Olive Garden is testing small plates and a family-style dinner menu at limited locations across the country.
The small-plates Tastes of Italy menu includes Crispy Risotto Bites, Parmesan Roasted Asparagus, Pizza Fritta Napoli and Grilled Chicken Spiedini. The items start at $3.99 each.
Test markets for the small plates menu include Chattanooga, Tenn.; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; and Portland, Ore. Olive Garden plans to roll out the small plates menu nationwide later this summer, and additional items may be added to the menu “at a later date,” said spokeswoman Tara Gray in an email.
The Weeknight Family-Style Dinner promotion offers customers a full meal for four for $29.99. The dine-in or take-out order comes with soup or salad and breadsticks, and two family-style platters of Five Cheese Ziti al Forno, Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Eggplant Parmesan or Cheese Ravioli.
“The Weeknight Family-Style Dinner is designed as a weeknight meal solution for busy families who want to enjoy an Olive Garden experience in a convenient and affordable way,” said Gray.
The promotion is being tested at more than 40 restaurants in St. Louis; Buffalo, N.Y.; Omaha, Neb.; Hartford and New Haven, Conn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Raleigh, N.C.; and the greater Harrisburg, Penn. area. The offer is available Monday through Thursday after 4 p.m.
Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants Inc. already offers a Snacks & Small Plates menu at its Bahama Breeze concept, which is part of its Specialty Restaurant Group. The lineup includes Conch Fritters and yuca fries drizzled with truffle oil.
Darden competitors have already tested small plates menus. In April T.G.I. Friday’s added a Taste & Share menu featuring Ahi Tuna Crisps and Corned Beef and Swiss Sliders.
Olive Garden’s family-style dinner offer is in line with its value-oriented marketing strategy. During a fourth-quarter earnings call with analysts, Darden chief executive Clarence Otis said the company will put traffic increases ahead of margins in the short term, while using value offerings to bring customers back to the beleaguered Olive Garden brand.
As of May 26, Orlando, Fla.-based Darden had more than 2,100 company-owned locations systemwide, 828 of which are Olive Garden restaurants.