Chicken wings are showing up on more quick-service menus, and not just during football season.  Wings are America’s “party food,” showing up at all manner of celebrations, from tailgating to graduation parties.  However, the quick-serve industry in getting in on the act with wings showing up on menus at concepts one might otherwise not expect to carry them.

During football season, wing sales go up about 50 percent, and on Super Bowl weekend, they more than double, said Terri Snyder, chief marketing officer for Checkers/Rally’s.  But wings are now becoming more popular outside of football season.  Between the second half of 2009 and the second half of 2011, there was a 5.5-percent increase in the number of chains offering wings, according to a wings report from the foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic.  In fact, 36 percent of the top 500 restaurant chains now offer wings, a number that continues to grow each year, Technomics said in its “2012 Category Close-up Wings” report.

Texas-based Wingstop debuted in 1994 and now has more than 500 locations.  Wing Zone, meanwhile, launched in 1993 and is now growing by 10-15 new stores a year, a testament to wings’ continued popularity and demand.  As wings concepts continue to grow, non-wings concepts want their slice of the pie as well to help their bottom lines by increasing the average check.

Checkers/Rally’s, a burger chain, introduced wings to its menu in 2009.  Greenwich, Connecticut-based Burgers, Shakes & Fries is another burger concept that added wings last fall.  Veggie Grill, a sandwich and burger concept, added wings in the spring of 2011.  Taco John’s, a Mexican concept, did so in the fall of 2011.

Since wings are quickly becoming a staple item on such a wide variety of menus, the experts say operators must be savvy in the way they develop and market their wings.  Customers are looking for wings in not only classic flavors like buffalo and honey barbecue, they say, but also in more eclectic and customized flavors.

With increased demand, the price of Buffalo wings are going to increase in price on menus across the United States.  “It’s pretty well known that the price of wings is at an all-time high right now,” said Andy Howard, chief marketing officer of Wingstop.  To help alleviate the supply challenges, some operators are promoting boneless wings more heavily.

In addition to supply savings, promoting boneless wings has another advantage–they appeal to a whole new customer base, said Mary Chapman, director of product innovation for Technomic.  “We asked whether people have a strong preference for bone-in or boneless wings, and 28 percent said they prefer bone-in and 39 percent said they prefer boneless, and the rest don’t have a preference,” Chapman said.  “We also found that when chains offer boneless wings, it doesn’t take away from their traditional bone-in wing business.  It’s almost like it appeals to a different audience.”