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Olive Garden testing both small and big plates

Jun. 24, 2013 @ 11:06 PM

NEW YORK -- Olive Garden is trying to figure out the way people want to eat by testing two different types of dishes -- small plates and family-style dinners.

Darden Restaurants Inc. says it's expanding its test of "Taste of Italy Small Plates" that cost between $4 and $5 at Olive Garden this week. Justin Sikora, a spokesman, says the idea is to cater to the dining habits of Millennials, or people in their 20s and 30s.

To cater to families, Olive Garden also started testing a $30 dinner deal for a party of four on weeknights, which includes two family-style platters.

The tests come as Darden works to revamp the image of Olive Garden to better reflect changing eating habits. For example, the chain started adding lighter dishes last year, which executives have said are already getting about 10 percent of orders. As it works to fix its menu, Darden is also trying to attract customers by aggressively pushing deals and touting its affordable prices.

The strategy raises concern among some investors, who fear it will eat into profit margins. But Darden executives say growing traffic is critical to its long-term health. Since 2008, Darden's customer traffic is down about 8 percent. That also includes the Orlando, Fla., company's Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse chains.

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