Built to last
Built to last

Last year, Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger proved to be so popular the limited-time offer’s run was extended by months. This year, the sandwich returned to Wendy’s promotional lineup to such fanfare that the quick-service chain did what seemed inevitable: making Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger a perma.....

Last year, Wendy’s Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger proved to be so popular the limited-time offer’s run was extended by months. This year, the sandwich returned to Wendy’s promotional lineup to such fanfare that the quick-service chain did what seemed inevitable: making Pretzel Bacon Cheeseburger a permanent menu item.

The quick-service chain made the announcement this week on Twitter, acknowledging how much influence fans of the sandwich had on social media.

Many franchisors face the same test as Wendy’s whenever a limited-time offer exceeds expectations. Several brands said that, while a limited-time offer has the power of controlled scarcity that can be deployed when a chain needs to drive traffic or beat same-store sales comparisons from a prior launch, it is often best to keep popular items around.

“You can use an LTO to drive traffic during a promotional period, or you can put that item on the menu to drive traffic forever,” said Ryan Joy, senior director of research and development for Checkers and Rally’s Restaurants Inc.

He would know: Some of Checkers and Rally’s most popular menu items started out as limited-time offers, such as its wings, the Loaded Fries platform and the Fry Lovers Burger. Even after Checkers and Rally’s let another limited-time offer expire, a $2 box of Chicken Bites and French fries, fans of the item still ordered it enough to have it achieve 3 percent of sales mix, Joy said.

He added that it is far more valuable for Checkers and Rally’s to meet that demand than to hold on to the Chicken Bites deal in the brand’s back pocket.

“I’ll let the consumer tell me what I should do, through their buying it when it’s not even on the menu board,” Joy said. “If my customer wants it, there’s no reason to wait till next year to run [the offer] just to roll over those positive comps from this year. We’ll just come up with something new.”

Burger King could not ignore its customers, either — though its most recent menu introduction was the reverse of Wendy’s and Checkers’ latest moves. The quick-service chain took a former permanent item that rolled off the menu in 2012, Chicken Fries, and will reintroduce them as a limited-time offer after the item’s fans kept a steady drumbeat for its return on social media.

“There have been days where we’ve seen one tweet every 40 seconds, campaigning to bring Chicken Fries back,” Eric Hirschhorn, chief marketing officer for North America at Burger King, said in an email to 1851 Magazine. “When you have guests who are this passionate about a product, you have to give them what they want.”

Other brands have given permanent menu space to items that either proved to be popular promotional or seasonal items. The Beer Battered Tilapia Sandwich at Buffalo Wings & Rings, for instance, was a special for Lent. At Toppers Pizza, the Buffalo Chicken Topper was a limited-time offer that now “is one of our more popular house pizzas on the menu,” manager of marketing and public relations Bridget Keeler said.

Dan Corrigan, marketing manager for Wing Zone, similarly said the Atlanta-based wing chain saw only upside when it elevated the popular Mango Fire wing sauce from limited-time flavor to the chain’s permanent rotation.

“We knew it was a flavor profile that we hadn’t met yet on the menu,” Corrigan said. “The risk takers give new LTO flavors a try, but as more people adopted Mango Fire, we saw that it needed to be permanent. Everybody had good things to say about it, and we needed that spot for sweet heat to always be filled on the menu."

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