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Jennifer Aniston's Doing Better Than the Olive Garden

Speaking of which, U.S. diners are also getting fed up with paying non-discount prices for what's basically arterial plaque on a plate. The Hudson Institute discovered a direct correlation between the number of healthy items on casual dining menus and the foot traffic at each restaurant.The Institute included restaurants such as Denny's (DENN), Panera Bread (PNRA), Romano's Macaroni Grill, Applebee's, Outback Steakhouse, Chili's, Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Of the 21 chains surveyed, nine increased the number of lower-calorie items sold from 2006 to 2011 and averaged a 5.5% same-store sales increase while increasing foot traffic. The dozen chains that didn't boost their low-cal offerings averaged a 5.5% same-store sales decline.

That also hints at the fact that there are a lot of younger, sexier choices for diners these days. Casual dining is facing increasing pressure from fast-casual establishments such as Panera and Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and even from reworked casual dining models such as Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD), whose emphasis on beer, wings, sports and lots of big televisions helped it grow from 340 restaurants in 2008 to 510 last year and boosted its revenue by 6.6% last year alone.


This all brings us back to Aniston. Though not immune to similar pressures, Aniston still has enough star power to turn critically derided films such as 2009's She's Not That Into You and 2010's The Switch into box office successes. At age 44, she's still also drawing enough attention to be featured semi-nude on the cover of GQ and in various states of sweaty undress in ads for SmartWater. Aware of the public's perceptions and demands of her, she's crafted an image that not only reminds fans of Rachel Green, but capitalizes on it by updating the character and keeping her semi-relevant.

When Aniston and Office Space are getting more mileage out of the casual dining's glory days than Red Lobster or Chili's are, something is terribly wrong with the industry. While they don't run Chili's "baby back ribs" commercials or Red Lobster Lobster Fest ads in repeats on TBS or Nick@Nite, it may be worth their parent companies' while to go back, check out some reruns and remind themselves what made their restaurants so palatable to Americans in the first place.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.
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