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Olive Garden Turns to Burger to Bring Customers

OliveGarden_ItalianAd2Olive Garden hit the bottom of its Never Ending Pasta Bowl this week, adding a burger and fries to its menu in an effort to boost guest traffic at lunch.

The Italiano Burger is a 6-oz. beef patty topped with Italian prosciutto, fresh mozzarella cheese, arugula, marinated tomatoes and garlic-aïoli. It’s served with Parmesan garlic fries. But it’s not there to be a low-price entry item for lunch: Priced at $9.99, the burger is one of the more expensive lunch items at the chain, owned by Darden Restaurants (parent of Red Lobster, Yard House and several others). Calzones and a pizzaiola are priced at $7.99. Eggplant Parmigiana is $9.49.

The Italiano Burger is on the menu now simply because people like burgers (certainly more than eggplant parmigiana).

Olive Garden’s performance during its last fiscal quarter, ended Aug. 25, 2013, were so poor that President-COO Drew Madsen announced his retirement, effective this month. For the quarter, Olive Garden guest traffic was down 3.8% and same-store sales declined 4%.

The chain responded first by rolling out Taste of Italy small plates, a collection of dishes such as Tuscan White Bean Hummus with toasted ciabatta bread, all priced between $4 and $4.50. Another tactic has been the “Buy One Take One” program that offers one entrée to eat and another bagged to take home for $12.99.

Madsen himself hinted at the possibility of a burger at Olive Garden during the June Q4 earnings call in June. He said that “to regain value leadership in casual dining and broaden appeal at Olive Garden, we plan to add more affordable Italian classics for price-conscious guests, compelling and craveable protein-centric dishes for guests that are willing to pay a little more, new offerings in our popular Lighter Italian Fare platform for health-conscious guests and more daypart-appropriate menu selections and service options at lunch.”

Will consumers really go to Olive Garden for a fast-casual-price burger? A TV commercial from Grey NY insists, “You haven’t had a burger until you’ve had the new Italiano Burger at Olive Garden.” Or will they instead simply go to a fast-casual burger chain such as Smashburger or Elevation or The Counter? It’s worth watching.

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PYT's Egg Florentine Burger for brunch

PYT’s Egg Florentine Burger for brunch

Philadelphia burger joint PYT has been in the news for over-the-top burger/bun creations like its Deep Fried Twinkie Burger. Its latest—available beginning today (12/3)—is a Pho Burger with a bun made from deep-fried Vietnamese pho soup noodles.

But of more significance is PYT’s move last weekend to join the list of burger bars offering weekend brunch. West Coast burger pioneer Slater’s 50/50 added weekend breakfasts earlier this year and many others, such as Chicago’s Grange Hall, make it part of their concept. A new restaurant built around the idea called B3-Breakfast & Burger Bar opens soon in Lynnwood, Wash.

PYT is now open for brunch from 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Not surprisingly, the menu features a collection of wild burgers (all served with a crispy home-fry scramble). The menu:
Salmon & Bagel Burger: Salmon patty with lemon, dill and capers and cream cheese on toasted everything bagel;

Eggs Florentine Burger: Seasoned turkey patty, spinach and egg-white scramble, hollandaise sauce on toasted English muffin;

French Toast Burger: Pork belly patty, applewood-smoked bacon, maple cream cheese on two slices of deep-fried french toast;

Pancake Sliders: Three baby sandwiches of peppered bacon, scrambled eggsand Cheddar stacked between mini maple cinnamon pancakes with maple syrup on the side;

Omelette Burger: Ground beef, tomato, scrambled egg and onion Omelette topped with melted Cheddar on a brioche roll;

Chicken & Waffles: A freshly made waffle and fried chicken sandwich.

Brunch beverages include a Bacon Bloody Mary, house favorite Monkey Julius (fresh orange juice and Golden Monkey beer); Apple Peach Bellini and Mimosa.

 

2 comments to Olive Garden Turns to Burger to Bring Customers

  • Dom

    Olive Garden gets a burger, I don’t see that helping their sales. Maybe I’m wrong, but restaurant identity means something. When i get hungry and think burger I’m not going to think Olive Garden.

    I think a better example of how to increase profit is Red Robin. They have retooled their menu to increase avg ticket, and from my experience going to Red Robin they have really emphasized suggestive selling by the staff. They didn’t add lasagna to the menu.

  • Adam

    I’d love to see more burger places go Italian (beyond a burger of the month like BGR or Bobby’s Burger Palace). I would actually go for something like this.

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