Nearly every time a national restaurant chain introduces a new menu item, it first tests it out in a handful of markets.

Restaurants must see if customers like the item, if suppliers can deliver the ingredients they need, and if staff can prepare and serve the new items without gumming up operations.

These tests happen as a matter of course, often with little fanfare.

But, thanks to social media and Americans’ growing fascination with food, today these tests create a fair amount of hubbub, especially if the item in question or the restaurant has a cult-like following.

That happened last week, when Five Guys Burgers and Fries started testing customizable milkshakes. The test probably would have gone without notice if the chain hadn’t offered the option of adding bacon, the savory ingredient with avid devotees, to the shakes.

This week, outlets from the Los Angeles Times to USA Today got excited when Chick-fil-A began a relatively small test — in four towns in central Georgia, Memphis, Philadelphia and the Inland Empire area east of Los Angeles — of chicken and waffles, served with a side of honey, as a breakfast option.

Chick-fil-A is testing other breakfast items in those markets, too: a grilled chicken sandwich with egg whites and American cheese on a toasted multigrain English muffin; a Greek yogurt parfait with honey, strawberries, blueberries and a choice of granola or chocolate cookie crumbs; multigrain oatmeal, supplemented with flax, whole wheat and buckwheat, served with strawberries, blueberries and a side of cinnamon brown sugar; and Cinnamon Swirls, a pull-apart cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing.

Another test of fruit smoothies and coffee frappés is underway in Austin, Texas.

But the chicken and waffles, made with maple syrup baked inside, is what got people’s attention.

Chick-fil-A Does the Obvious,” Bloomberg Businessweek said in its headline, noting that the Atlanta-based chain is Southern, chicken and waffles is a Southern dish and that Chick-fil-A has tested waffles before.

Two news anchors at WTVR in Richmond, Va., nowhere near the test markets, said, respectively, “They had me at chicken and waffles,” and “I would lose my mind for chicken and waffles.” A third newscaster, before delivering her weather report, suggested making a sandwich out of two orders.

Chick-fil-A’s other test items were greeted with less enthusiasm.

“More distressing is the news that CFA is also testing other, healthier breakfast items …” FirstWeFeast said.

There’s a lesson in this. If you want to create hype with limited menu tests, go for the rich and crave-able.

Or, just add bacon.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary