Being the most memorable contender in a given market is a challenge in the best of times, and these are hardly the most robust of days. How do you stand apart from the pack without making price that arresting point of difference?
The last few weeks have brought some unusual attempts at uniqueness. Here are six of the more far-afield efforts.
1. Slow roasting for BJ’s Restaurants
Looking for more roasting capacity than its pizza ovens and broilers provide, the casual chain started experimenting last year with slow-roasting ovens. The results have been so promising, says CEO Greg Trojan, that BJ’s plans to complete a chainwide rollout in April, or before what he calls the “celebration season” of Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduations.
The new ovens have enabled the chain to add “larger format protein” such as prime rib and double-cut pork chops, with the (oven) door still open to such differentiators as whole turkeys. The objective, Trojan said, was to add the roasted products consumers might associate with higher-end places, but at a half to a third of the price.
The first test product was a prime rib that the chain offered initially as a Tuesday special. Packaged with a salad and a Pizookie dessert, BJ’s signature pizza-like cookie, the meal sold for $26.50, or at the high end of the usual range in casual dining.
It was so successful that the cut is now offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“In addition, we're adding prime rib and slow roasted turkey dip sandwiches [with] the rollout of these new ovens,” Trojan said.
2. Papa John’s premium delivery service
It’s no secret that pizza chains are vying to see which can offer the greatest ease and convenience to delivery customers. What has been hush-hush is a test by Papa John’s that came to light this week. For an upcharge of $2.99, customers in test locations can have their orders moved to the top of a delivery driver’s list of stops, so those customers can get their pies faster.
Tests of the Papa Priority service began last fall and were recently expanded, the Associated Press reported. To lessen the risk of antagonizing other customers, the priority option is only offered for five orders per location per night, the A.P. said.
3. Pizza Hut’s pizza sneakers
An archrival of Papa John’s, Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut, is trying to snag attention from college basketball fans this playoffs season with the industry’s first delivery-ordering-placing sneakers. The chain is introducing what it’s dubbed Pie Tops, or sneakers equipped with a mini-communications center on the tongue. Wearers press the button to order a pie. The signal is relayed via Bluetooth to the Pizza Hut app on the wearer’s smartphone, and the order is sent into the chain’s system.
The button doubles as a locator device, so the deliveryman can find whoever placed the order.
The sneaker rollout is more of a publicity stunt than a true extension of the pizza segment’s ordering capabilities, which already extend to texts, emojis and virtual valets like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Pizza Hut said that only 64 pairs of Pie Tops were manufactured.
4. Arby’s elevated Meat Mountain
Rare is the fast-food chain that doesn’t offer a fish item during Lent, the season leading up to Eater when many Christians stop eating meat as a sacrifice. Rarer still is the Lenten offering of Arby’s, which packs the fish, but several inches of stacked meat as well.
For a limited time, the sandwich chain is offering a seafood riff on its Meat Mountain, a sandwich that exemplifies excess. Normally, the skyscraper of a meal consists of two chicken tenders, turkey, ham, corned beef, brisket, steak, roast beef and pepper bacon. “There’s also cheddar and Swiss cheese somewhere in there,” the chain notes on its website. Through March, customers who request the sandwich Denali style will also get a filet of Alaskan Pollock in the mix, at not extra charge.
5. Nekter’s pop-up catering bar
With chains of all stripes and sizes now pushing into catering, how do you offer something different? Seventy-unit Nekter Juice Bar says it’s veering from convention with a series of pop-up catering kits for groups of eight to more than 100 people. A juice version features gallon juice containers and all the needed cups, lids and straws. A bowl version allows customers to assemble their own acai or pitaya bowls.
All stores added the kits on March 1.
6. Sweetgreen tosses bowls
Speed of service remains a top concern for lunch-dependent concepts, particularly if each order is customized. The Sweetgreen tossed-to-order salad chain is aiming for an edge by testing an alternative to the silver metal bowls that staffers on the line use to mix customers’ greens. A store in New York City has switched to blending the salads in oversized hexagonal containers that double as the customer’s disposable takeout dish.
Using the serving bowl as the mixing container saves some time, and it saves considerable water by eliminating the need to wash the metal bowls, the chain explains on a sign in the store.