We often refer to elements of our industry we believe our operators could improve upon – such as your non-alcoholic beverage program. However, less often we provide tangible structure and insight to those elements.
Since the first weekend of March Madness is gone and MLB baseball and NBA/NHL playoffs don’t start until April, we figure this is a great time to change that trend. We’re going to focus on the almighty chicken wing, and how to systematize the fastest and best tasting order of wings.
With the decision to focus on any granular aspect of your business, you should always focus on the numbers to start. Business metrics are the life blood of any truly efficient operation. And that is where we’ll start with building your high-volume wing program.
Below is the table of contents, so you can jump around. Or, you can download our PDF guide version of this post here.
Forecasting: How many wings do you really need?
Let’s say you want to crank up your wing sales by doing specials or aggressively highlighting wings in your location (reminder – spicy wings = more beer). You have to include an effort to update your operations at the same time. By forecasting, you remove one of the biggest impediments to success -- lack of preparation.
Below is a simple of formula you can follow based on how you want to prep.
First collect the following data points:
1. Daily Sales of Wings by Day of the Week for 10 Weeks
2. Projected sales increases assumptions
3. Ops Status, including current ticket times for wings during volume, prep conditions that will impact turnout, and storage capacity for prepped or raw product
Armed with this information you can begin to plan your program goals which express themselves in your response to the forecasting.
Using the data we have collected, you can not only determine your prep calendar, but you can also do your ordering at the same time.
Let’s say you serve a 1lb portion that totals nine wings, and your average number of wings sold is 30 orders daily.
Here are two simple equations to get you going:
Your Daily Usage X 1.5 = Prep Level
Prep level – On-hand = Daily Prep
If you want to deliver the freshest product, prep 1.5x your daily usage each morning.
However, if you want to do it less often, precooked wings are good for three days under refrigeration. Simply multiply your Daily Prep by the number of days you want to prep and go from there.
Important note: We don’t suggest you do more than two days in advance, but if you do, you will want to be very disciplined in your inventory management. First in, first out!
The value of precooking will be obvious to the high-volume operator. By pre-frying or roasting your wings, you dramatically reduce your turnout times. Just as with prep, there are operational concerns that must be addressed to implement.
For Wing Frying
Cook wings to par and then let them cool on a hotel pan with parchment paper under them. Par is just below fully cooked. So, if you fry wings for eight minutes then par them with six minutes in the oil. Once they have cooled and shed any excess oil, portion them into bags of whichever order size you list on your menu.
If you do multiple sizes (9, 12, 15) portion with that in mind. In this scenario, you would portion in eight because two bags would be a large order and you can halve a bag for a medium sized order and use it on the next like order.
For Wing Roasting
The steps are similar except that you will likely season the wings before you put them in the oven. We suggest 12 minutes of cooking in convection at 475 degrees. Then let them cool and portion as with fried wings.
Armed with your prepped wing order portions, you can now turnout a high-quality wing in half the time needed for “from raw” turnout.
Stock the station responsible for wings with sufficient portions to get through the main rush. If you aren’t already, you can also pre-portion sauce cups/bullets and plate setups to ensure the plating time is reduced.
You want to wow your guests with how quickly and perfectly you deliver their order of wings.
Tools of the trade: Best equipment for cooking high-volume wings
No question inferior equipment can still turn out quality products, but it requires significant additional effort to successfully deliver.
Oil temp recovery is a necessity to a successful high volume wing program. Gas fryers that can maintain their temp during the rush ensure your wings will be consistent and delivered hot to the guest.
During volume, you can load wing orders in preset fry baskets. You eliminate the time associated to dumping product into the baskets prior to dropping them for service.
Consistency is the hallmark of any successful wing program. Timers ensure that you’re not going too long or short on cook times. If you run a busy kitchen, a timer at the fry station will save your cooks from themselves and ensure your wings are the same color and crunch every time.
