Since it's hard to say whether Americans prefer devouring fried chicken or driving their cars, fast-food chains are making sure their customers can enjoy these beloved pastimes simultaneously. The latest craze is for "bite-sized fried chicken in containers that fit in a car's cup holder and tightly rolled sandwiches that are easy to hold and dip in sauce," says Sarah Nassauer at The Wall Street Journal. The trend, in which classic fast-food favorites are turned into the equivalent of chips and dip, is bringing in big bucks for the industry. Here, a guide to the "chips and dip" model:
Is eating fast food in the car really on the rise?
Yes. An amazing 17 percent of "all meals ordered at restaurants in the U.S. are now eaten in cars," says Nassauer. McDonald's officials say drive-through orders make up 70 percent of its sales. In addition, snacking between lunch and dinner has become more common, and while "ice cream or chips used to suffice as a snack, people now want something more substantial like a small sandwich." That's right — "chips and ice cream are now too light for snack time," says Carmel Lobello at Death and Taxes. We need "delicious fried chicken chips to tide us over between meals."
What are fast-food chains offering?
In 2011, Popeyes began selling Dip'n Chick'n, a chicken-dip combo that became its "best-selling limited-time menu item in company history at that time," says Nassauer. Dip'n Chick'n consists of "thin pieces of chicken that curl at the edges when dunked in hot grease, just like a potato chip," says Ross Scarano at Complex. Encouraged by its success, Popeyes unveiled another innovation last month, the Rip'n Chick'n, a fried chicken breast sliced in such a way that its pieces are easy to tear off. The result resembles a deep-fried claw, and the company had to find poultry suppliers that could adjust their cutting equipment to make the shape.
Are other chains getting in on the action?
Yes. McDonald's recently launched its Chicken McBites, which differ from the classic Chicken McNuggets in that they come "in a container that fits in a car's cup holder with a slot for dipping sauce," says Nassauer. Whataburger, a chain in San Antonio, Texas, has a similar product called Whatachick'n Bites. For a limited time, Domino's Pizza had the Big Dipper Pizza, a 2-foot-long pizza perforated into strips for easy tearing, and Pizza Hut recently unveiled the P'Zolo, a rolled sandwich that can also be eaten with one hand and dipped.
Why is dipping so popular?
"Consumers like dip because it lets them layer additional flavor on food," says Nassauer. The industry considers chicken the perfect vehicle for dipping, because it isn't as flavorful as other meats. Basically, customers are happy as long as their food is made of chicken and "breaded, fried, and then cut into 'chip' size for purposes of snacking convenience," says Hamilton Nolan at Gawker.