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Outback adds premium, grass-fed burger

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(Read caption) Regional Vice President of Outback Steakhouse Jason Brooks, left, NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick, center, and Folds of Honor Senior Vice President Major Ed Pulido pose for a photo with a Bloomin' Onion® during a Military Appreciation Dinner, Thursday, November 5, 2015 at Outback Steakhouse in Grapevine, Texas. Outback has a new burger.

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Burgers continue to be casual dining’s go-to menu tactic for building check average and traffic. The latest example is Outback Steakhouse, which is taking a break from promoting its Bloomin’ Onions to introduce a new premium burger to its menu.

Its new Grass-Fed Burger with Aged Cheddar is described as a “100% grass-fed, sustainably raised premium beef patty.” Toppings are aged Cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and a garlic aïoli.

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This isn’t Outback’s first burger: The menu already lists The Bloomin’ Burger (topped with Bloomin’ Onion petals, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and spicy signature Bloom Sauce), The Outbacker Burger (topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, mustard and choice of American, Swiss, provolone or Cheddar cheese) and the Double Burger (two grilled patties topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and mayo on a grilled brioche bun).

But the new Grass-Fed Burger is premium priced at $11.99 (prices vary by market, of course). That suggests it’s aimed at check building, since Outback’s value proposition at the moment is lunch combinations starting at $6.99. Offers like that are aimed at increasing customer counts. NPD says the average burger price at the casual-dining tier is $9.02, compared with $5.62 at fast-casual restaurants.

The NPD Group earlier this year released research showing how important burgers and lunch have become for casual-dining chains such as Outback and Applebee’s. While burger servings industrywide were flat for the 12-month period ended June 2015, burger servings at casual-dining restaurants were up 3% and lunch was the segment’s only daypart showing growth.

Applebee’s last year introduced its “All-In Burgers” line, and now drop pricing to $6.99 every Monday night to lure the football crowd. It’s even throwing in free refills on fries and house chips. The Old Chicago casual-dining chain has jumped on the crowdsourcing bandwagon with a “Create the Ultimate Old Chicago Burger” promotion. Winning burger will be a 2016 LTO.

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You’ve likely noticed the trend in recent Q3 restaurant sales reports: modest gains due primarily to higher checks. It was true in Q2 as well, as evidenced by The NPD Group’s data on the global foodservice market: most growth is coming from higher spending/check.

The U.S. posted a small gain in customers, a slightly larger bump up in check. Canada saw a decline in customer visits for the second consecutive quarter; China saw gains in both check and customers; the struggling Russian foodservice market saw a 4% decline in traffic coupled with a roughly 8% spike in check.

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With its Average Eater Check of $7.18 in Q2, the U.S. ranks second only to France, according to NPD data.

This article first appeared at BurgerBusiness.