If you are offering wings that aren’t fried, you have some further challenges. However, there are plenty of upsides. Being able to point to a quality wing that isn’t fried addresses growing health concerns by consumers. Success here is dictated by a high quality convection oven. Cooking your wings for prep and turnout in an oven with no hot spots is no different than ensuring your fryer recovers well.
It’s the little things that matter when it comes to delivering on the promise of your wing program
Any successful station in your kitchen is prepared for volume at pre-shift and can respond to whatever conditions a shift presents. These suggestions are true “speed of service” adjustments you can make to ensure your high-volume wing program doesn’t get slowed down by not being ready for revenue.
During high revenue periods you should bank some wings. If you fry ahead one or two orders, you can turn-out quickly and stay ahead of volume. Never hold banked orders for more than four minutes or their quality will begin to degrade.
As we referenced before, having the set ups prebuilt is also good process. Set trays of your sauces and portions of carrots/celery, so they can be quickly added to the plate for service. You can also pre-plate your service ware so turnout can be one smooth step after wings are sauced and ready for table delivery.
Choosing & managing fry oil
Oil choices are personal, but central to a good wing program. Cheap oil breaks down too quickly, becomes cloudy, and adds a burnt or metallic taste the food it fries. You can save money and achieve a higher quality product by maintaining the optimal life of your oil.
We suggest you pair your wings with your oil depending on the wings you plan to serve -- and the region you plan to serve them in. Canola in the northeast or peanut in the south matches the flavor and quality of the oil to regional tastes. There are also oils that contribute almost no taste, or have a neutral taste transfer to your wings.
Maintaining your oil during and after volume contributes to its life and quality.
- Avoid letting breading get into the oil.
- Skim particles from the fat frequently.
- Keep butter, protein, salt, fats, and water out of the oil whenever possible.
- Always cover your oil when not in use.
- Filter your oil daily -- or, in busy operations, between meal periods.
- Rotate your oils and use a color indicator. You can get these from your oil provider to determine when oil should be discarded.
Also rely on your food purveyor to help you pick the right oil for your operation. If they are selling you the bulk of your groceries, they will be happy to take the extra time to support you in choosing the oil that best serves and matches your program/restaurant.
The key to saucing & seasoning your wings
Saucing and seasoning your wings is the last step before plating and delivering wings to the guest. It’s also the place where wing programs go awry regularly. Too much sauce, too little sauce, and stinging vinegar flavors are all outcomes that you want to avoid. The perfect wings will bring guests back again and again. Bad wings will send them packing faster than a first round exit for a number 16 seed in March Madness.
Again from a speed of service perspective, having your sauces ready and either in a warmer or in a pour bottle at room temperature can make a big difference. If you are offering multiple sauces, you will need to organize the wing/fry station to accommodate them. Clearly having your best-selling sauces in a table warmer will greatly expedite because you can toss them with sauce and they are ready for service.
How much sauce you should use?
A medium wing order that runs 9 to 14 pieces per one-pound order should be well coated in 1/3 cup of sauce. This may vary based on sauce thickness.
A jumbo wing that will have fewer wings in a one-pound order may need slightly less sauce. Thicker sauces require a bit more volume, so up your ladle size accordingly.
Including butter in your wing sauce is an age-old method that reduces the sharpness of hot sauce without lowering the heat. Vary the butter based on the sauce you are adding. Sauces with a vinegar base benefit from butter more than a sweet sauce does.
You can pre-make sauces that include butter by mixing the sauce and butter on the stove. Then you can either hold the sauce in a warmer or a pour bottle for service.
Tossing vs. Reducing
As long as you’re not using breaded chicken, you could also toss wings in a mixing bowl with the help of a set of tongs. This does a fairly good job but can be messy. But like our old wing coach used to say, “Sometimes you have to get messy to make something great.”
The advantage to tossing the wings is they are ready for service quickly. It’s a smart choice to have your wing sauce warming, so you don’t shock the order of wings with a cold sauce. You can reuse the stainless-steel bowl for the same sauces, but you should replace them as often as possible to avoid any risk of cross-contamination.
