Trees may shed plenty every fall, but QSR menus do not. Rather, many brands have been adding on like crazy this fall with innovative offerings, both LTO and permanent.
And it's not all food. Some chains are branching out into consumer goods to haul in more revenue, market their brand and engage with customers both inside and outside the restaurant.
It's a tough act to keep up with for a mere business editor, but the following is a summary of the creative treats many of your brands are introducing this autumn to catch, win over and most importantly, hold on to a whole bunch of hungry customers in this increasingly competitive QSR environment.
Arby's gone wild ... and mild
By now, you've probably heard about this chain's one-day wildness plan to offer the nation's "deer-ly" devoted meat lovers the farm-raised venison sandwich that was so big last year. The Oct. 21 offering is also accompanied by a three-location test of elk sandwiches in the northwestern U.S.
For the non-game gourmands in the bunch, the chain has introduced a new chicken pepperoni parm sandwich with mozzarella and roasted garlic marinara sauce on a star-top bun. The offering includes four different versions, all part of Arby's buttermilk chicken line.
Dunkin' dabbles in darker side
Yes, they look all cheery on the outside, but it appears that Dunkin' Donuts has a darker side — and it's not afraid to show it this fall, with the chain's first "costumed" doughnuts debuting in the weeks before Halloween.
The offering features everything from tamer takes like a double-chocolate choco-lantern and a spider donut, to the stranger entries from the doughnut dungeon, like the Boston Scream, Purple Potion and this writer's personal favorite, the jelly-filled Vampire's delight.
There are munchkins in full make-up, as well, along with the chain's pumpkin menu internet mascot, Dancing Pumpkin man, who is introducing the seasonal doughnuts to the masses this fall.
Good Times does 'good-for-kids' food ... just don't tell 'em
This healthful Colorado kid-centric brand is expanding its choices while giving youngsters' wallet-bearing chaperones a break on the price for a limited time.
The LTO covers kids meals featuring burgers, chicken tenders, mac-and-cheese, mini corn dogs and grilled cheese, with fries or applesauce and a drink, each now priced at $3.
"Kids don’t care how their burgers or chicken tenders are made, they want it to taste good," Good Times President and CEO Boyd Hoback, said in a press release. "Good Times cares and we think parents do, too — so why not give them some variety in affordable Kid's Meals that contain the all-natural core ingredients that make our brand unique — beef and chicken that are humanely raised, antibiotic- and steroid-free, and our fresh, creamy frozen custard with all-natural milk, cream and eggs."
Jack 'Out of the Box'
This brand put "out-of-the-box" thinking to use to develop the QSR sector's first all-ribeye burger. The burger comes on a potato bun with red onions, tomatoes, provolone, mayo and lettuce.
The LTO is accompanied by another variety of the ribeye burger, this one with havarti cheese and grilled onions, tomato, mayo and a red wine glaze. And that is just the beginning, with more new innovations to come later in the year, the chain said in a news release.
"This year we will continue prioritizing flavor, unique ingredients and surprising new menu items that satisfy the cravings our consumers did not even know they had," Jack in the Box Director of Product Marketing Jennifer Kennedy said in the release.
Krystal adds coffee ... and coffee and coffee ...
This chain is adding three new coffee choices, including the traditional hot cup, trendy iced coffee and a frozen caramel mocha frost that transforms an ordinary cup of Joe into something sweet and slushy for the kid in every solemn businesswoman or man.
It's all part of this longtime brand's push to stay atop current QSR trends while keeping a foot firmly planted in a great customer experience.
McAlister's makes it like mom does
This sandwich chain started two LTOs on Oct. 9 that aim squarely at the comfort food lover in all of us.
A garlic herb roast beef sandwich features beef, cheddar, herbed mayo, tomato and lettuce on nine-grain bread. Salted caramel cookies combine the sweet allure of caramel made even better with course-ground sea salt.
"When the seasons change, so do our guests’ palates, and McAlister’s is excited to roll out a new fall menu items that offer something for everyone," McAlister's Deli President Paul Macaluso said in the release.
Quizno's honors the 'god of gyros'
This gyro concept is getting on board with the recent "alternative truths" trend with a new offering that the chain claims — with tongue firmly planted in cheek — is in honor of the faux Greek god and inventor of the original gyro, Gyrocles.
To commemorate his mythical "mythological" existence, Quizno's is offering free gyro flatbread with the purchase of any gyro on Oct. 25 at stores nationwide. And it's introducing three new gyros as well, including a gyro flatbread with seasoned beef and lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, feta cheese, banana peppers and cucumber tzatziki sauce.
Options two and three include a seasoned beef-and-lamb sandwich on a toasted hoagie — a "gyro hero" — and a salad bowl with everything but the bread, and tzatziki sauce for dressing.
Taco Bell puts on some clothes, then its chickens take them off again
This chain is going "runway," bypartnering with clothing retailer Forever 21 to launch the first Taco Bell fashion collection — Forever 21 x Taco Bell.
The companies debuted the new garb on Tuesday in the heart of the Fashion District in Downtown Los Angeles, with models that included super fans Brittany Creech and Andrew McBurnie, as well as with other fans and "influencers."
While the chain's fans are putting on new clothes, their chicken is taking it all off this fall in "naked" chicken chips. New offerings include a crispy chicken quesadilla with chips inside, as well as a bacon ranch naked chicken chalupa, which is testing in Knoxville for a limited time.
The third naked chicken item is an early riser in the form of breakfast chicken and biscuits offered for a limited time in Indianapolis. It includes biscuit triangles, naked chicken chips and a choice of jalapeño honey or nacho cheese dipping sauce.
Taco John’s churro 'squashes' dessert competitors
This taco chain is bringing a little of the greatly loved great pumpkin into its dessert lineup, with a pumpkin churro featuring the puréed orange squash and crème rolled in a pumpkin pie-spiced cinnamon-sugar mix. The sweet offering is a limited time menu item.
Tim Horton's shuffles off to Buffalo
Buffalo sauce and latte — two terms that would seem to have nothing to do with one another unless you are the Canadian-born Tim Horton's chain. To celebrate the launch of the brand's new espresso lineup, select Tim Hortons locations in Buffalo, New York, will offer Buffalo lattes with espresso, steamed milk, mocha, a bold Buffalo sauce flavor and a Buffalo seasoning-dusted whipped topping.
“Tim Hortons and Buffalo sauce were both born in 1964, so why not take these two Buffalo staples and combine them?" Tim Hortons U.S. Regional President Stephen Goldstein said in a news release. "The unlikely pairing of sweet mocha and tangy Buffalo sauce come together to create an unexpectedly delicious sweet and spicy treat."
Feature photo: iStock
Topics: Burger/Steak/BBQ, Business Strategy and Profitability, Chicken, Coffee/Bakery/Donut, Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Health & Nutrition, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, PCI Compliance, Trends / Statistics
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.