Crying Fowl: Approaching the Chicken Wing Conundrum

“Ask the Expert” features advice from Wade Winters, Vice President of Supply Chain for Consolidated Concepts Inc. Please send questions for this column to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at

Q: With increasing demand and rising prices for chicken wings, what can restaurant owners do?

A: Football season is fast approaching and that also means chicken wing season is finally here. Any full service restaurant or bar that has chicken wings on their menu knows this is the time of the year when chicken wing prices go up, and prices this year promise to be higher than last year.

Chicken wing prices (jumbo) have been running around $2.05 per pound as compared to $1.55 per pound last year during the same period, and are higher this year as compared to last year based on a combination of reasons.  The primary reason is demand!

While there is no fast and easy solution to the rising cost of wings, there are some ways operators can reduce the impact.

  • Have or look for a supplier that provides consistent wing sizes based on the clear and concise specifications. Having more stringent specifications might slightly add to the delivered cost per pound; however, it will offset the cost of wasting the off-sized wings that end up in the trash. And rather than throw the off-sized wings away, use the meat in other menu items or make them part of a Super Bowl or football promotion that ties-in to a sampling of appetizers.
  • Look for chicken wing alternatives that can be offered at a lower cost. There are new products being developed by manufacturers to help offset the supply gap. Many chicken manufacturers also have created various products such as chicken bites and chicken fritters that are made from various chicken by-products such as thigh meat at a lower cost.  Once they are covered in breading, deep fried, and lathered in a spicy buffalo sauce, they are a viable alternative to the chicken wing. In addition, chicken bites have increased in popularity over the last several years so consumers should already be familiar with the product. Offer the bites or fritters in a variety of styles — such as buffalo or BBQ — and pair them with a variety of sauces.
  • Don’t sell wings by the piece, rather state orders on the menu as small, medium or large.  A minimum piece count can be provided so the customer can make sure they have enough for everyone in their party. For example, a small order could be 1/4/lb., medium can be 1/2/lb., and large can be 1lb.  Most customers won’t mind one or two pieces that aren’t perfect and operationally a restaurant can control their food cost better using this method.

Chicken wing prices will likely continue to strengthen through the end of the year and although there may be some temporary dips in the market, overall the market will remain firm. Restaurant operators don’t have to fall victim to a rise in chicken wing prices. Rather, they can implement many of the viable and creative solutions available to help keep costs at bay.