At Granite City Food & Brewery, food comes before beer in the brand’s name, but “We’re a brewery first,” says Weston Baril, VP of culinary for the chain. “Food has to be born for the beer.” To fulfill that mission, Baril focuses on the flavor profiles of the chain’s signature beers when developing limited-time offers. In May, the brew of the month was Granite City’s Belgian Gold Fever Ale, so Baril created Golden Honey BBQ Ribs as an LTO pairing.
The ribs resonated with consumers: 63% said they would purchase them after hearing the description, according to data collected by Technomic’s MenuSurf program. In fact, the ribs ranked No. 1 for both purchase intent and craveability in the May survey. Craveability, which can elicit high scores based on the flavors and ingredients included in the item’s description, often ties into an increase in sales. And that was the case at Granite City. “The ribs captured a 25% share of LTO sales in May, beating out other limited-time offers that month,” says Baril. Customers ordered them both as a shareable bar food plate and as an entree paired with the ale.
Baril ties menu development into the calendar, and in May, “People want to go outside and start grilling,” he says. To put a different twist on the ribs, he channeled North Carolina’s honey-mustard barbecue style, adding some “Nashville hot” flavor. “The Belgian Gold Fever Ale packs a bit of punch, so I wanted the ribs to pack a punch too,” says Baril. The kitchen braises the ribs in the ale to infuse the meat with subtle yeasty, fruity notes, then finishes them with the housemade barbecue sauce.
Telling the story
When an LTO is ready to debut, Baril holds tastings with the executive chefs at each of Granite City’s 32 locations, pairing the food with the beer and presenting the story behind both. The pitch plays up the beer’s nuances, the R&D that went into the ribs, the regional American flavors and the thinking behind the pairing. Each location then holds a tapping event on the day the seasonal beer and its food pairing launch. “The tapping event brings the story to life [for our guests],” says Baril.
Promoting the pairing
Before the launch, Granite City alerts its email club about the latest seasonal pairing and the upcoming tapping event. On the day the beer is tapped, the LTO is priced slightly lower to encourage trial. Marketing materials within each restaurant’s four walls highlight the story and remind Granite City’s customers about the concept’s scratch kitchen and unique beer program.
“Sometimes we sell out of beer before the end of the month,” says Baril.
Men were more likely to purchase the LTO than women. Only 58% of females would order the ribs, 10 percentage points lower than male customers. With its hearty dishes and robust beer program, Granite City’s customer base seems to skew male.
While 69% of consumers overall found the ribs craveable, younger diners were especially enticed by their flavor profile. According to Technomic’s recent Generational Consumer Trend Report, 64% of millennials like trying new flavors. The beer notes in the braising liquid and the ribs’ bold sauce create craveability.
Granite City Food & Brewery’s Golden Honey BBQ Ribs; $18.99 half rack; $22.99 full rack
Perhaps the start of barbecue season fired up cravings for grilled meat, as consumers were enticed by meaty menu items in May, with burgers, ribs and steak scoring high in purchase intent. Chocolate and berries also had their fans, showing up in several items on this list.
Click ahead to see 10 of the most appealing chain LTOs from April through May, as indicated by Technomic’s MenuSurf survey, powered by Ignite. (The canvass of 500 consumers for 100 or more limited-time offers shows which are the most likely to be ordered on the basis of the item’s name and description. Results are rounded to the nearest whole number.)
Seasonal strawberries paired with pancakes tempted 57% of consumers to say they would purchase this breakfast platter from Perkins Restaurant & Bakery. The word “fresh” also is a selling point, according to Technomic’s consumer research. The description of the pancake platter includes a reference to ample portion size as well: three buttermilk pancakes topped with glazed strawberries, powdered sugar and whipped topping accompanied by two eggs and bacon.
Arby’s introduced several bourbon-flavored barbecue sandwiches as limited-time offers during this period. Of the 500 consumers surveyed, 57% said they would purchase the chain’s Bourbon BBQ Steak. The premium sandwich is composed of angus steak topped with Kentucky bourbon barbecue sauce, brown sugar bacon, natural cheddar cheese and crispy onions.
Just ahead of Arby’s steak sandwich is the chain’s Bourbon BBQ Chicken Sandwich. Fifty-eight percent of consumers were in favor of purchasing this Arby’s LTO, which has the same flavor profile and build as the beefy version, but swaps in a fried chicken fillet for the steak. Male consumers were more in favor of the steak version, with 64.6% indicating they would purchase it, compared to the 58% who said the same of the chicken.
This indulgent-sounding dessert from Redstone American Grill ranked high in purchase intent with 58% of respondents, earning the same score as Arby’s Bourbon BBQ Chicken. But females were more likely to order the cheesecake, with 61% saying they would. Generational differences also emerged when comparing the two LTOs: 62.7% of millennials preferred the Bourbon BBQ Chicken, while 78.3% of Gen Zers went for the cheesecake.
Chicken also fared well at Famous Dave’s, where an LTO named Iris’s Down Home Chicken Platter scored high in purchase intent with 59% of consumers. The menu item is based on a recipe for Southern fried chicken from Dave’s mom, Iris. It features four pieces of chicken, two sides and a corn muffin, accompanied by Buffalo honey sauce for drizzling.
Meat is more of a condiment than the main attraction in the Loaded Tots at Hoss’s Family Steak & Sea House. This LTO starts with a base of potato tots and piles on cheese sauce, sour cream, chives and pieces of cooked bacon. Of those surveyed, 62% would purchase the Loaded Tots, with females just as eager to order them as males.
In a three-way tie, Burgerville’s Fresh Strawberry Sundae also got high marks from 62% of respondents, with millennials (66.7%) and females (63.2%) bumping up its score. The dessert’s emphasis on freshness, seasonality and simplicity may have won them over. On the menu, the sundae is described as “a cup full of rich, thick, real ice cream, topped with real whipping cream and freshly cut strawberries.”
Golden Honey BBQ Ribs from Granite City Food & Brewery earned the top spot on this month’s list, making it the item consumers were most likely to purchase. The ribs attracted 63% of consumers, who may have been lured by its preparation technique: Baby back ribs are slow-braised in ale, then glazed in Granite City’s housemade Carolina gold honey barbecue sauce. Respondents also found this LTO to be the most craveable of all, with 69% of potential purchasers ranking it in first place for craveability.