The composition of the modern American meal is pretty well established: the entrée/side/beverage/dessert formula has been around for centuries. But that doesn’t mean restaurants and meal trends haven’t had their revolutions. Endless interpretations of sandwiches, burgers and pizzas exist on the entrée end of things, and varieties of craft beer, coffee, teas and milkshakes have made their rounds on beverage menus. Side dishes, on the other hand, have always seemed to stick to the basics. Fried potatoes remain the default side at many quick service restaurants, but the side portion of the meal is starting to pick up pace.
Sure, the burger may be the highlight of your trip to the drive-thru, but quick service restaurants have come to realize that their unique, delicious options can’t end at the main dish anymore. Consumers demand the best of every aspect of their experience, and they’re definitely not low on restaurant options, making it even more difficult for restaurants to keep customers coming back.
Recently, QSR brands began positioning their side dish offerings in new ways in order to stand out from the crowd and continue to drive sales. Can chicken nuggets be a side? If you’ve swung by a Burger King recently, you would know they’d say yes. Can dessert be a side? Heck yeah – haven’t you ever had a kid’s meal from Culver’s? Fries aren’t just fries anymore – Checkers seasons theirs to perfection, and you better not order fries at In-N-Out without getting them “animal style.” When Checkers & Rally’s started winning award after award for their famous seasoned fries, they knew they couldn’t stop there, so they took their famous seasoning and created new sides, including Fry Seasoned Monsterella Stix and Fully Loaded Fries. Back Yard Burgers offers every side dish option from tots and chili cheese fries to fried pickles and loaded baked potatoes. They’re consistently experimenting with new flavors through their limited time offers, which always feature a new side dish. The brand finds that including unique side dishes helps seal the deal with consumers, completing the meal and keeping taste buds excited.
“Each limited time offer that we promote features a side dish, whether it is Salt & Vinegar Waffle Fries or Chili Cheese Fries,” said Andrea Jacobs, director of marketing at Back Yard Burgers. “We include multiple point-of-purchase elements that picture and promote these sides alongside the featured burger and milkshake.”
It seems inevitable that side options will continue to evolve, and major franchise chains will start offering tempura veggies, bacon wrapped dates or other options among fries and chips. Any side dish you can think of may be worth exploring if you’re eager to stand out in the crowd of quick service restaurants. The opportunities, and potential rewards, are endless.