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Updating classic bar snacks for game day

Photograph: Shutterstock

Getting sports fans to come in and watch the game has never been terribly difficult for restaurant operators. But even though game day dining is popular, that doesn’t mean operators should let the menu go stale.

Instead, operators can use sports’ popularity to boost check averages during both regular meal service as well as special events. By introducing tailgate-style foods onto the menu, operators provide diners the opportunity to feel like they’re at the stadium—without having to pay the high ticket prices.

Stadium fare—whether it’s quesadillas stuffed with toppings, nachos piled high, crunchy chips and loaded fries, wings, tacos or sliders—is easily translatable to the restaurant kitchen. Operators can experiment with different dipping sauces or deals to entice eaters, but one thing is for sure—nothing is off-limits with sports fans. These hungry diners have proven that they’re game (no pun intended) to eat anything tasty and fun that operators can come up with.

 But even with all the innovation, the classics are still top sellers. Here’s how operators are giving them a unique, game-day twist.

Loaded and signature items

According to Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sidesreport, 41% of consumers say they would purchase barbecue wings when dining out, 41% would order chicken strips and 36% would order buffalo wings. With three chicken dishes at the top of customers’ preferences, it’s not surprising operators are working hard to introduce new dishes that feature this popular protein.

For instance, at casual-dining chain Cotton Patch Café, the Buffalo Chicken Waffle Fries appetizer is topped with blue cheese sauce, hand-tossed buffalo chicken tenders, green onions and blue cheese crumbles. And at Taco Mac, diners can order the Bacon Chicken Ranch Tater Toppers—crispy, seasoned tater tots loaded with chicken, bacon, seven cheeses and avocado slices.

Items like these can be big sellers. Technomic’s Starters, Small Plates & Sides report finds that 48% of consumers say they’d be encouraged to order an appetizer if it was a signature item, for instance. In other words, operators should call out that the new menu item is exclusive to their restaurant to increase interest. At Cowboy Chicken, the Trail Boss Fried Chicken Sandwich is described as “Our signature wood fire rotisserie chicken—deboned, hand battered and flash fried—topped with lettuce, mayo, sweet and spicy pickles and housemade ranch.”

Wings, wings and more wings

Beyond these options, wings should always be on the tailgating menu at any restaurant. According to the National Chicken Council, Americans ate an estimated 1.35 billion wings over 2018’s Big Game weekend.

Operators can capitalize on diners’ love of chicken wings by offering them in bone-in and boneless varieties, as well as with an array of different sauces, from standard spicy buffalo to sweet honey barbecue to savory parmesan garlic and beyond. Branching out to include unique, signature sauces and seasonings is the perfect way to get diners to add an order of wings to their table’s tab. At Buffalo Wild Wings, for instance, options include global-inspired Thai Curry and Enchilada sauces and a uniquely seasonal BBQ Pumpkin Ale sauce for the chain’s wings and boneless wings.

When it comes to getting diners in the door for game day, offering signature, interesting menu items is one way to do it—loaded fries, poutine piled high with toppings and nachos that don’t quit. But operators should be sure to include best-selling chicken options, and flex a little creativity on those dishes, too. From globally inspired sauces to loaded fries topped with veggies, cheeses and more, chicken is a surefire way to increase check averages on game days.

This post is sponsored by Pierce Chicken

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