How To Cash In On Lent

How To Cash In On Lent

When the Mardi Gras party season ends on Feb. 21, restaurants will be looking for a new way to boost business. Savvy Lenten specials can help keep your seats full until spring.

Meat-centric fast food chains knows they have to make the most of Lent by offering fish sandwiches or other seafood items. Otherwise, they’ll miss out on the 70 million Catholics who abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the Lenten season. Are you ready to tap into this huge, seafood-centric customer base this year?

The Catholic Church requires members over the age of 14 to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the 40-day-long Lenten season, so the overall theme is one of self-denial. Or at least it was in olden times. The no-meat-seafood’s-okay rule persists, even though seafood may now be the most healthful and most desirable menu option for any customer, Catholic or not. Lenten specials remind your customers that it’s a good time to order seafood.

The fast food segment is all over Lent. Chains that don’t have a fish sandwich on their menus year-round add one for Lent and promote it vigorously: Wendy’s has the Premium Fish Filet and Kentucky Fried Chicken sells the Fish Snacker. Arby’s is offering two fish sandwiches for $4 this Lent. The Jack in the Box fish sandwich combo goes for $2.99.

Other chains comply with items like Taco Bell’s marinated shrimp taco or the Five Guys chain’s grilled cheese sandwich. Brands that already feature a lot of seafood (Long John Silver’s) or just a little (Popeye’s shrimp items) really get behind those choices during Lent. Sub chains like Blimpie will be putting a big marketing push behind tuna subs and tuna melts.

Consumer interest in seafood is so high during that Lent that churches, schools and other community organizations get into the Friday night fish fry business to meet it. Think of them as the originators of the pop-up restaurant concept. Some provide a nice dining experience, others less so.

When there’s so much demand that amateurs can do a couple of hundred covers in a church basement or school gym setting, you know there has to be a sizable number of customers eager to see what professionals are turning out in traditional restaurant settings.

One option would be for your restaurant to serve same thing as the low-priced competition does—a fish sandwich or fish fry meal—only better. But the untapped part of the market may exist at a slightly higher price point. We’ve recommended fish tacos before [3] as a good fast casual or full service Lenten item and still think it’s a good way to go. You’ll find plenty of other seafood options in the Restaurant Hospitality recipe archive [4].

Pick a couple items that would work within your restaurant’s pricing structure/service scheme and you’ll have a mini-Lenten menu you can promote. It’s a good way to pump a little life into your restaurant in what can otherwise be a drab time of the year.