Cosmic Wings, Applebee’s new delivery-only chain, debuts with Cheetos-crusted chicken

Cosmic Wings is Applebee’s answer to America’s obsession with ordering chicken wings from the comfort of home. The delivery-only brand debuts today with a menu of Cheetos-covered items.

In other fried chicken news, Burger King announced plans to bring out a sandwich that looks strikingly similar to those at its Restaurant Brands International sibling chain Popeyes, and at rivals including dominant chicken chain Chick-fil-A. Plus, McDonald’s will give fans a chance to get their hands on its new chicken sandwich a day early. 

Yes, fried chicken, whether in wings, boneless, or sandwich form, and often served spicy, remains quite hot. Another proof point? Wingstop’s U.S. same-store sales jumped 21.4% in 2020.

For the debut of Cosmic Wings, nothing says Americans want a meal that tastes like a snack more than items such as Cheetos and Cheetos Flamin’ Hot versions of chicken wings and boneless pieces, as well as cheese bites (cheese curds in Midwesterners’ dictionary) in both flavors. And nothing says pandemic-inspired chain like a delivery-only brand debut.

Cosmic Wings is only available for delivery through Uber Eats. The food is being prepared at the nearly 1,300 Applebee’s kitchens around the country that saw a dip in business as the coronavirus pandemic drastically curbed casual dining orders. Dine Brands’ decision to launch Cosmic Wings as its own brand rather than adding such products to Applebee’s menu gives the company the potential to reach diners who otherwise might not consider Applebee’s. The chain has seen growth in to-go orders but overall U.S. same-store sales fell 24.1% in the first nine months of 2020.

The Cosmic Wings concept resembles a strategy that’s already been successful for casual dining rival Brinker International. The operator of Chili’s launched It’s Just Wings in 2020 with delivery handled by DoorDash, then added pickup.

Cosmic Wings Chef Stephen Bulgarelli says the team tasted more than 1,000 wings while working on its recipes, aiming for flavors and trends that are “out of this world”—hence the chain’s name. It is also offering items such as waffle fries and onion rings, and sauces including ranch and bleu cheese.

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