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Applebee's wings Photo courtesy of Applebee's
Applebee's boneless wings are available for 50 cents each for a limited time.

Applebee’s puts its boneless wings to the test with new 50-cent promotion

Applebee’s tapped a third-party research firm to conduct a boneless wings taste test and came out on top, inspiring the restaurant brand to run the 50-cent promotion.

Applebee’s just held a double-blind taste test featuring boneless buffalo wings from the top two national brands (Wingstop and Buffalo Wild Wings). The test, conducted by a third-party research firm, included 1,000 consumers aged 18 to 74 from geographically dispersed markets and Applebee’s won by a “statistically significant margin,” according to chief marketing officer Joel Yashinsky.

Perhaps the question now is why run the taste test in the first place. For the casual dining chain, it was to confirm why its boneless wings are one of its most popular items.

“Our boneless wings are one of our guests’ favorites and we really believe we have the best, so we decided let’s take a look and see what happens,” Yashinsky said. “We thought it would be interesting to start with this type of effort. It’s a competitive area, both in CDR (casual dining restaurants) and non-CDR, but we have a lot of faith in what we develop and serve, and so we went for it.”

Now, the results are giving Applebee’s a reason to celebrate, which the chain is doing by offering its boneless wings for 50 cents for a limited time. Yashinsky said the chain has held several similar promotions, including in 2019 and 2020, but they were for dine-in guests only. This promotion will be extended to delivery and to-go offers as well. Including off-premises customers illustrates just how important that business has become for Applebee’s, now accounting for about 22% of total sales.

Historically, these types of promotions have been successful for the brand and Yashinsky anticipates the same this time around.

“It’s a really popular menu item and we want our fans to come enjoy them and celebrate winning this taste test,” he said. “But we also want others to come in and see for themselves and we think they will for 50 cents. I think we’ll surprise a few folks that may not have considered us in the past.”

In addition to new users, the promotion is also expected to yield profitable traffic, a priority metric for any concept and especially now as inflation-weary consumers increasingly seek out deals. That profitability comes from the sales and traffic lifts, as well as the add-on opportunity.

“People who just want to order five or 10 of these as an appetizer for 50 cents each, they’re still going to enjoy a burger or add their favorite drink. All of this tied together is about sales, it’s about traffic, but it’s also not a loss leader for us,” he said. “We set up our programs like this to be profitable for our franchisees and that is absolutely the goal. Boneless wings are so prevalent and that’s why we think this is the right product for us to do this.”

Applebee’s, in fact, served over 7 million pounds of boneless wings during its recent all-you-can-eat boneless wings campaign. Notably, although the product has mass appeal, boneless wings are especially attractive for younger, Gen Z consumers. As such, the chain is showcasing its 50-cent wing promotion with a TikTok campaign in which guests can enter to win boneless wings for life by sharing their own celebration of “America’s Favorite Boneless Wings” on the platform using #ABWings4LifeContest.

This boneless wings promotion is the first of many menu-focused campaigns Applebee’s plans to showcase this year. Chef Shannon Johnson was named vice president of culinary at the chain in September and has hit the ground running, with more than 200 items currently in test. Yashinsky has teased plenty of new news coming out monthly, including news related to its wings and chicken platform.

“We have a pipeline of fun activations, menu items and promotions and we’re excited about that … I think is really going to set us up for a successful 2024 and 2025,” he said.

All of these promotions will focus on Applebee’s north star of providing value and earning guests’ visits, Yashinsky added.

“The environment is challenging right now, but what we think is unique and special is that we have the value piece and we’re tying in a message around quality that we think will break through even further,” he said. “That’s why we’re well positioned; the thread goes across everything we’re doing from value to quality and connecting the dots for everyone, so they know their dollar is being well spent.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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