The advantage to finishing the wings in a sauté pan is that you can reduce the sauce to bind it to the skin on the wings. This is the ideal but takes time, equipment, and lengthens the prep/turnout process. If you are only selling one or two sauce styles this works well because you can finish the wings with softened butter which adds a richness to the wings that tossing can’t always deliver. It takes more time, but if you’re goal is great wings flavor, it’s worth considering.
Unfortunately, it also requires a lot of sauté pans and dishwashing. As with everything in our industry, it’s a balance. Choose the options that best fits your speed of service and food quality goals.
BONUS: What’s Next? How to Promote the Heck Out of Your New & Improved Wing Program
There’s a reason that the chicken wing concept is among the highest growth segments of the restaurant industry nationally. So, now that you understand how to do a great job delivering on your wing promise, you need to promote that program to your community.
There are no shortage of fun and engaging ways to drive wing volume from an promotional perspective, but we want to give you some ideas.
We’ve included five simple to implement ideas below.
Rewarding guests for their loyalty never goes out of style. The simplest program is a “Wing Card” deal where guests earn a free wings after purchasing a specific number orders.
This is a simple and effective program, but requires that you and your staff are disciplined. You MUST give out cards to anyone that orders wings, regardless of whether they ask for it or not. Two things happen here:
- One, you are alerting them to the deal
- Two, you are putting your name and address in their pocket.
This is an extremely inexpensive program; all you need is to print a business card with markings for the order count and include the restaurant’s logo and contact information.
The second step is asking guests if they have their card. Again, you are alerting them to a program and reminding them about the offer. And if they don’t have a card or know about the program, you have a great opening to make the pitch.
If you have a frequency or loyalty rewards program already, just include the wing program as the reward for whatever behavior you are trying to encourage from the guest.
We rarely suggest discounting food or beverage as a marketing tool, but wings lend themselves to this approach and with less damage to profit margins. There are two simple ways of approaching this: All You Can Eat or Special Price Per Wing.
These programs are tailored for slower nights to give beverage sales a boost. We strongly encourage you to include one of your beer vendors to create POP and other signage to support your program. One thing most people don’t do with these is go beyond the discount. We think making your “Wing Night” a more compelling offer adds character and entertainment to the evening.
Ask your beer vendor to give you some schwag (t-shirts, cozies and the like) as prizes for those who either consume a specific threshold or to the person that eats the most wings that evening. Making the promotion a competition will give it an energy it otherwise would have lacked. It engages your guests on a whole different level.
This will also deliver you great content to post on your social media. Pics of someone with 10 baskets of wings surrounding them and a cool beer t-shirt in their hand says, “That joint is a fun place to spend the evening!”
The way you present your wings makes a difference. If you simply include wings among all of your other appetizers, they will get lost in the shuffle of a menu. Designate a special section of your menu that highlights the sauce/seasoning choices and service options for guests. The more clear and prominent you display wings on your menu the more wings you will sell.
Try dedicated an insert to start. Print and laminate 50 wing special cards to drop at the table along with the regular menu. You are forcing the guest to consider wings at the point of purchase and highlighting your wings to their best advantage.
If you want people to think you are a great place to order wings, then you have to communicate that message via your social media. Start by taking a few shots of wings in their various states from going in the fryer to being dressed with sauce to plating -- and even being delivered. From there you can “catch” guests having a great time eating your wings.
A really fun promo is asking guests to post their own pics of themselves on their social media and tagging your location and using a designated promotional hashtag.
You can reward anyone that does that with a wing discount. Or you can choose the best example from the week and give them a free order of wings as a reward. Either way, wings ALWAYS look great in social media posts. They resonate with guests because they are such a familiar comfort food
Download our high-volume wing cheat sheet
We have also built a cheat sheet that is included for download on this page. If you are inspired to rebuild your wing program, download the cheat sheet and get to work. Remember: America loves wings, and they really love wings, beer and watching their favorite sporting events at your location.
So give ‘em what they want and see your volume fly.