Fall signals a return to heartier items on chain menus—a trend consumers seem to favor. In September, limited-time offers with the highest consumer purchase intent focused on comforting classics such as chicken, roast potatoes, mac and cheese, and pizza. Breakfast foods and sweets also received some love.
Click ahead to see the 10 most appealing LTOs at chains from August through September, as indicated by Technomic’s MenuSurf survey. (The canvass of 500 consumers shows which LTOs out of 100 or more are most likely to be ordered on the basis of the item’s name and description. Results are rounded to the nearest whole number.)
10. Strawberry Real Fruit Hand-Mixed Classic Shake
Describing a menu item as “hand-crafted” or “housemade” resonates with consumers, and this milkshake from Sonic Drive-In proves that point. The words “hand-mixed” and “real” in its name indicate that the shake is made from scratch, and from this description, 57% of MenuSurf respondents said they would purchase the milkshake.
9. Mac & Cheese
The detailed description for Modern Market’s mac and cheese elevated the item and tempted consumers. The fast-casual chain menus the comfort-food favorite as tender cavatappi noodles, decadent sauce and five gooey cheeses: white cheddar, Muenster, Asiago, Parmesan and whole-milk mozzarella, prompting 58% of consumers to say they would order Modern Market’s mac and cheese.
8. Chocolate Cookies n Cream Shake
Like Sonic, Shake Shack offered an enticing shake in September. Its Chocolate Cookies n Cream shake features chocolate custard blended with chocolate cookies and topped with whipped cream and chocolate cookie crumbles. Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents gave the shake a thumbs up by indicating they would order it.
7. Blueberry Muffin
With summer vacationers returning to the routine of work and school, grab-and-go breakfast items regain their appeal. Starbucks’ blueberry muffin sounds simple, but its full description lured 60% of consumers to say they would order it. The muffin features blueberries with a hint of lemon, and the top is dusted with granulated sugar “for a delightfully crunchy texture.”
6. 5 Meat Feast Pizza
Tastes seemed to turn from lighter foods to meaty items this past month. Little Caesars’ 5 Meat Feast Pizza earned a consumer purchase intent score of 60%. As its name indicates, the pie is made with five meaty toppings—pepperoni, bacon, sausage, beef and ham—with melted mozzarella in the mix as well.
5. Grandma’s Sampler
The homey name “Grandma’s Sampler” caught consumers’ attention, with 61% of survey respondents in favor of ordering the breakfast plate from Cracker Barrel. It’s a pretty traditional combo, but one that has universal appeal: pancakes served with warm syrup, two eggs, one strip of thick-sliced bacon, one smoked sausage patty and a sampling of sugar-cured or country ham. The already hearty item also comes with a hash brown casserole or fried apples.
4. French Toast
Here’s another dish with a straightforward name that won potential customers over with its decadent description. This French Toast from Romano’s Macaroni Grill is described on the menu as traditional golden brioche French toast, whipped mascarpone creme, fresh strawberries and raspberries, served with a choice of Nutella stuffing or sweet berry topping. The indulgent ingredients convinced 61% of consumers to say they would purchase the breakfast item.
3. Classic BBQ Pulled Pork
Potbelly Sandwich Shop ventured into barbecue territory for its recent LTO, and consumers responded favorably. The description of the chain’s Classic BBQ Pulled Pork tempted 61% of respondents to say they would order it. The hot sandwich is composed of tender, slow-roasted pulled pork topped with a signature sweet, smoky BBQ sauce and Potbelly’s own coleslaw on multigrain bread. As with Little Caesars’ pizza, meat was the lure for a majority of consumers.
2. Roasted Garlic & Herb Rotisserie Chicken
In introducing seasonal LTOs, several chains went for familiar comfort foods with a twist. Rotisserie roast chicken is Boston Market’s trademark, but its Roasted Garlic & Herb Rotisserie Chicken takes the signature to the next level. It’s described as chicken with a light cream glaze, herbs and Parmesan cheese topped with a toasted herb crunch—a preparation that scored high with 62% of consumers.
1. Loaded Roasted Potatoes
Another item from Boston Market landed in the No. 1 spot among September’s most appealing limited-time offers. The chain’s Loaded Roasted Potatoes sound like a spin on other restaurants’ successful loaded french fries, as they’re topped with melted cheddar cheese, crisp bacon pieces and fresh diced green onions. This healthier twist on a popular potato combo earned high marks with 65% of consumers.