Houlihan’s is reducing how frequently it changes its specials menu, from three times a year to twice a year, to ease operational difficulties and make the changes line up better with the seasons, an executive at the 83-unit casual-dining chain said.

Houlihan’s launched its first specials menu about a year ago and ran the first specials for about three and a half months each, according to Jen Gulvik, the chain’s creative director and senior vice president of marketing.  

But after feedback from the restaurants, including 52 franchised locations, about “waste and inventory issues,” the company decided to reduce the frequency of its specials, Gulvik said. She also said that introducing spring/summer and fall/winter items was more logical for customers.

“I think it’s natural for us and consumers to come in and see a fall/winter and spring/summer menu,” she said.

The newest seasonal menu, launched in February for spring and summer, focuses on lower-calorie items.

Chocolate Mousse with raspberries and whipped creamGulvik said that, although Houlihan’s had introduced smaller portions and shared plates in 2009, and also has a good lineup of gluten-free and vegetarian options, the chain hadn’t previously introduced items that were specifically highlighted as low in calories.

“We’ve seen other restaurants do that with great success and it was one area we hadn’t capitalized yet,” she said.

Gulvik said she also realized the chain had a hole in terms of Asian foods, so two of the new items have Asian flavor profiles.

The seasonal menu features three entrees, two desserts and two cocktails, each with fewer than 600 calories. The entrees are:

• Lemon & Herb Grilled Chicken: With Tuscan white beans, organic kale-spinach-chard blend, roasted artichokes and tomatoes in herbed broth, 550 calories, priced around $14.25, depending on the location

Coco Basil Fusion cocktail with Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila, Malibu coconut rum, basil and a splash of sour• Miso Grilled Salmon: Over stir-fried quinoa with steamed edamame, house-pickled cucumber and shaoxing sauce, 540 calories, priced around $15.95

• Rice Noodle Salad: With ginger-soy USDA prime top sirloin with Napa slaw, basil, mint, snow peas, cilantro, scallions, roasted peanuts and chile-lime dressing, 590 calories, priced around $16.95

The desserts, both priced around $5.95, are:

• Key Lime Mousse: Layered with crystallized graham cracker crust and whipped cream, 420 calories

• Chocolate Mousse: With raspberries and whipped cream, 410 calories

The two new cocktails, both 140 calories and priced around $9, are:

• Coco Basil Fusion: With Cabo Wabo Blanco Tequila, Malibu coconut rum, basil and a splash of sour

• X-Rated Moscato Martini: Made with Skyy Infusions Moscato Grape Vodka, X-Rated Fusion Liqueur infused with blood orange juice, house sour and cranberry juice

Thirty days into the introduction of the menu, the two lower-calorie desserts are the second and third most popular desserts on the seven-item menu, behind the Kamikaze Brownie Sundae. Gulvik said successful items could be added to the permanent menu.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
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