Best New Menu Item: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen’s chicken sandwich
Introduced in August at Popeyes’ nearly 2,500 domestic locations, this seemingly simple sandwich of battered chicken breast on a buttered, toasted brioche bun with two pickles and a choice of mayonnaise or spicy Cajun spread shattered expectations and created social media battles with other chicken chains. Despite supply hiccups, the new item drove same-store sales growth of 34.4% for the fourth quarter of 2019.
Best Limited-Time Offer: Velvet Taco’s Weekly Taco Feature
This 14-unit concept based in Plano, Texas, introduces a WTF every week, such as a cheesesteak taco, a softshell crab taco, a lobster avocado taco and a miso lamb taco with kimchi slaw. The constant innovation allows the chain to test new items, jump on small and large trends, work with seasonal items and keep both its development team and its customers engaged.
Best Menu Revamp: Buffalo Wild Wings
The development team at this casual-dining chain of more than 1,200 restaurants didn’t just tweak around the edges when reworking its menu in 2019. Given the clear mission of repositioning the restaurant as the “Great American Sports Bar,” it dug deep, launching a new All-American Cheeseburger, rolling out bar items such as chicken tenders and sandwiches, and even introducing bigger and tastier boneless wings (pictured).
Best Line Extension: Burger King’s Impossible Whopper
Bringing plant-based protein squarely into the mainstream, this Miami-based quick-service chain took the bold move of rolling out a version of its signature Whopper sandwich featuring a plant-based patty across its approximately 7,300 domestic units. The result has been incremental sales at a premium price point, and a new reputation as a cutting-edge brand.
Healthful Innovation: Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Lifestyle Bowls
Smart restaurateurs know that the slightest friction point can mean the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity, so this fast-casual chain based in Newport Beach, Calif., formulated bowls for its customers on trendy diets, including the paleo, ketogenic (pictured on the right) and Whole30 (pictured on the left), for them to order online or via the restaurant’s app at its more than 2,600 restaurants. By guiding customers through its infinitely customizable menu, Chipotle has made it easier for them to find meals that suit their needs.
Menu Trendsetter: Dog Haus
This chain based in Pasadena, Calif., has grown to 51 units thanks to its creative hot dogs, sausages, burgers and chicken sandwiches with items such as the Sooo Cali dog with wild arugula, avocado, tomato, fried onions and spicy basil aïoli; the T-Mex which dresses a beef chorizo in pepper Jack sausage, avocado, chipotle aïoli, slaw, pickled jalapeños and pickled pepper; and the Mensch burger with American cheese, pickled pastrami and slaw. Collaborations with celebrity chefs, special menu items for charities and other types of community involvement keep them engaged in all of their markets.
2020 Innovator of the year: Sarah Grueneberg
Menu Masters Hall of Fame Inductee: Thomas Keller
As previously announced, this godfather of American fine dining, who has fostered the creativity of chefs at The French Laundry, Per Se and his other restaurants — many of whom went on to open their own restaurants and raise the level of dining across the country — is being inducted into the MenuMasters Hall of Fame, which honors chefs who have spent their years promoting culinary excellence in American foodservice.