As Nathan’s Famous celebrates its 100th summer on the Coney Island Boardwalk this year, it’s clear that American’s hot-dog-ian love affair is still going strong. Why do restaurants keep serving hot dogs, and why do diners keep eating them up? According to Darren Tristano, president, food research and consulting firm Technomic, one of the biggest reasons may be that, despite the loss of so many other regional delicacies, the hot dog still retains many unique regional variations. Tristano is a Chicago resident, so naturally he’s partial to the dogs available in the City of Big Shoulders (and big appetites). “You can have a lot of fun on your menu offering regional varieties like Chicago, New Orleans or Detroit styles,” he says. “Just don’t ever put ketchup on a Chicago-style hot dog!”
Fun and flexible
In addition to their opportunities for endless creative variations, hot dogs also offer portion flexibility. “You can make them smaller, like when caterers use mini dogs as passed hors d’oeuvres,” Tristano says. “In a restaurant setting, that can translate to an appetizer or entrée of three different mini dogs as a sample platter,” he suggests. Other operators are scaling up the size, and price, of their hot dog offerings. Brooklyn Diner, with two locations in New York, offers a massive one-pound hot dog that, they claim, takes 15 bites to finish. “They give you a button if you can eat it all,” Tristano reports. The all-beef frankfurter comes with housemade juniper sauerkraut and French fries for $19.75.
Hot dogs also offer an opportunity to go upscale with frankfurter ingredients and toppings. “You can go from Nathan’s Famous or Hebrew National all the way up to gourmet dogs that include top cuts of meat, or even wild game,” he says. “That flexibility provides a good opportunity to vary the price and margin of the dish.” Tristano suggests considering a more upscale carrier, as well. “Pretzel buns were a big hit for upscale burgers, and now we’re seeing them used as hot dog buns.”
Finally, he says that hot dogs are an ideal item for menu combinations with beverages and sides. “Let people know what they should eat and drink with your fabulous, creative frankfurters, and you’ll be more likely to drive sales,” he says.
Darren’s Tristano’s Chicago Hot Dog Favorites
“Their motto is ‘NO SEATS – NO KETCHUP – NO PRETENSE – NO NONSENSE’. This is my favorite place to get a true Chicago-style hot dog. I always ask for mustard, relish, no onion, pickles, peppers and celery salt.”
“They have two stands in Chicago, with space for just a few people and picnic tables outside. I’ve heard they do upwards of $3 million in sales annually. There’s always a line of at least 40 people at lunch hour.”