Best Limited-Time Offer Promotion

Campfire Chicken and Campfire Beef

Imagine being in that Mount Juliet, Tenn., Cracker Barrel restaurant last year when the first customers peeled away the tinfoil on their Campfire Chickens.

Released after slow cooking in tightly wrapped foil, the aroma from mouth-watering natural juices of chicken, corn, tomatoes and potatoes began filling the dining area. A chain reaction set in, and orders soon poured into the kitchen.

"The store manager called, saying, 'There's tinfoil all over the room, and everyone's eating Campfire Chicken,' " says Mark Tanzer, vice president of product development for the 337-unit Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

Cracker Barrel's Campfire Chicken and the subsequent Campfire Beef were among the most successful promotions ever generated by the Lebanon, Tenn.-based casual-dining chain -- earning the company the 1998 Nation's Restaurant News MenuMasters Award for Best Limited Time Offer Promotion.

Heading the development team behind Campfire Chicken and Campfire Beef were 18-year Cracker Barrel research-and-development veterans Tanzer and Steve Lutz, project manager for product development.

The promotion sprang from a brainstorming session among Tanzer's four-person research-and-development team. "We were looking for something that would be new and exciting for our guests, something out of the box," Tanzer says.

During the give-and-take, Tanzer recalled his days as a Boy Scout. "We would bunch ground beef, onions, peppers and carrots into tin foil and toss it on the fire," he said. 'That's pretty much what this concept is."

It took 18 months of experimentation and testing to capture those campfire smells in just the right way.

The first step was a conceptual day when Tanzer's group examined eight to ten combinations of fish, chicken and beef with different vegetables and seasonings. They settled on chicken, which was an excellent fit with Cracker Barrel's menu of soothing, comfortable foods.

"Steve took it from there with seasoning and moisture profiles and experimenting with all types of foil," Tanzer says. Testing was constant for several months with continual feedback from the R&D staff, Cracker Barrel top management and various restaurant locations.

"We made adjustments almost daily for a month," Lutz says.

"Always lurking in the back of Tanzer's mind was the question: 'How will the guests react to essentially being served a meal in a bag?' That was a totally different approach for us."

But he needn't have worried. The promotion ran for six weeks in the spring of 1997 and was so successful that Cracker Barrel followed with Campfire Beef for six weeks during the fall of 1997.

"Campfire Chicken and Campfire Beef aren't fancy," Tanzer explains. "They're very homestyle and compliment our menu."

Those days when folks cooked out under the night sky on a more regular basis than today were evoked in Cracker Barrel's marketing of the chicken and beef selections. The menu sets the mood: "Our newest recipe takes you back to the days of camping under the stars and cooking over an open fire."

For $7.99 customers received a half chicken cut into pieces and wrapped in foil with fresh vegetables like corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes, onion wedges, carrots and red skin potatoes. These are all cooked together in their natural juices and served with biscuits or corn muffins. Campfire Beef is similar but substitutes beef for chicken.

Typically, the meals are served after 4 p.m., although some restaurants served them at lunch as well. "We developed a special Campfire Chicken Soup as a companion item," Tanzer adds.

Watch for a return engagement of Campfire Chicken and Campfire Beef this fall. It also may become a permanent menu item. "We're going to test that," Tanzer says, "but we may keep it as a promotion to create excitement."

Tanzer and Lutz have seen a lot of product introductions at Cracker Barrel, and this was one of the best. "I get excited when I see customers excited," Tanzer says. "When you see a pop in sales, that's energizing."


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