How Chick-fil-A uses 5 steps to decide what items — from spicy chicken to brownies — to add to the menu

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderChick-fil-A is known for its iconic menu items.
  • Chick-fil-A has a five step process for rolling out new menu items.
  • It takes 18 to 24 months to go from an idea to an actual menu item, according to Amanda Norris, the executive director of Chick-fil-A’s menu.
  • Here are the steps that Chick-fil-A takes to create new menu items.

ATLANTA, Georgia – Chick-fil-A is known for its iconic menu items: its chicken sandwich, waffle fries, Chick-fil-A sauce.

And, in an industry inundated with stunt menu items, it is rare for Chick-fil-A to add something new to the menu.

According to Amanda Norris, the executive director of Chick-fil-A’s menu, this scarcity of new menu items is a purposeful, strategic move.


Read more:
Chick-fil-A’s mobile sales are skyrocketing as execs say the chicken chain is entering a new tech-obsessed era

Every new item that gets added to the menu at Chick-fil-A has to go through a five step process. In fact, every initiative at Chick-fil-A goes through the same series of steps, whether it is a new mobile app or a different delivery feature.

Here is how Chick-fil-A decides what to add to the menu.


1. Understand/Inception

Kate Taylor/Business Insider

According to Norris, it typically takes about 18 to 24 months for a new menu item to go from a spark of inspiration to being served in stores.

Chick-fil-A looks far and wide for inspiration. Renowned Atlanta chef Ford Fry works with the chain, helping create new menu items such as the Superfood Side. Norris says the chain has also visited Silicon Valley for inspiration, including a stop at a plant-based “meat” maker.


2. Imagine/Concept

Chick-fil-AOne of Chick-fil-A’s test kitchens.

This is the stage where Chick-fil-A dreams up a bunch of different ideas, without necessarily worrying about which one will work best. Vegan and plant-based menu items, for example, are in the “imagine” stage at Chick-fil-A right now.

At this stage, Chick-fil-A creates a blueprint of sorts that defines exactly what Chick-fil-A is looking to add to the menu. Then, Chick-fil-A runs these ideas by customers, pitching pictures and concepts and asking for their reactions. According to Norris, there might be up to 50 options at the “imagine” stage.

“I think it goes back to how far will our customers want us to go,” Norris said.

“We’re certainly wanting to broaden our thinking and really start big in that funnel and come down,” she continued. “We think it is certainly beyond just no meat on salads or no meat in a wrap. It might be some kind of alternative protein on a sandwich.”


Read more:
Chick-fil-A is exploring vegan menu items as chains like Burger King and Chipotle double down on meat substitutes


3. Prototype/Development

Chick-fil-AChick-fil-A Crispy Chicken Strips, a current test.

After seeing how customers respond to options at the “imagine” stage, Chick-fil-A creates a certain number of prototypes that can actually be tested.

For example, Norris says if the chain dreams up 50 options in the imagine stage, it might narrow down that figure to create 20 prototypes.


4. Validate/Test

Kate Taylor/Business InsiderCurrent Chick-fil-A test markets.

This is the first time Chick-fil-A customers actually get to taste the ideas. Chick-fil-A will typically test a potential new menu item in 50 to 100 stores, located in two to three markets.

“Essentially, we try to think about different geographical areas, different concept types, different sales volumes – because we really want to get a feel for … does it sell well in New York? Does it sell well in Atlanta? How about out in LA?” Norris says.

Chick-fil-A is almost always testing at least a couple of menu items across the US. Recent tests include spicy chicken strips, the Kale Crunch Side, and a chocolate fudge brownie.


5. Launch/Roll Out and Stewardship

Even if a test goes well, sometimes Chick-fil-A needs to make more tweaks before the rollout. For example, something might take a bit too long to prepare in the kitchens. Or, some questions surrounding how the item is served might need to be ironed out.

“Something sort of has to earn its place on the menu. We have a high bar … because of how we prepare [our food] and because we still want to serve it quickly,” Norris says.

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