Friday, January 4, 2013

So far in 2013, restaurant chains bite it

The confetti had barely stopped falling when restaurant chains started bombarding consumers with new food choices for 2013. If Week One’s “innovations” are true indicators, what direction are mainstream menus likely to take this year?

Let’s just say it’s Auld Lang Syne for value, Seasons Greetings for miniature indulgences and products with a health tinge.

The exception is the pizza sector, where deal-making remains more prevalent than mozzarella. Take Domino’s (very) short-lived Dollars promotion, where customers get a $5 credit toward their next pizza when they order at least two medium pies with two or more toppings each. The deal extends for a mere 11 days, or from Jan. 2 through Jan. 13—pizza delivery’s arctic winter before the NFL playoffs thaw.

If that doesn’t pry a few bucks out of families, there’s Pizza Hut’s come-on: Any pizza—though presumably a well-topped large—for $10, plus free Pizza Rollers, a sort of stuffed pizza-dough crescent roll, if you order online. For another $5, you can get a two-liter bottle of soda and an order of breadsticks.

Contrast those lures with what Burger King is fly-casting this winter:  Better chicken nuggets. Bite-sized choices are a big part of the chain’s current promotional menu; customers can also try tater tots and something called Molten Fudge Bites, or mini-brownies with a gooey melted-fudge core.

Molten chocolate also figures into a new made-to-order sundae.

Small indulgences are also in the spotlight at Sonic, whose new additions include Cheesecake Bites, and at Baskin-Robbins, where this month’s specials include a Red Velvet Ice Cream Cake Bites.

Full-serving treats figure into the promotional line-up of Baskin’s sister concept, Dunkin’ Donuts. Its latest menu additions include a French-toast flavored bagel and Dark Hot Chocolate.

But the repentant needn’t worry. Applebee’s has extended its line of diet choices with six new items that each pack fewer than 550 calories, and Jamba Juice added its first-ever kids’ meals, consisting of products squarely wearing a halo of health.

So what’s next? I’m going to make a prediction: One of the hot products of the New Year will be a revamp of a comfort classic. This might be the Year of the Bite-Sized, but grilled-cheese sandwiches will rival those mini-indulgences as a frequently used draw.

Indeed, you can now choose from three new grilled-cheese choices at Sonic, and Panera Bread is encouraging patrons to match its Big Boy Grilled Cheese Sandwich with tomato soup this winter.

1 comment:

Charlie Hopper said...

I wonder if there’s some clever social-stat watcher who could monitor and predict what kind of year we’re going to have by how many diet-related deals we see contrasted with how many indulgent or unhealthy-food-at-a-discount ads there are out there, and which companies get a sales bump. It is funny how divided the messaging is.