Lighter menu items, introduced six weeks ago at Gordon Biersch, are outselling regular menu items six to one.

“It’s just incredible the response we’ve received,” says Sean McLendon, corporate research chef for CraftWorks, which owns the 30-unit restaurant chain along with 13 other restaurant brands.

The On The Lighter Side menu includes 12 dishes including:

  • Creole Chicken topped with a spicy jambalaya sauce and served with seasonal vegetables and steamed rice
  • Moroccan Salmon with chermoula and served with seasonal vegetables and steamed rice
  • Spicy Shrimp Stir Fry with Asian vegetables and jasmine rice

The dishes are mostly 500 calories or less, which was achieved largely by reducing oils and carbs in the dishes, and instead focusing on proteins and vegetables.

“Oils were a big factor—we removed a lot of those and replaced them with different types of spices and powders,” says McLendon.

“We are using a traditional marinade called chermoula, which comes from Morocco. It brings an incredible amount of flavor and instead of marinating in oil we do it in water and spices, which penetrates the flesh of the protein.”

He also switched to a lower calorie vegetable seasoning instead of salt, pepper and oil. We blended a vegetable spice to accentuate any vegetable.”

This is Gordon Biersch’s first dive into lower calorie items and it’s done so well that desserts will be added to the Lighter Side menu next month.

The On The Lighter Side menu was introduced due to feedback on the Gordon Biersch website, as well as recognizing that other successful restaurants, such as The Cheesecake Factory, offered low-calorie options.

Once McLendon and his team had developed the Lighter Side entrees, a nutritionist analyzed them to ensure that everything was less than 600 calories. Next Gordon Biersch held a taste-test with people from outside the company, without telling anyone that the dishes were low-cal.

“Once everything was tasted, they were pleasantly surprised that the meals were lower calorie,” McLendon says. And now the menu has launched, he says that customers—men and women are equally opting for this fare—“are pleasantly surprised at the flavors and that the portions are not compromised.”

The Lighter Side entrees cost $10.75 to $18.95, which McLendon says is $1 to $1.50 less than comparable regular menu items. But like the traditional menu, food costs run 25 to 26 percent, he says.

By Amanda Baltazar

Health & Nutrition, Industry News, Gordon Biersch