Outback, home of Bloomin’ Onion, to offer lean meals, too

Outback Steakhouse’s parent company will debut some low-calorie entrees as part of its effort to make it through what could be a rocky 2010.

That was one of the announcements OSI Restaurant Partners of Tampa made during a conference call with investors and securities analysts Wednesday morning. In discussing its 2009 financial results, the company also announced that it lost about $54 million last year, a rough period for casual-dining restaurants nationwide.

On a positive note, sales seem to be rebounding in the last few months as more people venture back into restaurants, the company said.

On Wednesday, new Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Smith said customers will probably spend cautiously for the foreseeable future. So OSI and its biggest brand, Outback, are focused on cutting costs and introducing more value to the menu.

“The new normal is that consumers will certainly be more thoughtful and discerning in their spending,” said Smith, who was named OSI’s chief executive in November.

Outback may be best known for its hearty steaks and Bloomin’ Onion appetizer, which has 1,560 calories, according to its menu in New York, where restaurants must post calorie counts.

The steakhouse chain will debut several entrees with fewer than 500 calories in April, Smith said. No further information was available about the plan Wednesday morning.

Outback revamped its menu last year to include 15 entrees for less than $15 in an effort to draw customers in a recession. On Wednesday, Smith said OSI would continue to emphasize value on its menus through a range of prices and portion sizes, including a new focus on smaller entrees at its Carrabba’s Italian Grill chain.

However, she insisted the company wouldn’t deeply discount its existing menu items, as some other chains have done.

According to its annual financial report, OSI lost $54.4 million last year, which was actually an improvement over 2008, when it lost $742 million. Most of the 2008 loss came from a non-cash expense related to the value of its businesses.

Still, revenues continued to fall last year. Revenues in 2009 were $3.6 billion, about 9 percent lower than the $3.96 billion reported in 2008.

Aside from Outback and Carrabba’s, OSI also operates Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Roy’s. All told, OSI operates 1,477 restaurants worldwide.

Among its brands, only Bonefish Grill saw an improvement in sales during the fourth quarter. For the three months ended Dec. 31, sales at Bonefish Grill restaurants open for 18 months or longer – a measurement known as comparable store sales – rose 1.1 percent.

OSI executives were optimistic about Bonefish Grill’s improvement, saying it is one of the few restaurants in its restaurant category to see a sales increase.

Among other OSI brands in the fourth quarter, comparable store sales were down 6 percent at Outback, down 3.6 percent at Carrabba’s and down 5.7 percent at Fleming’s. OSI does not break out comparable store sales at the small Roy’s chain

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