Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Copycat killers?

Have some mercy, fast-food chains.

You’ve already swiped a horde of customers from casual dining. Do you have to steal the sector’s best defense, too?

Yet there’s no denying the recent raids by higher-end brands. Consider the newest offer from Qdoba: Craft 2, a mix-and-match deal for bargain-hunters who prize variety as much as volume. The offer invites customers to build a meal by combining two Qdoba favorites, all for $5.99.

Sounds a little like Applebee’s 2 for $20 deal, doesn’t it? Or is it Chili’s 3 for $20? T.G.I. Friday’s 3 for $12.99, maybe?

Mix-and-match deals have become as commonplace in casual dining as deep-fried onion product, bloomin’, straws or otherwise. They’ve been a leading way—perhaps the leading way—for big brands to provide the value that consumers now regard as a non-negotiable.

Fast-food chains could offer better prices on products common to both segments, like burgers or salads. But filling platters or serving up multiple courses was something only the full-service chains seemed able to pull off.

Well, not anymore. A few weeks before Qdoba started hawking its mix-and-match deal, Quiznos lifted the napkin off its new Choose Two deal. Patrons are invited to make a meal of any two items off the sandwich chain’s menu, all for $5.

Is there any doubt that other fast feeders will follow?

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