esoteric seafood preparations, the most important holiday associated with seafood following year-end celebrations is Lent.

Lent, the six-week period leading up to the Easter holiday, is extremely important to observers of the Christian liturgical calendar around the world. While traditionally associated with abstinence and prayer, dietary issues including the avoidance of rich red meats and poultry makes seafood the protein of choice during this period of solemn religious observance.

Based on experience, many operators simply expect greater demand for seafood during the Lenten season, and plan accordingly. Without any coordinated promotional activities, they will feature a few extra seafood dishes on their menu as seasonal specials, giving observant patrons greater variety from which to choose.

There are lots of examples where restaurateurs, including chain operators, have taken a more proactive approach, developing promotions specifically linked to Lent and the weeks leading up to Easter.

In this past year alone, the quick-service hot dog chain Wienerschnitzel offered Fish-N-Chips; some locations of fast food franchise Chick-fil-A offered a Fish-fil-A sandwich; Dairy Queen brought its Wild Alaskan Pollock Sandwich “back for the season;” and both Arby’s and Del Taco offered special deals associated with their seafood offerings.

Meanwhile, Captain D’s used the holiday in 2019 to introduce its Giant Fish Sandwich and North Atlantic Lobster Roll.

“Lent is a huge event for us every year,” explained Bindi Menon, the vice president of national marketing for Captain D’s. “We knew we could offer the best fish sandwich in the industry with our Giant Fish Sandwich. Our sandwich promotion was successful and helped us build some momentum into the second quarter.”

When asked about future promotions associated with Lent, Menon said the restaurant chain is already thinking ahead to spring 2020.

“The Lenten season is like the Super Bowl for seafood restaurants, so we are already looking at products to feature for Lent next year,” Menon said. “We always plan to promote a very successful, tried-and-tested product, that will not add undue complexity for our restaurants during this high traffic time of year. We are the seafood experts as well as seafood innovators and our products reflect that – not only at Lent, but all through the year.”

Long John Silver’s, the largest quick-service seafood chain in the United States, which operates nearly 1,000 franchised restaurants nationwide, has gone one step further. While its customers would certainly appreciate special offers specifically for Lent, the company has leveraged this seasonal opportunity to revitalize and refresh its brand with a variety of updated and modernized touchpoints.

As part of this process, Long John Silver’s launched its own record label, Fish Yeah! By and signed its first musical artist – the Washington D.C.-based Coral Benders band. Using the band’s nautically-themed music, the company created audio coupons that could be redeemed at restaurants for free food and other special deals, an undeniably creative approach that rolled out just in time for Lent.

The impact was reported as immediate, sparking significant increases in traffic on social media channels and via in-store redemptions. In the wake of this success, Long John Silver’s has implemented another promotional program – Fishmas in July – also featuring music by the Coral Benders, with special audio coupons. It has not yet been decided whether the Coral Benders will have an encore in 2020, or if other promotional activity is being planned for next year’s Lenten season.

Promotional activity catering to consumer seafood preferences during Lent has not been limited to fast food franchises. Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse, both part of Homestyle Dining LLC., based out of Plano, Texas, offered special Seafood Pounder platters tailored for Lent in 2019. Additionally, Boston Market – a chain of American fast casual restaurants headquartered in Golden, Colorado – introduced a Baked Cod meal, while the Tampa, Florida-headquartered Bonefish Grill introduced its Angler’s Catch, a dish of crispy cod, sea scallops, and shrimp.

Even one of the most well-regarded restaurateurs in the nation – the Rick and Deann Bayless-helmed, Chicago, Illinois-based Topolobampo – has started offering dishes considered appropriate for Lent. While not limited to the season, one of Topolobampo’s more intriguing seafood dishes, Lobster Chilpachole, features lobster and mussels in a stew made with ancho and chipotle peppers, roasted tomatoes, lobster stock, epazote, and corn masa.

If you ask Bryan Bernstein, the director of marketing for Baltimore-based Saval Foods, a full-line distributor with an extensive range of seafood products, seafood providers seldom need special notice or intervention as far as Lent is concerned.

“We understand the value of seafood associated with Lent,” he said. “As such, we’ll put out flyers, make special offers, and support our clients with seasonally appropriate offerings. While this gives our sales team something to talk about during sales calls, we find our customers have already anticipated the holiday and modified their orders without special intervention from us.”

A similar sentiment is held by Darryl Reed, the director of purchasing for Halperns’ Steak and Seafood.

“While we are definitely busier in the weeks leading up to Easter, and some of our reps may specifically promote seafood for Lent, we do well enough without much in the way of a coordinated promotional campaign,” Reed said.

Greater emphasis is attached to seafood on Fridays during Lenten season, as it is believed that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday. This is observable during the six weeks of Lent for certain, but also on Fridays throughout the year, when observant Christians give up red meat and poultry. This has given rise to promotions appropriately called “Fish Fry Fridays” or “Fish Frydays” across the United States.

When it comes to promotional activity in anticipation of, and throughout, the Lenten holiday, there are a large number of operators indicating some degree of effort is warranted. While outcomes may vary, the impact appears to have both immediate and longer-term benefits.

Photo courtesy of Captain D’s

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