Buffalo wings were only the beginning. In certain segments of food service—casual dining, schools and colleges, sports bars, family restaurants—it would be almost inconceivable for a menu to not have chicken wings or nuggets . . . or both.
Like burgers, wings and nuggets are popularity-contest winners, where customer demand is only limited by the innovative ways that operators can prepare them. But also like burgers, that makes it even more important to make these menu stalwarts stand apart from the competition.
“It’s always important to use the best ingredients, and to create a house sauce or a specialty presentation that really sets your wings apart,” says Minor’s® Corporate Executive Chef Mary Locke. “The key is to put some thought and care into the menu item—even if it’s a basic Buffalo preparation, it needs to be done correctly.”
According to the 2015 Datassential MenuTrends Appetizers Keynote Report, Americans consume more than 27 billion wings each year, and wings are the most popular appetizer on all restaurant menus. In addition, so-called boneless wings (which are, most often, breaded and fried pieces of chicken breast) are becoming more popular with customers, being easier to eat and also representing better value. And that puts them in chicken tender and nugget territory.
These perennial favorites all respond to the same prep, menuing, and marketing strategies.
The Quality Approach
Emphasizing quality ingredients can pay off in customer loyalty and the ability to support premium pricing. Many operators are making the switch to premium chicken, including all-natural, never frozen, farm-raised, and boutique birds (such as the West Coast’s Jidori chicken).
Prep methods can also be upgraded. Super Chix, a concept test of KFC parent Yum Brands touts chicken—including sandwiches and tenders—that’s “marinated daily in our kitchen, then hand-breaded and cooked in 100% refined peanut oil. No MSG, HFCS, or phosphates”.1
Chicken wings and tenders have a reputation for being fattening and unhealthy, but not all wings need to be fried. Wing Nutz1, with more than a dozen locations in Utah, Texas, and Idaho, uses a proprietary three-step process to create crispy chicken by steaming, baking, and finally oven-crisping it. With a mantra that Baked Wings Are Better, Wing Nutz promises wings with 75% fewer calories.
Marinades and Sauces
Many casual dining concepts and food service operations that offer wings have set themselves apart by offering multiple flavor profiles via wing sauces and dry rubs ranging from flavors like mild Honey Barbecue and Parmesan Garlic to incendiary Mango Habanero.
It’s also worth remembering that many cultures appreciate chicken wings, including the American South, the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. Using ingredients and flavors associated with these cuisines helps to create signature wing and other chicken offerings.
Mary Locke suggests brining as a simple flavor step for chicken. “Then you can take it in many directions from there. Add some color and caramelization on the grill, finish in the fryer for that crisp skin, toss in another sauce, and/or serve with a flavored ranch dressing or another distinctive dipping sauce.”
Treating wings and tenders to distinctive plating and presentation is another way to set your offerings apart, especially in the age of Instagram and other visual social media. The following ideas not only make an impression, they also attract attention from customers who may not have ordered them.
- Greaseproof paper cones
- Miniature cast iron skillets
- Individual enamelware pots
- Plates set into bamboo steamers
- Japanese bento-style boxes
- Piled high and garnished with fresh herbs, shredded scallions, julienned red pepper, and other colorful toppings
- Threaded onto skewers
Salads and Sandwiches
One of the advantages of boneless wings and chicken tenders is how versatile they are, not just as finger foods on their own, but topping entrée salads and filling delicious sandwiches.
Salads and sandwiches not only create menuing opportunities beyond appetizers, they also represent the chance to add more flavor, texture, and signature appeal to either fried or baked boneless chicken pieces. That can equate to more satisfied customers, higher sales, and more repeat business.
Source: 1. 2015 Datassential MenuTrends Appetizers Keynote Report