All but one category of appetizers are appearing less often on restaurant menus. That exception: fries.
The ubiquitous fried potatoes have only seen slight growth (1.5%), according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, a survey of what restaurants are offering on their bills of fare. But the uptick stands out against the declines in salads, soups, quesadillas and dips.
Here are the types of fries that are gaining the most mentions.
Sweet potato fries, +11.9%
Sweet potato fries have seen more growth over the last year than any other type of fry. Mentions have increased the most at fast casuals (43.8%) and QSRs (22.9%), though penetration is heaviest at traditional casual-dining operators. Because sweet potato fries have a different flavor profile than traditional french fries, operators have experimented with paired condiments, such as maple-bacon cream dip at Yard House and Sriracha chili-lime sauce at Applebee’s.
Loaded fries, +4.7%
Mentions of loaded fries have also noticeably increased, especially in the West (10%) where chains like California-based Slater’s 50/50 have recently launched full menus of loaded fries. Moves in this product category as of late include toppings of alcoholic sauce infusions such as Budweiser Beer Cheese Bacon Fries from Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, and dessert-inspired versions such as the S’mored Sweet Potato Fries topped with toasted marshmallows, hot fudge and sea salt from Red Robin.
Chili/chili cheese fries, +2.9%
Chili fries and chili-cheese fries are the original loaded fries, and compared to sweet potato fries, they are the more traditional and nostalgic fry rendition. Some operators are upping the classic recipe of fries topped with chili con carne and American or cheddar cheese by substituting different proteins such as meatballs at South Style Pizza & Deli in Philadelphia, or adding premium ingredients like cilantro crema at Relish Burger Bistro in The Westin Seattle.