Trying times can smash long-held convictions about what the public will try, as restaurant chains are suggesting with their latest customer lures. A market that refused to come anywhere near the margins of mainstream tastes is now experimenting with such draws as deer-meat sandwiches and candy-packed Mexican food.
Here’s a look at some of the boundary-stretching oddities that mass-market restaurant brands are using to pull consumers out of the house.
Arby’s venison sandwich
Consistent with Arby’s claim of being the quick-service authority on meat, the sandwich chain will add a venison sandwich starting today in states where deer hunting is common.
The item consists of a thick-cut venison steak topped with fried onions and a cabernet-based steak sauce flavored with juniper berries, a traditional complement to deer meat. CMO and President Ron Lynch acknowledged that the limited-time offer is “probably the biggest stretch for us yet.” Presumably for that reason, the sandwich will be featured for just three days in a mere 17 units.
The restaurants are located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where deer hunting season is beginning.
Starbucks’ espresso beer
The coffee specialist’s interest in serving more alcoholic beverages has yielded the green giant’s first mixed drink, the Espresso Cloud IPA. It consists of a can of India pale ale poured into a glass and topped with froth that’s skimmed off an espresso. The R&D specialist who took the idea that far wondered what to do with the espresso that’s left over, so he experimented with serving it as a shot accompanying the brew. Customers can either pour the espresso into the beer, or sip it and use the beer as a chaser.
Taco Bell’s Kit Kat quesadilla
If snack chips like Doritos and Fritos have been a hit ingredient for Taco Bell, why not try something even more indulgent, like a candy bar?
That’s exactly what the chain is doing with a new quesadilla built around a Kit Kat, the popular candy made with cookie wafers and chocolate. The Kit Kat Chocodilla is sold as a dessert item, at present only in the United Kingdom.
Taco Bell has experimented with chocolate-loaded Mexican staples before, of course. Need we mention the Choco Taco? More outlandish was the Chocodilla, essentially the new item without a branded cookie as they key ingredient.
Del Taco’s drive-thru platters
After outperforming most of the quick-service market by stressing value, the Del Taco Mexican chain has introduced a new menu line aimed at convenience-minded consumers. It consists not of conventional grab-and-go items, but of platters specifically designed for drive-thru service.
Del Taco is touting the new platos as dinners to be eaten at home, using the slogan “Get dinner fast, eat it slow.” EVP John Cappasola told investors that the additions will “grow our occasions of use” by adding a more upscale option. Each plato offers chips and salsa, rice, beans, slices of avocado and either a “wet” (i.e., sauced) chicken or carne asado burrito.
Consistent with the chain’s emphasis on value, the platters start at $6.49, Cappasola said.
Shake Shack’s one-day LTO
The retro burger specialist also featured the really-limited-time offer in just one restaurant, the original branch in New York City’s Madison Park. The draw was the chicken sandwich that’s become a cult favorite for Son of a Gun, the Los Angeles restaurant run by chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo.
The duo showed up at the restaurant on Friday to make and serve what was called the Son of a Gun Chick’n Shack, a mashup of Shake Shack’s regular fried-chicken sandwich and the version associated with Son of a Gun.
It was not advertised, but word of mouth apparently spread quickly, helped in part by the restaurant’s ShackCam live video camera feed.