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With start of football season, chain menus aim for extra points

ATLANTA With the kick-off of the football season, some restaurant chains are scrambling for yardage with new menu items aimed at patrons who want to watch a game while they eat. Hooters, for instance, hit the field yesterday with four bargain-priced finger foods that are offered as both entrees and shareable appetizers.

The array, available just for the pro-football season, consists of Buffalo wing-flavored chicken mini-sandwiches; more traditional beef “sliders,” topped with bacon, lettuce and tomato; Split Ribs, or ribs cut into individual pieces; and Lots-A-Tots, a mound of “tater tots” topped with bacon, cheese, sour cream and chives. Each is priced at $8.99, according to the announcement. Hooters is known for its chicken wings, T-shirted waitresses and TVs tuned to sporting events.

“The menu offers items that not only fall in current trends like sliders, ribs and tater tots but also offer our guests a great value,” said Scott Kinsey, corporate chef for brand parent Hooters of America Inc. The company franchises or operates 445 casual restaurants.

The announcement of Hooters’ Football Menu follows the rollout earlier this week of six new pizzas by Papa John’s. Operator-franchisor Papa John’s International Inc. said the new pies were added specifically to gain ground on delivery competitors by offering more options to armchair athletes watching games on home TVs. The chain also noted that it was cutting the cost of all its large specialty pies, including the new ones, to $12.99 for a limited time.

Krispy Kreme, the struggling 490-unit doughnut chain, is hoping to bolster large orders during late summer and early fall with the return of its football-shaped doughnuts. The limited-time items are offered both a la carte and by the dozen as part of a tailgate pack, which also includes a dozen of the chain’s regular doughnuts. Krispy Kreme tops the football doughnuts with brown chocolate icing but will alter the topping to match the colors of a customer’s team if the order is placed at least 48 hours in advance.

Not all of the industry’s tie-ins with football are centered on menus, or are even seasonal. The week also brought news reports that Restaurant Holdings Inc., operators of the Atria’s Restaurant & Tavern chain in western Pennsylvania, was planning to open a Ditka’s restaurant next month in Pittsburgh, where the restaurant’s Hall of Fame namesake played college ball. Mike Ditka, the former coach of the Bears, teamed up with Restaurant Holdings chairman and one-time Boston Market area developer Pat McDonnell to open two Ditka’s restaurants in Chicago a number of years ago.

Restaurant Holdings is already scouting for additional sites to open a Ditka’s, according to local media reports.

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