Who's ready for a steaming-hot bowl of meat, eggs and cheese from Burger King for breakfast? Or a pizza with not just bacon but "double bacon" and six types of cheese?
Rolling into 2011, fast-food joints across the country are set to deploy a potent new arsenal of greasy goodness for Americans who have grown numb to mere burgers. Think spicier, cheesier, gooier. The new items flout principles of healthful eating and instead celebrate a spirit of wanton gluttony.
"There's been quite a bit of what we call carnival revival," said Darren Tristano, a restaurant expert at market researcher Technomic.
And breakfast is fast becoming a new battleground for fast-food restaurateurs, Tristano said. Among new items for those just awoken:
• Dunkin' Donuts is launching Pancake Bites, with bite-sized sausage links wrapped in a maple-flavored pancake for $1.59.
• Burger King takes the approach of more is more, offering a new Ultimate Breakfast Platter with scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage, a flaky biscuit and three pancakes with syrup. The whole platter weighs in at 1,310 calories, 72 grams of fat and 2,490 milligrams of sodium.
• Breakfast goods in development from Taco Bell include a double ham and cheddar melt for $1.79 and a sausage skillet burrito for $2.79. Also on the list: items created with partner brands such as Cinnabon, plus morning wraps with Jimmy Dean sausages.
Fast-food joints are also looking for more later-day options besides basic burgers, pizza and tacos.
Burger King is taking inspiration from carnivals with its Funnel Cake Sticks. To wit, they are hot, crispy strips covered in powdered sugar with a cup of icing sauce for dipping. All told, that's 11 grams of fat and 30 grams of sugar.
Burrito giant Chipotle is cautiously testing a whole new geography: Asia. The chain is opening a test Asian restaurant with a similar schematic to the walking assembly-line format.
Papa John's is expanding its gourmet pizza lineup, including a six-cheese, double bacon pizza with six kinds of cheese for a limited time.
But these goodies may not be cheap for long. More chains will raise prices in 2011, partly to offset their costs and partly because an improving economy means they just can.
For all the buzz about price promotions or insane discounts, restaurant operators have been able to selectively bump up prices to keep their margins rising, said Leslie Kerr, an analyst with the market research firm Intellaprice.
Fast-casual restaurants (i.e. Panera or Bennigans) have already been able to raise prices, and probably will again next year, she said. And fast-food joints are doing the same.
Each year, "we typically see at least a few percentage points of price increase," she said. "And we can expect the same in 2011."
Richard Mullins writes for the Tampa Tribune.