Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Business of Fish , Restaurants and lent

The Business of Fish , Restaurants and Lent
By Mark Sievers

Have you ever wondered why hamburger chains would promote a fish item
( usually a fish sandwich ) at all and only one a year ? They do it because of increased fish consumption during the 40 days of Lent and in particular Ash Wednesday and the six Fridays of Lent . This is a way to both accommodate the dietary desires of consumers and to take advantage of a seasonal shift in protein consumption patterns . This article will not only examine contemporary examples of this but also some related interesting historical origins and aspects .
The observance of Lent is among the oldest customs of Christians . In fact the practice dates so far back that exact origins suffer from some level of obscurity and conflicting viewpoints . Rather than discuss this in detail I will summarize some key historic points of this practice :

1. As early as the first century AD the original Christians modified the Jewish fasting traditions from Tuesdays and Thursdays to Wednesdays and Fridays .
2. Some have traced the Season of Lent to approximately the third century .
3. The Teutonic word Lent originally meant merely the spring season but evolved since the Anglo-Saxon period to mean the 40 day period of Lent .
4. When the Church imposed fasting in Lent certain days were designated whereby it was forbidden to eat meat. These days in French are known as “jours maigres” or “ lean days” . Since fish came out of water and hence “cold” and also white , it was deemed pure and suitable for fasting food .
5. During the Middle Ages , the Church ordained a total of 166 days of fasting including the 40 days of Lent . This resulted in fish becoming a significant commercial resource . Charlemagne ( Charles the Great or Charles I ) ensured that his farms had plenty of fish ponds for producing eel , pike and other fish species . The farms then sold the fish which in turn created profits for the imperial treasury .
6. Over time Lenten observance traditions have evolved and become more flexible . Even denominations that never strictly adhered to fasting traditions still had a sense of “Lent awareness”
The restaurant and hospitality promotional action really starts before Lent . The day before Ash Wednesday is celebrated in various ways around the world . For most , it is known Mardi Gras or “Fat Tuesday “ and celebrated with various type of feasting . The feasting comes from the historic custom of using up household fats prior to the 40 days of Lenten fasting . Locally, it manifests itself with various celebrations including live music and other activities at Buddy’s , Furlongs , and most other bar establishments in town .
Restaurant chains and independents alike are keenly aware of changing consumer patterns during the course of the year including Lent . The Long John Silver’s chain , which was founded in Lexington and will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, always plans a strong fish promotion during Lent . For this chain , Ash Wednesday and the six Friday’s in Lent are typically the seven highest sales volume days of the year . The spike in business is particularly strong in areas with heavy Catholic populations with Bardstown being a Kentucky example . Currently they are promoting their Freshside Grille Smart Choices under 350 Calories menu ( ) and declared February 24 “ Skinny Tuesday “ . The Captain D’s chain is focusing on their Double Booth promotion and positioning their entrĂ©e’s as a superior value proposition to casual theme restaurants .
The McDonalds chain is promoting their Filet-O-Fish sandwich with an offbeat humorous commercial . In 1962 , a Cincinnati McDonalds franchisee ( Lou Groen ) was concerned about his sales being negatively impacted by the heavy Catholic population of the Cincinnati area who did not eat meat on Fridays . He created the Filet-O-Fish sandwich which is now served in McDonalds restaurants throughout the world .
The Wendy’s chain is heavily promoting its Premium Fish Filet Sandwich made with a Panko breaded North Pacific Cod product . Golden Corral is promoting the Great American Seafood Tour . Some chains take a different approach . For example , the Gold Star Chili chain offers a meatless veggie chili . Other national chains and local independents have their own approaches .
Then, two days after Good Friday there is Easter which is a major family oriented dining event post church services . On this day it will be one of the lowest sales volume days of the year for some concepts . However , for others who have the appropriate concept and venue its an opportunity to demonstrate their culinary capabilities with an Easter buffet or other event . One example this year is the 1st Annual Easter Sunday Buffet ( April 12 ) at 11:00 at The Red Mile Clubhouse hosted by Bayou Bluegrass Catering ( ) .
In summary , Lent is an important personal experience for many . For restaurants , its a real shift in consumer behavior that must be contemplated in their business practices . .

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Last Fish Tale Mark Kurlansky

One of my favorite authors is Mark Kurlansky who wrote books such as " Cod " and " Salt" which both have important insights regarding the history of fish & chips . He continues this with his latest book :

The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky. Book summary and media reviews
The Last Fish TaleThe Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town
by Mark Kurlansky

Sunday, December 7, 2008

This is going to be a great Fish and Chips site

Fish and Chips is a food concept with a deep and interesting history and this website will highlight that . Stay tuned and watch for more posts !!