After launching a Cheetos-inspired virtual brand last year, Applebee's is bringing the snack-food flavor to its regular menu for a limited time.
Starting Monday, participating locations of the casual-dining chain began offering boneless chicken wings tossed in Cheetos Wing Sauce or Cheetos Flamin' Hot Wing Sauce and coated with Cheetos crumbs, known officially as Cheetle. Customers can also get fried cheese bites tossed in either sauce.
The items are the same as some of those offered by Cosmic Wings, the delivery-only concept Applebee's launched in February. Cosmic also sells bone-in wings, chicken tenders and sides.
The chain has been quiet about Cosmic Wings in recent months due to supply chain challenges, but Dine Brands CEO John Peyton said on the company's most recent earnings call that there would be "meaningful news" about Cosmic Wings in the coming weeks.
It was unclear whether the in-store Cheetos menu is what Peyton meant. But the move seems to be a way for Applebee's to promote the Cosmic Wings brand to dine-in customers.
"Applebee’s launched this new menu at restaurants nationwide for a limited time to give guests the opportunity to try Cheetos-coated boneless wings and cheese bites for dine in or To Go," said Applebee's CMO Joel Yashinsky in a statement. "The Cosmic Wings menu includes even more items for delivery like traditional wings, chicken tender dippers, waffle fries and onion rings."
It appears to be geared toward the younger crowd that has become a core part of Applebee's audience. About 51% of Applebee's guests are now under the age of 35, and millennials make up its largest segment at 33%, brand President John Cywinski said on the earnings call.
The chain will further court those young, social-media-savvy guests with the Shirtkin, a T-shirt made of napkin-like material that customers can use to wipe their Cheetle- and sauce-covered fingers while chowing down. Shirtkins (pictured below) will be reserved for "superfans" who engage with the brand on social media, Applebee's said.
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