Chili’s “Guiltless Grills.” Taco Bell’s “Fresco” menu. Olive Garden’s “Garden Fare.”
Healthy menu options are popping up everywhere these days, and for a good reason. With the healthcare reform bill now requiring many chains to reveal the calorie counts for menu items, restaurants are scrambling to bring consumers healthier options to keep them from running the other way.
But one thing that sets apart Applebee’s, the world’s largest dining chain with more than 2,000 locations in 16 countries, is its ongoing partnership with diet powerhouse, Weight Watchers. Since 2004, Applebee’s has been the only restaurant chain to offer Weight Watchers-endorsed menu options, and the restaurant recently announced the addition of three entrees to its Weight Watchers menu.
“Guests want smarter choices that also taste great and are satisfying,” says Mike Archer, president of Applebee’s. “These three new Weight Watchers meals deliver on all those expectations.”
The three items expand the current Weight Watchers menu to five options, and each selection features a points value assigned through the PointsPlus program.
According to Weight Watchers, the new PointsPlus program is the biggest innovation from Weight Watchers in more than a decade.
“We are confident that PointsPlus is the best program Weight Watchers has ever offered, and Weight Watchers is pleased to endorse five menu items from Applebee’s,” says David Kirchhoff, president and CEO of Weight Watchers International.
Applebee’s will be adding Chipotle Lime Chicken (worth 13 value points and topped with lime juice, black beans, and corn salsa), Steak and Potato Salad (served with fresh spinach, tomatoes, red peppers, and onions), and Spicy Pineapple Glazed Shrimp and Spinach served atop white rice (both worth 8 value points). These items will join the Paradise Chicken Salad and the Cajun Lime Tilapia (also 8 points) that already have a place on the menu.
Dr. Joanne Lichten, a Ph. D. nutritionist and author of the upcoming book “Eat Out Healthy,” says that, although the pairing of Applebee’s and Weight Watchers isn’t a new phenomena, the expansion of the Weight Watchers menu at the restaurant is a smart marketing tool.
“One of the problems that restaurants have had in the past is that, even when they try to do something healthy and give it the label of healthy…basically it doesn’t work because the consumer’s perception is, ‘It’s healthy, so it must not taste good.’ So they don’t choose it,” Lichten says.
“Most people have the perception that the healthy choices are not flavorful, so I think having a recognizable name like Weight Watchers will invite people to go into the restaurant,” Lichten says. “And the fact that Applebee’s has been doing this many years [means] it must be working.”
By Mary Avant