Comfort food makeovers reign among this winter’s tempting LTOs
In December, limited-time offers at chains featured a variety of old favorites updated with new twists. Consumers responded favorably to burgers, breakfast dishes, pasta, desserts and other comfort foods presented in different formats or revamped with on-trend ingredients and flavors.
Click ahead to see seven top-scoring LTOs launched at chains from November through December, as indicated by Technomic’s MenuSurf survey. (The canvass of 500 consumers shows which LTOs out of 100 or more are most appealing on the basis of the item’s name and description. Results are rounded to the nearest whole number.)
Olive Garden turned lasagna inside out by transforming the ingredients into a dip. This LTO is described as layers of cheese and homemade meat sauce topped with smoked mozzarella and baked to perfection. The dip, served with housemade pasta chips seasoned with Parmesan cheese and garlic salt, is billed as a shareable or appetizer. Just over 54% of consumers indicated they would purchase the item, which 57% of potential purchasers found craveable.
Steak and Cheese Skillet
Breakfast skillets are a mainstay at Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, but this hearty version is upgraded with a meatier spin. It features grilled steak tips along with applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar, crunchy onions and two eggs. The ingredients are served over crispy smashed tots with drizzles of barbecue and steak sauce. That combination caused 57% of consumers to say they would order the item, while 46% of those potential purchasers indicated they would be more likely to visit a restaurant serving this dish.
Bonefish Grill revamped two classic dishes—lobster thermidor and potato gnocchi—by combining them into one comforting package. The seafood chain’s Thermidor Gnocchi features sweet lobster chunks and tender shrimp sauteed with potato gnocchi, mushrooms, peas and fresh tomatoes tossed in a lobster-sherry cream sauce. The LTO ranked high with potential purchasers in the MenuSurf survey—68% found it craveable and 73% ranked it as unique.
Maple Bacon Shake
Beverages earned high craveability scores in December, with milkshakes, hot chocolates and specialty coffees coming in at the top of the list. Landing at No. 1 is the Maple Bacon Shake from Ruby’s Diner, described as creamy vanilla ice cream blended with maple and caramel flavors and swirled with savory bacon bits. More decadence comes in the topping of whipped cream and crispy bacon crumbles. Close to 76% of potential purchasers found the shake craveable, and 78% of those would be more likely to visit a restaurant serving this shake.
BBQ Pulled Pork Mac n Cheese
Seventy-two percent of potential purchasers said they would be more likely to visit a restaurant serving this makeover of macaroni and cheese. Max & Irma's pumped up the classic comfort food with barbecue flavors, adding slow-smoked pork to the mix and piling crispy onion rings on top, along with drizzles of barbecue sauce.
Eggs Benedict is a must-have on breakfast and brunch menus, but First Watch changed up the standard with a surprising twist. Instead of the usual hollandaise, this LTO borrows from a popular pasta preparation, recreating the dish carbonara-style with a Parmesan cream sauce. In place of the traditional English muffins, poached eggs are placed on top of Parmesan-crusted ciabatta, then adorned with thick-cut braised bacon, arugula and the sauce. Cracked black pepper and fresh chives complete the flavor profile. Close to 76% of potential purchasers found this version of eggs Benedict unique, and 64% deemed it craveable.
Salted Gooey Caramel Butter Cake
The holiday season is typically a time for indulgent desserts, and Houlihan’s LTO grabbed attention among consumers. The name alone is tempting, but the description is the icing on the cake, so to speak. The Salted Caramel Gooey Butter Cake is finished with Ghirardelli salted caramel sauce, powdered sugar and vanilla ice cream. According to MenuSurf data, a little over 44% of consumers said they would order the dessert, with 62% of those potential purchasers indicating that they would order it any time—even though the LTO was targeted to holiday customers.