For Long John Silver’s, the Lenten season is longer than 40 days.
The Louisville-based fast-food seafood chain started preparing nine months ago for the beginning of its busiest season. Long John Silver’s executives have hosted regional meetings, set up special online training for employees, and created television and newspaper advertisements, as well as a social media plan ahead of next Wednesday, said company CEO James O’Reilly.
For those who don’t know, Lent is a period where Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox and Calvinists mark the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. Lent starts this year on Feb. 10 with Ash Wednesday and concludes on March 26 with Holy Saturday.
Per tradition, some religious observers give up eating meat — everything but fish — for the duration of Lent, while others forgo meat on Fridays only. That is where Long John Silver’s has chiseled out a niche in the fast-food market.
Throughout Lent, Long John Silver’s serves nearly 22 million pieces of fish at its 1,100 stores nationwide, and customers use 81,000 gallons of tartar sauce, according to figures provided by the company.
On Ash Wednesday alone, Long John Silver’s sales rise 75 percent compared to a typical Wednesday. The company sells almost 450,000 shrimp on Ash Wednesday and 500,000 hushpuppies, according to the company.
Multiplying its seafood orders ahead of Lent isn’t a problem for the company’s suppliers, who’ve dealt with the tidal wave of business for decades now, O’Reilly said.
“We are advertising this beautiful looking cod, and customers are going to come in and ask for that of course, and we’ll be ready for them,” he said.
This Lent, Long John Silver’s is building its marketing campaign around “reliably great fish” and a $5.99 deal for its two-piece cod basket, which includes fries, hushpuppies and a drink, O’Reilly said. The company won’t debut any new products until later this year.
“As we move into Lent and our preparations, we start with the quality of our products and ensuring that we are focused on that in the restaurants day in and day out,” he said, noting that Long John Silver’s fish are antibiotic-free, GMO-free and hormone-free. “Our focus is on our core products.”
To engage its customers during Lent, Long John Silver’s also is running a social media contest called “Fish you were here.” Starting Feb. 8, customers are asked to take a selfie at a nearby Long John Silver’s and upload it at ljselfie.com. From there, they will be entered to win a whale-watching cruise, a Finding Nemo Caribbean Cruise or an Alaskan Cruise.
O’Reilly was brought on as CEO last February to revive the sinking brand after the ownership company LJS Partners LLC failed to sell the fast-food chain. Since then, four new executives were hired, and the company has zeroed in on trying to improve its existing menu items, its service, speed of service and cleanliness in its stores.
According to O’Reilly, the plan is succeeding.
“We have momentum going into 2016,” he said. “We have seen positive change.”
Long John Silver’s is a private company, so O’Reilly declined to provide specific sales numbers, but he said the last two fiscal quarters of 2015 “were both positive and represented the longest period of growth our system has seen since 2012.”