ORLANDO, FLA. – Red Lobster is testing a fast-casual lunch format in two Orlando area restaurants. The Seaside Express service enables customers to order and pay at the counter and find a seat in a designated area, where the food is delivered to the table.
“The Seaside Express menu is all new and allows guests to make their own lunch combinations from sandwiches, salads, soups and more, all freshly prepared and made-to-order,” said Heidi Schauer, a spokesperson for parent company Darden Restaurants, Inc. “We’ll continue to offer the full-service Red Lobster experience for guests who prefer that.”
Prices on the express menu, which include lobster grilled cheese, barbecue shrimp flatbread and a fiesta salad, range from $6.99 to $8.99.
Red Lobster is not the first full-service chain to experiment with an express lunch option. Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar has been testing its Applebee’s Express Lunch service at Kansas City area locations, and Denny’s has a Fresh Express grab-and-go counter at restaurants in Texas, California and Virginia.
Both full-service and quick-service restaurants are striving to compete with the rapidly growing fast-casual segment, which includes Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread. In an effort to regain market share, fast-food chains are promoting premium offerings, such as The Wendy’s Co., which is testing a flatbread chicken product and a pretzel bacon burger.“We recognize we are not just competing with McDonald’s and Burger King and the other burger players,” said Steve Hare, chief financial officer for Wendy’s, in a March 14 presentation at the UBS Global Consumer Conference. “We have got people like Five Guys that are out there pulling at our premium customers, and we want you to be able to go to a Five Guys and compare the experience to a Wendy’s and say, ‘Look, we use fresh beef, they use fresh beef. I dare you to say that our product is not at parity.’”