Applebee’s announced a new trend-combining LTO last week that I think is brilliant. They call it Topped & Loaded, “a limited-time lineup of craveable, customizable entrees starting at only $10.99, at participating restaurants…”
The casual dining establishment has gotten in the face of fast casual and demanded, “Who put you in charge of customizable meals? Watch this!”
Guests first choose their protein base (chicken breast, pork chop or top sirloin), then pick one of three toppers. And I have to say, these leave fast-casual choices in the dust. The toppers scream loaded, decadence and value. Consider the marinara mozzarella stick topper, which is crispy mozzarella sticks, marinara sauce and parmesan cream sauce. Or there is the bacon beer cheese topper made of white cheddar beer cheese, bacon, crispy onions and fresh green onions. Then there’s the Cajun shrimp topper that features blackened shrimp, sauteed onions and lemon butter. After that, the guest can choose two sides: garlicky green beans with bacon, steamed broccoli, fries or garlic mashed potatoes.
For all that, the $10.99 price tag sounds super reasonable. And I have to say that the fast benefit of the competing fast-casual segment is mitigated with Applebee’s “to-go” option.
But that’s just one trend that stands out in this LTO. The other is the “loaded” craze that began as a potato thing. You know, loaded baked potatoes, then loaded fries and now loaded tots and wedges? I’m not sure when loaded migrated to everything else, but it has, because the word demonstrates abundance and craveability and is often applied to shareable items.
Here are a few recent loaded menu LTOs:
- Little Caesar’s Cinnamon Loaded Crazy Bites, “a family size portion of warm Crazy Bites sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, then generously drizzled in a cinnamon roll spread and cream cheese icing.”
- Checkers came out with a Caramel Cheesecake Loaded Shake, “a dialed-up version of our milkshakes made with vanilla milkshake blended with soft serve, rich caramel sauce, and crushed Twix® candy pieces. It’s then topped with Philadelphia® cheesecake filling and more Twix® candy pieces. Then, it’s all topped off with whipped cream and a cherry.
- Taco Bell loaded the inside of its Loaded Taco Burrito. “Contains the fillings of a Taco Bell taco — seasoned beef, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and shredded Cheddar cheese — along with tortilla strips, wrapped in a flour tortilla.”
- Bennigan’s added permanently Flip’s Super Loaded Nachos, “Our crispy corn tortilla chips come loaded with grilled flat iron steak, made-from-scratch beef and bean dip, fresh chili con queso, melted colby cheese, pico de gallo, cilantro and jalapeño peppers. Topped with shredded lettuce and guacamole, then drizzled with lime sour cream.”
- Chili’s also went permanent with its Loaded White Queso, “topped with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, house-made pico de gallo, fresh guacamole, seasoned beef, chopped cilantro & crumbled queso fresco. Served with warm tostada chips & fresh salsa.”
Watch for more loading to come, because it can apply to anything. Why not loaded soup, omelets, waffles, sandwiches, coffee? Truth is, many of those already are loaded, the word just hasn’t been applied to them yet. We’re on the cusp of this loaded menu item descriptor.
Tell me what you think.