KANSAS CITY — It’s the Lenten season, which means people are passing on poultry and moving away from meat; restaurants are leveraging Lent by offering new menu items starring seafood.

Laura McGuire, Technomic
Laura McGuire, director of editorial for Technomic

“Operators are realizing that Lent is a great opportunity to drive traffic into restaurants and test out new flavors, ingredients, preparations and dishes through L.T.O.s,” said Laura McGuire, director of editorial for Technomic. “Because of this, we are seeing more variation in the types of Lent offerings available on menus. This ranges from fried foods to healthier fish preparations, and from classic Lent offerings to nontraditional flavors and formats.”

This year, several chains are hoping to reel in customers by experimenting with new flavor profiles for their under-the-sea specials.

White Castle is spicing up seafood with its new Sriracha Shrimp Nibblers. Made with butterfly shrimp, the hot battered bites come with a choice of four dipping sauces, including cocktail, ranch, tartar or zesty zing.

Church’s Chicken is pairing citrus and seafood with its new menu items: Lemon-Seasoned Butterfly Shrimp and Lemon-Seasoned Crispy Fish. Customers may choose from marinated shrimp or white fish filets fried golden brown and finished with a lemon herb seasoning.

Jennifer Chasteen, Church's Chicken
Chasteen, senior director of brand and product strategy for Church’s Chicken

“Church’s isn’t defined solely by our world-class chicken,” said Jennifer Chasteen, senior director of brand and product strategy for Church’s Chicken. “Guests love and anticipate our longstanding tradition of serving seafood during the Lenten season. Lent is a great time for a change of pace and we’re excited to offer these brand new seafood selections.”

Chili lime is the featured flavor in El Pollo Loco’s four new shrimp dishes: The Chili Lime Shrimp bowl, tacos, burrito and tostada. The bowl features pinto beans, rice, jack cheese, onions, pico de gallo, lime, cilantro and chili lime shrimp. The tacos consist of two tacos stuffed with chili lime shrimp, avocado, mango salsa, cabbage, cilantro dressing and lime. The burrito contains avocado, pinto beans, cilantro dressing, cabbage, pico de gallo, cilantro and chili lime shrimp. The tostada offers chili lime shrimp, avocado, pinto beans, rice, jack cheese, pico de gallo and lime.

Restaurants also are hoping to hook Lent observers with seafood that sports crave-worthy coatings.

“Alcohol infusions continue to make fish and shellfish more indulgent, craveable offerings,” Ms. McGuire said. “For example, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s introduced the Redhook Beer-Battered Cod Fish Sandwich last year.”

Carl's Jr. and Hardee's Redhook Beer-Battered Cod Sandwich
Last year around Lent, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s introduced the Redhook Beer-Battered Cod Fish Sandwich.

A&W Restaurants is bringing the pub to the plate with its new Pub-Style Baskets. Customers may choose from premium pub-battered cod or 21 piece pub-battered shrimp served with fries and slaw.

Jumping on that booze-infused bandwagon, Del Taco is offering three new menu items bursting with its new beer battered shrimp. The Beer Battered Shrimp Taco features beer battered shrimp, cabbage, pico de gallo salsa and Del Taco’s secret sauce all wrapped in a flour tortilla and served with a lime wedge. The Del Fuego Shrimp Taco slathered with the chain’s new spicy Del Fuego sauce made from cayenne and red pepper, contains cabbage and pico de gallo salsa wrapped in a flour tortilla and served with a lime wedge. The Epic Surf & Turf Burrito includes 10 beer battered shrimp, 1.5 oz of grilled Carne Asada steak, lime rice, cabbage, spicy Del Fuego sauce and pico de gallo salsa wrapped in an oversized flour tortilla.

John Cappasola, Del Taco
John Cappasola, executive v.p. and chief brand officer for Del Taco

“With our delicious beer battered shrimp and fish offerings, guests don’t have to give up Del Taco during Lent,” said John Cappasola, executive vice-president and chief brand officer. “In fact, the return of our crispy shrimp is a much-anticipated event that our fans look forward to every year. We’ve made this fan favorite even more flavorful with our new beer battered shrimp recipe and spicy Del Fuego sauce.”

By serving these seafood specials and fish dishes, restaurant chains have the chance to catch new consumers who may try them out during Lent then get hooked for long after.

“It can be difficult to come up with tasty meals that satisfy an entire family during Lent, and restaurants are doing a better job each year at rolling out a wider variety of interesting and flavorful items,” Ms. McGuire said. “These seafood offerings provide operators with an opportunity to showcase the quality and depth of their menus in hopes of driving consumers back into stores beyond Lent.”

Click for a slideshow of more new menu items featuring seafood.