Red Lobster began testing the option of fast-casual express lunch service in two restaurants in the Orlando, Fla. market.
In a new format called “Seaside Express,” guests at the test units will have the option of ordering and paying at the counter, then finding a seat and their food is brought to the table. Traditional full table service is also available in the two test units.
The express menu allows guests to create their own combinations from among a selection of sandwiches, salads, soups and other items, all made to order and priced between $6.99 to $8.99, company officials said.
The move comes at a time when Orlando-based parent Darden Restaurants Inc. has been working to turn around sinking sales among its older casual-dining brands, including Red Lobster.
In a preview of earnings last month, the company said it expects U.S. same-store sales at Red Lobster to fall 7 percent for the quarter ended Feb. 24. Darden is scheduled to release full third quarter results on Friday.
Clarence Otis, Darden’s chair and chief executive, said last month that increased payroll taxes and rising gas prices took a toll on the guests’ discretionary spending, and the company needs to do more to enhance affordability on everyday menus.
Red Lobster is not the only casual-dining brand to compete against growing fast-casual brands like Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill by experimenting with a fast-casual service option.
Earlier this year, Applebee’s expanded the test of an express lunch service option to 23 company-owned locations around its Kansas City headquarters.
Erin Dostal also contributed to this story.