Restaurants cross lines as they struggle through recession

•Boston Market is selling crispy chicken. The chain once called Boston Chicken is best known for whole chickens roasting on metal spears and used to present itself as the alternative to fried chicken. But in February the chain rolled out so-called Crispy Country Chicken.

The crispy chicken is baked, not fried, but is being directly positioned to compete with fried. "People still crave rotisserie chicken, but they also want different eating experiences," explains Richard Davis, vice president of culinary innovation at Boston Market.

Davis insists he isn't concerned about "confusing" consumers about what type of chicken Boston Market actually stands for. "It's not as if we're trying to replace what we do. We're still a 100% rotisserie chicken concept."

•Arby's is selling Roast Burgers. For decades, Arby's claim to fame has been that it sells roast beef sandwiches, not burgers.

But new chief marketing officer Steve Davis says that in a tough economy, the chain has to consider all options.

So it has rolled out the Roast Burger, a roast beef sandwich that's made like a burger — with lettuce, tomato and burger-like seasoning.

"We struggled with the fact that Americans love their burgers," Davis says. "To tell Americans that they shouldn't love burgers isn't the right approach."

The Roast Burger accounted for 20% of sales in its March rollout.

•Cheesecake Factory is selling small portions. There's one thing that Cheesecake Factory is even more famous for than its cheesecake: the size of its portions.

With same-store sales heading south, the chain raised eyebrows last month with a new menu category dubbed "small plates and snacks." It includes items such as fresh-baked "Pizzettes" at $4.95.

"Folks are more budget-conscious but still want the Cheesecake Factory experience," explains Mark Mears, chief marketing officer. "We're evolving to meet consumer needs."

•Morton's is selling $5 burgers. With same-store sales down 24% in the first quarter, the chichi steakhouse chain had to do something.

One unlikely move for the chain, where checks normally average $97 per person: $5 mini-burgers at the bar. "This is the worst we've been through," CEO Thomas Baldwin explains. "We have to broaden our appeal and drive guest frequency."

And guests now can wash down their mini-burgers with $4 beers.

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