Judging by the caliber of full-service chains now giving aggressive marketing pushes to their low -calorie meal options, federally mandated menu labeling regulations might be an opportunity rather than a burden. The latest to join the low-cal club: Cheesecake Factory, the highest-grossing casual dining chain, and 29-unit brewpub concept Gordon Biersch.
We can thank the success of Darden Restaurants' Seasons 52 for making the industry aware that a calorie-counting demographic exists and is worth going after. With the addition of units in Naples and Jacksonville, FL this fall, Seasons 52 is up to 20 units, averaging 300 seats apiece. Four more are on the way in 2012.
There are many aspects to Seasons 52's success, but the key has been the ability to deliver big flavors and full-sized portions while adhering to its “nothing over 475 calories” promise. It's no coincidence Cheesecake Factory and Gordon Biersch are emphasizing specific caloric limits on their new low-cal menu offerings.
Cheesecake Factory is getting into the game via its 50-item SkinnyLicious menu. It includes existing items that happened to fit within the desired caloric parameter, plus 13 new options. The small plates & appetizer offerings and flatbread choices are all under 490 calories, while entrée salads and main courses are 590 calories or less.
Gordon Biersch dubs its low-cal lineup the “Lighter Side,” It includes 10 new entrées, “most” under 575 calories. Offerings include Creole Chicken, Moroccan Salmon and Margarita Steak.
“There was a demand for low calorie options on our menu, but we needed to make sure these dishes met the Gordon Biersch standard of quality,” says Gordon Biersch corporate executive chef Bill Heckler. “The 10 new entrees definitely fill the bill.”
Cheesecake Factory is primarily known for its over-the-top portions and mega desserts, while the brewpub fare at Gordon Biersch is also hearty and filling by design. These menu moves tell us these chains see a demand shift coming, and they are positioning themselves to be out ahead of it. The lesson for their competitors: You'd better get ready to cater to the calorie counters, too.