Burger King Takes a Run at a Soul Food Classic: Chicken and Waffles

Las Vegas, Burger King, Nevada

Fried chicken and waffles is a staple menu item at countless soul food and comfort food restaurants, but that's not stopping Burger King (BKW) from trying to give the meal a fast-food spin.

Burger King is testing a new sandwich in the Northeast that takes the breaded chicken patty used in its Classic Crispy Chicken Sandwich from its King Deals Value Menu and replaces the bun with a split waffle.

Burger King's Chicken & Waffle Sandwich isn't as hearty as the meal that it's based on. It's selling for as little as $2.29. But the chain's latest attempt to turn heads with a unique menu item will at least attract curious nibblers if it does decide to broaden the offering across the country.

Waffling About

Burger King isn't the first popular chain to attempt to reinvent this classic dish.

As Nation's Restaurant News points out, last summer, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (PLKI) offered Chicken Waffle Tenders -- consisting of chicken tenders dipped in a vanilla maple-scented waffle batter, served with a honey maple dipping sauce. DineEquity's (DIN) IHOP did it three years ago by combining its chicken strips with Belgian waffle quarters. Yum! Brands (YUM) tried to breathe new life into its breakfast business last summer by testing a Waffle Taco -- an egg, sausage, and waffle breakfast sandwich.

Even if it doesn't succeed -- and some of the early taste tests haven't been very flattering to the chain's new sandwich -- it's at least comforting to see that Burger King isn't just copying McDonald's (MCD) the way that it has for the past couple of years.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Burger King followed McDonald's in offering fancy coffee drinks, fresh fruit smoothies, and popcorn chicken. It has gone on to roll out doppelgangers of the Egg McMuffin and McRib sandwiches. In November, it introduced the Big King, which any patron will quickly recognize as a body double to the Big Mac.

Then again, it's not as if following McDonald's lead is such a clever idea right now. The world's largest restaurant operator disappointed investors by posting a 1.4 percent decline in comps at its North American eateries during the holiday quarter.

Have It Your Way

Burger King isn't doing a lot better than McDonald's these days. It won't post holiday quarter results until next week, but when last it checked in, 2013 was shaping up as a dud domestically. Burger King posted negative comps for its stateside locations during each of the first three quarters.

The 13,259-unit chain is expected to post flat earnings growth for the period. Revenue is also expected to fall sharply, but that's not as alarming as it sounds. Burger King is in the process of re-franchising many of its locations as it hands over company-owned restaurants to franchisees. It's a move that sacrifices revenue now for higher-margin franchise royalties later.

When you're as big as Burger King, with more than 7,400 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada alone, it's hard to engineer a turnaround on a single sandwich. Absent wildly buzzing reviews, it doesn't seem as if the Chicken and Waffle Sandwich will move its revenue needle. It may not even make it past the regional testing phase.

However, the popularity of fast food chains in general has been diminishing in recent quarters, leaving them all hungrier for market share. Whether it makes a splash or not, this is the kind of thinking that Burger King needs if it's to stand out in a competitive landscape.

Motley Fool analystRick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Burger King Worldwide and McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of McDonald's. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.