Customers walk into a Red Lobster restaurant in Hialeah, Fla. on Sept. 6, 2012 (© Alan Diaz-AP Photo)
Darden Restaurants' (DRI) Red Lobster seems to be testing the adage "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Amid challenges from casual-dining chains such as Chipotle (CMG) and Panera Bread (PNRA), which offer no-tip counter service, Red Lobster is testing a new option that plays the same game. 

The chain is trying two versions of what's called fast-casual dining, which is counter service that appeals to diners by cutting out the need for tips while delivering food faster than traditional sit-down restaurants. 

Red Lobster calls the new service "Seaside Express" and is testing it in two locations near Orlando, Fla., from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

At one trial restaurant, customers order at a new counter installed in the restaurant's lobby, then pour their own drinks at a Coca-Cola (KO) machine, the Orlando Sentinel reports. At the second restaurant, customers order at the bar and are served drinks in plastic cups. 

The menus differ from that of Red Lobster's main restaurant, with entrees ranging in price from $6.99 to $8.99 and including dishes such as a shrimp salad sandwich and a lobster grilled-cheese sandwich. One way the chain is cutting costs, though, is that diners get only one Cheddar Bay biscuit each instead of a basket of them, the newspaper says. 

The menus say customers shouldn't tip, although servers bring food and clear off the tables, and the credit card slips still have places for gratuities, the story notes. 

Will the bid to compete with Chipotle work? One business school professor, H.G. Parsa of the University of Denver, expressed pessimism. He told the Sentinel that Red Lobster could "dilute the brand" by getting away from its image as a sit-down restaurant.

Will Darden expand the idea to its other restaurant chains, such as Olive Garden and LongHorn? The newspaper notes the chain wouldn't say. 

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