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T.G.I. Friday's to Cater to Atkins Dieters

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T.G.I. Friday's is cutting the carbs.

Carrollton, Texas-based Carlson Restaurants Worldwide Inc. said Friday that starting next Tuesday, its T.G.I. Friday's restaurants will offer menu items endorsed by Atkins Nutritionals Inc., the company that started the low-carbohydrate diet craze.

All 523 Friday's restaurants in the United States will offer nine new Atkins dishes.

"I started looking at this probably six or seven months ago, and it was pretty clear at that point that we were all starting to get under the influence of an Atkins revolution, a low-carb revolution," said Richard Snead, president and chief executive officer of Carlson, which this week completed its headquarters move from Dallas to Carrollton.

According to data gathered by Carlson, 19 percent of frequent restaurant patrons - those who eat at casual-dining restaurants two or three times a month - are using the Atkins diet or some other low-carb diet.

"We are trying to change some perceptions of Friday's," Snead said. "Friday's is not just a place for indulgence. You can come to Friday's and there are choices."

The Atkins dishes will bring the number of menu items to 75. Friday's hopes to eventually make its Atkins offerings 15 percent to 20 percent of its menu.

The new items include Tuscan spinach dip, with 17 Atkins net carbs; garlic chicken with mixed vegetables, with seven net carbs; and a New York strip steak with bleu cheese and a side of broccoli, with six net carbs.

Bob Sandelman, president of restaurant research firm Sandelman & Associates Inc., said Carlson was clever to get Atkins' official endorsement instead of selling generic low-carb meals.

"I think that's really smart, because the Atkins diet is well-known and the Atkins name is well-known," he said.

Snead said he believes the Atkins diet isn't a fad - not with 25 million people following it.

"If this is a fad, that's the biggest fad I've ever seen," he said.

Snead said that other menu items, such as low-carb Michelob Ultra beer, have been hot sellers, and Friday's is experimenting with low-carb margaritas, fajitas and desserts.

Sandelman, a successful Atkins dieter himself, said that while diners may be counting carbs, they still care more about the taste of their food and the service they receive.

"The availability of healthy, nutritious food in our research is still one of the less important attributes to people," he said. "But I think it's growing, and it's more than a passing fancy or fad."


(c) 2003, The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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