September 9th, 2019

Hot New Menu Items

Posted in Food Trends, New Foods and Flavors, Promotions

New Menu Items Show Love for Smoke and Heat

New Menu Items

As we close out the third quarter of the year and prepare to enter the fourth, we’re seeing quite a few interesting new menu items set to launch. From shrimp to waffles, smoke and spice trends seem to dominate.

Dickey’s BBQ Pit

Smoked Chicken Wings

Photo courtesy of Dickeys.com

Dickey’s is going all in on a permanent addition of its pit smoked wings to the menu. These were recently tested and proved a hit, so they’re not letting the excitement drop. There’s no end in sight for these savory wings, available in flavors like Sweet BBQ, Carolina BBQ, Buffalo, Hot Buffalo, and Texas Hot.

Norm’s

New Menu Items

The famous California diner, Norm’s, isn’t shying away from new flavor trends. From now until January 2020 you can enjoy one of their delicious Belgian waffles topped with crispy fried chicken and a spicy Sriracha honey sauce. We’ve seen this flavor combination pop-up in a few places in the past, but it’s nice to see it finding space on more conservative menus.

Red Lobster

New Menu Items

Photo courtesy of RedLobster.com

Never one to shy away from promotions, Red Lobster is making a safe bet with its $15.99 Endless Shrimp LTO. Set for an unspecified amount of time, this deal offers the diner a bottomless supply of Crispy Sriracha Honey, Teriyaki Grilled, or one of the other 3 shrimp flavors. You only get to select 2 flavors per order, however.

Subway

Smoked Brisket Sandwich

Photo courtesy of Subculture.Subway.com

Always a fan favorite, Subway continues to find new ways to satisfy sandwich cravings at an affordable price. Their newest addition to the lineup is the Pit-smoked Brisket Sandwich, complete with a sweet and tangy BBQ sauce. This will only be available through September 6, however, so get there fast.

Taco Bell

Baked Cheddar Chalupa

Photo courtesy of Thrillist.com

It would seem unreal to not include Taco Bell on a new product launch list. The perennial masters of innovative ideas never disappoint. This time they are launching a Toasted Cheddar Chalupa, available with chicken or beef, or as a Bacon Club build. With 6-month aged Cheddar baked into the shell, it sounds like a can’t miss concept.

What’s Next?

I guess we’ll see soon. New menu launches and LTOs seem to be picking up speed recently, so I don’t doubt lots more interesting and delicious foods will be available soon. Be sure to stay tuned to see what else we uncover.

Cheers!

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August 26th, 2019

AI Technology Driving Efficiency in Fast Food

Posted in Consumer Trends, Restaurants, Technology

AI Technology shows strength in fast food testing

AI Technology in Restaurants

Photo courtesy of nrn.com

AI technology has been a conversation starter for some time now. In most cases, it’s in the format of “someday,” or “won’t it be crazy when…?”

Well it looks like that “when” is now. With impressive advances in AI technology over the last couple of years, companies have begun testing in different markets. One of the most popular platforms to test AI technology is currently in fast food restaurants.

Let’s look at how AI is changing the way we interact with food.

AI Technology in Food Service

As of now, four major players in the fast food arena (McDonald’s, Good Times, Chipotle, and Sonic) are either testing or in the process of implementing AI technology into their restaurants. But it’s not in the format one might expect.

AI Technology Fast Food

Photo courtesy of nrn.com

Instead of using the tech for cooking, packaging, or other labor-based skills, it’s being utilized in so-called “soft-skills,” specifically order taking. This use is why this type of AI is dubbed “conversational AI.”

How is Conversational AI Being Used?

Good Times is focusing on using this technology in drive through windows. Its system, lovingly named “Holly,” has shown to be very adept at her job. In the six months of her operation, Holly has reduced customer wait time by seven seconds and her intuitive up-selling has shown a measurable increase in check averages.

