Don’t Be Chicken – How to Win the Chicken Wing Shortage

This edition of MRM's "Ask the Expert” features advice from Buyers Edge Platform. Please send questions to Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine Executive Editor Barbara Castiglia at

Q: What are some go-to solutions for the chicken wing shortage?

A: It’s been a year since the pandemic started and the world witnessed a shortage in toilet paper, hand sanitizers and grocery store staples. Aisles were empty of paper products and at the same time, the shutdown of meatpacking plants caused a reduction in meat production – including boneless chicken. The foodservice industry is still seeing a shortage in our favorite poultry with chicken wings seeing a huge increase in demand as restaurants continue with an excess of carryout and delivery. 

Chicken wings have become so popular, in fact, that according to The National Chicken Council, retail and supermarket sales shot up by 10.3 percent to almost $3 billion during the pandemic and with the new COVID regulations, production has shortened. This means less chicken is being produced causing restaurant operators to quickly find alternatives to the popular bird. 

Demand for To-Go 

The National Chicken Council also mentioned that 2020 saw a seven-percent rise in the number of chicken wing servings from restaurants compared to 2019. The significant increase in chicken wing consumption could be attributed to more customers ordering take-out and delivery. Even though restaurant dining rooms are opening again, the demand for to-go is still up – and chicken wings are a food that travels well. 

Just because there is a shortage in chicken wings, doesn’t mean you have to stop serving the popular menu item. Here are a few alternative ideas:

Replace a wing with a bite. Create unique alternatives using cut up chicken thighs and chicken breasts, and fry them up with some global influences. According to Technomic’s Industry Insights report in January, over half of consumers are trying more unique types of global foods than they were two years ago. Bold flavors pack punches so try incorporating Asian or Latin flavors into your new chicken bites.  Rubs work well and so do sauces. 

Use cauliflower. Cauliflower as a main ingredient has taken over produce and frozen food shelves thanks to its rise in the ranks. Cauliflower mash as an alternative to mashed potatoes increased in popularity due to the Atkins Diet and cauliflower rice is making its way across more restaurant menus. Cauliflower is meaty as a vegetable and, when fried and tossed in Buffalo Sauce, creates a unique flavor profile similar to chicken wings. So, don’t be afraid to give cauliflower a try. 

Up the ante on chicken tenders. The same rule applies here as in example No. 1. Use chicken tenders, either fried or grille, and pack on an exotic-flavored punch with either rubs or sauces. You can even keep the standard celery and carrots as a side item – or include fries or a salad as a side for an upcharge. 

Try sandwichesChicken sandwiches rank fourth among the most popular entrees recently added to menus nationwide. And their popularity is sweeping the QSR world by storm as brands across multiple categories race to launch their own individual versions. With overall spending on chicken sandwiches growing 420 percent between January 2019 and December 2020, why not give your customers an alternative to chicken wings by adding fried chicken sliders to your menu. You can use Buffalo Sauce as a condiment to capture the same flavor, or get creative and try all-new pairings. 

Consider alternative proteins. It’s not just cauliflower that can be re-created. Alternate proteins such as Gardein, PAOW, Beyond Meat, and many others, have meatless chicken offerings equally as good. Plant-based proteins are making huge inroads onto mainstream restaurant menus. So, don’t be afraid to add your own garden version of a tried and true staple. Your vegetarian customers will be so thrilled you did. 

As we head into the spring and summer months, make sure you’re prepared for the influx of diners most people will be ready to dine out again as the weather warms. Even if chicken wing prices continue to be menu prohibitive, having a few alternatives ready will make the change less noticeable to customers, especially if new items are craftily and creatively developed and supported.