- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

Lent, the 40 days before Easter observed by Christians, can mean big bucks for fishy businesses.

Seafood restaurants, whether fast-food or white tablecloth, rake in the clams during the season, especially on Fridays, when Catholics are supposed to abstain from meat.

Long John Silver’s, the largest seafood chain in the country, does about one-third of its annual business during Lent.

“It’s quite important,” said Keith Botner, marketing manager for Long John Silver’s. “We use this six- to seven-week time frame to hit home on our brand positioning.”

Traditionally, Catholics have eaten fish, instead of meat, as a form of sacrifice. Combine that with the statistic from the National Restaurant Association that the average American eats five meals per week in restaurants or fast-food chains, and it means many of those fish meals are not eaten at home.

Long John Silver’s increases advertising during Lent and typically introduces a new product. This year, it’s an Alaskan flounder. The chain schedules extra staff and puts out product samples in the stores.

“First and foremost we have all hands on deck, have our teams ready to go on Fridays during Lent,” Mr. Botner said. “We really focus on catering to the increase in demand, whether that’s having extra order takers, doing table service, even having samples ready while people are in line.”

There are about 5 million Catholics in the Washington area, according to the Archdiocese of Washington and the Diocese of Arlington.

The increase in fish business can be even stronger for restaurants in largely Catholic cities, such as Boston or Chicago.

“We see [the increase] in the lion’s share of our restaurants,” Mr. Botner said. “We have some specific markets that will perform disproportionate, relative to the balance of our system.”

Other fast-food restaurants have gotten into the seafood game. McDonald’s, Arby’s, KFC, Popeyes and Burger King offer fish sandwiches.

Just under one-quarter of McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish sandwiches are sold during Lent, the Oak Brook, Ill., chain said.

“Obviously during this period, it’s a good option for people who need to eat on the go,” said spokeswoman Danya Proud.

White tablecloth restaurants that specialize in seafood say Lent is good for business, too.

“It can be a great draw,” said Craig Wilde, general manager of McCormick & Schmick’s on K Street. “It can get pretty busy.”

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