AI Technology

Photo courtesy of hospitalitytech.com

Chipotle has found success with their intuitive telephone ordering technology while Sonic begins testing on their drive through system this year. McDonald’s, however, is showing an aggressive push with a slightly different tech. By the end of this year they will have increased the implementation of their AI driven interactive menu boards from 700 to 8,000 restaurants nationwide. The biggest difference in their system is that the boards are not voice operated, but intuitive based on the customers choices.

What’s the Benefit of AI Technology?

The push for AI is coming from the operators’ need to:

  1. Decrease labor turnover
  2. Increase speed of service
  3. Increase accuracy
  4. Allow employees to focus on food quality

By letting AI systems take over ordering and basic customer service functions, employees are freed up to focus on food quality and speed of service. As of now the companies claim that the tech will not replace human employees, instead, it will help them do their jobs better.

There are some additional benefits of AI. It does not get tired, or angry, or sick. Its accuracy is nearly flawless, and is always “friendly,” even when being yelled at.

Limitations

AI in Fast Food

Photo courtesy of engadget.com

At this point some kinks are still being worked out. It’s incredibly important that the technology can actually understand the customer. Therefore, the speech detection portion of the software is absolutely crucial. Regional dialects and accents can add other variables. The adaptive learning portion of the program is essential in overcoming these limitations.

Fail safes have been implemented to help in some of these categories. For example, at any point during a conversation a customer can ask Holly to speak with a “human” or “employee.” However, in the time of its activity only ~1% of customers have chosen to do so. This shows not only Holly’s effectiveness, but also the adaptability of Good Time’s customers to changing technology.

Hello Future World!

It’s official, the future is here. Conversational AI now holds real estate in our pockets, homes, and restaurants. It’s safe to say that the only direction is forward when it comes to AI tech., so we’d better be ready for the changes. What an exciting time to be alive!

Cheers!

 

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August 12th, 2019

BBQ is King on Summer Menus

Posted in Consumer Trends, Food Trends, Restaurants

Between LTO’s and Menu Updates, BBQ Reigns

BBQ is King

Summer is in full swing and according to menus nationwide, BBQ is king!

Aside all the frozen cocktails, fruit-focused summer salads, and swimsuit friendly bites, you’ll find smoky barbecue options hitting the mark. This trend isn’t simply relegated to full-service restaurants, it’s occurring across all market segments. Just check the menus…

BBQ on Summer Menus

Fast Food

BBQ Trends

Photo courtesy of chikfila.com

It looks like the fast food segment is all for the push to savory BBQ flavors. Chick-fil-A recently launched their Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Chicken Sandwich, while KFC has re-released their Smoky Mountain BBQ and Georgia Gold options. Across the board, burger staples like McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., and Jack in the Box are all featuring a seasonal BBQ option. Even Arby’s is on board with their Bourbon BBQ Sandwich selection.

Quick Service

BBQ Flavors

Photo courtesy of chewboom.com

QSR businesses are known for their trend forward ways and menu flexibility. It’s part of what makes them special. So, it’s no surprise to see BBQ options on these menus as well. Starbucks is taking their chance on a Honey BBQ Sriracha Chicken Sandwich, while Boston Market is going with a re-release of the Bourbon Bacon Rotisserie Chicken. MOD Pizza is blending pineapple with BBQ on their limited edition “Fred Pizza,” featuring Canadian bacon, roasted pineapple, red onion, and a sweet BBQ sauce swirl.

Full Service

BBQ on Menus

Photo courtesy of Chilis.com

Ruby Tuesdays, known for their epic salad bar, is upping their game with a Hickory Bourbon Bacon Sirloin. Chili’s has gone even further, pushing their BBQ options onto a new Smokehouse Combo menu, where you can mix and match choices of smoked brisket, cheesy bacon BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs, and smoked sausages. Outback Steakhouse has found legs in the BBQ trend with options like the Aussie Twisted Ribs and the BBQ Pork Porterhouse.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire!

And these flavor trends are hot! It’s no coincidence that BBQ is King on national menus. We saw massive growth with BBQ flavors last year, and 2019 doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. So, don’t fall behind, give the people what they want with unique new BBQ flavors and pairings.

Cheers!

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March 3rd, 2019

Time to Re-Think Chinese Food

Posted in Food Trends, Restaurants

It’s a New Era for Chinese Food

And it’s really stepping its game up

Chinese Food

For a long time, we in the states have associated Chinese food with the overly sweet, oily, and often deep-fried mess that comes from local restaurants. You know the types, they often throw the words “Jade,” “Garden,” or “Dragon” in their name to feign authenticity.

Luckily, times are changing. With the increase in culinary exploration currently happening, we’re seeing a re-birth of truly delicious Chinese restaurants. These purveyors reach back to the traditions of Cantonese and Sichuan cooking, using locally available ingredients and complementing them with savory sauces, spicy rubs, and umami rich glazes.

So let’s spotlight 3 restaurants changing what we think Chinese food should be.

Chinese Food in a New Light

Hop Alley – Denver, CO

Chef Tommy Lee, a Denver native, ventured into his second restaurant business with Hop Alley. His first spot, Uncle, is a well-renown noodle and Ramen bar in Denver.

With Hop Alley, however, he went from focusing on a single item (noodles), to developing a delicious and diverse menu of classic Chinese dishes with modern twists. The menu is especially conscious of using local products. The Cumin Lamb made with Colorado lamb ribs exemplifies this.

Modern Chinese Food

Photo Courtesy of Westword.com

The Char Siu (Chinese BBQ) Pork Shoulder and Sichuan Potatoes with fermented black bean sauce convey the traditional spirit of Sichuan and Cantonese cuisine. The main 2 regions we unwittingly reference when we speak of Chinese food. But more importantly, they do so without dumbing down the quality and complexity of what makes these foods special.

Duck Duck Goat – Chicago, IL

Bravo’s Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard has certainly made the most of her post-television life. Opened in 2016, Duck Duck Goat is Chef Izard’s 3rd restaurant, and personally, my favorite. DDG combines just the right blend of tradition, modern technique, and whimsy on the menu making it an unforgettable experience.

New Chinese Food

Picture courtesy of Chicagomag.com

The Char Siu Bao (there’s that Char Siu popping up again) are perfectly savory and chewy, acting as a terrific appetite warm up. Her menu further walks the tight rope of tradition with items like Wood-Fired Chicken Hearts with a sesame horseradish sauce, Sichuan Eggplant with goat sausage, and a fit-for-a-king whole Peking Duck with mandarin pancakes and an assortment of sweet, salty, and spicy Chinese sauces.

If DDG is not on your short list of Chicago restaurants, it definitely needs to be.

Wu Chow – Austin, TX

Everyone knows Austin is a culinary beacon for delicious Texas style BBQ. But what many folks outside this one-of-a-kind city don’t know is that it’s also a mecca for amazing Asian cuisine. Tyson Cole’s Uchi, Otoko from Chef Yoshi Okai, Thai Kun from Chef Paul Qui, and the plethora of Tatsu-Ya restaurants exemplify the breadth of delicious Asian cuisine in the city.

But not to be forgotten is the stand out hot spot of downtown Austin, Wu Chow. Executive Chef Ji Peng Chen brings a remarkably unique and delicious menu to life, highlighting familiar Chinese favorites and unknown oddities side by side in a winning tableau.

Chinese Food

Image Courtesy of atasteofkoko.com

The traditional soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao), made with pork shoulder and concentrated pork broth are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. Plus, it’s nice to get a little walk-through of the proper soup-dumpling procedure before you eat (dip in vinegar, place on spoon, bite a hole and suck out some soup, then eat the rest in one bite). For a nod to Texas, Chef Chen offers Wok-Tossed Texas Okra. Similar in preparation to dry fried green beans, the okra is made with ginger, Thai chili peppers, and a delicious seasoning mix. This is by far one of my favorite dishes.

For more abstract but delicious items try the Seafood Bird’s Nest, the hot and spicy Striped Bass, or the Chicken and Taro Egg Rolls. Really, you can’t go wrong.

Xièxiè

Thanks for reading along. I hope this article motivates you to go try out some new and unique Chinese food in your local area. If you know of any restaurants doing something special, be sure to let us know in the comments.

Cheers!

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