Teens Are Choosing Chicken at Fast Food Restaurants

In the semi-annual “Taking Stock with Teens” survey with Piper Sandler, the top-five restaurants of 2023 fall into QSR and fast-casual categories—not surprising. But a common thread among them all: their chicken options.

Chick-fil-A Numbers Are Up

Chick-fil-A led the tally with 16% of the vote. Among the other four, McDonalds received 10%, Chipotle, 9%, Raising Canes, 4%, and Texas Roadhouse, 4% of votes from just over 6,000 participating teenagers around the United States. Within that group, 37% work part-time and the average household income settles around $67,000.

As we reported last week about the rise of QSR numbers over dine-in, chicken offerings have become a dominant marketing tactic for fast-food and fast-casual restaurants. “The chicken segment has been on the rise,” writes Nation’s Restaurants News (NRN) about the results of the teen survey, including the vast increase in Chick-fil-A’s numbers over the last few years. “Technomic released its report on Chick-fil-As 2023 financials, which were up 43% over the chains 2018 numbers.”

Chicken is Trending at QSRs in 2024

This trend toward chicken at QSRs has been steadily increasing since just post-pandemic, when Raising Cane’s saw a spike in popularity and viral social media posts. Erin McDowell wrote for Business Insider that it was her fast-food spot of choice for a chicken sandwich, and much of the internet agreed, with review videos popping up on TikTok and receiving millions of views. 

The popularity is holding, like the data we shared on our blog last week demonstrates: “Technomic Ignite data, which found the chicken category overall experienced a double-digital sales increase in 2023 versus 2022. Both Raising Canes and Wingstop experienced sales growth of over 20%, for example, while Chick-fil-As sales were up nearly 15% year-over-year.” Bloomberg shared about the “deepening” love for chicken that left the $85 billion beef industry grappling, especially in the wake of meat alternatives.

How to Incorporate Chicken on Your Restaurant Menu

Like with most trends, there may not be a specific reason for the quick, then prolonged rise in the taste for chicken, and there is no certainty as to how long it will remain true; the best tactic regarding food trends, for restaurant owner-operators, is to pay attention to customers’ desires while staying the course of what your establishment does best. For example, if you have chicken items on your menu, this could be the time to promote them, bring them on to happy hour menus, or highlight them in a new way. Adding new menu items that disregard your restaurant’s strengths, however, is not a worthwhile use of time and resources.

Richard Weil, owner and principal of National Restaurant Consultants (NRC) further notes, “Not only is the chicken consumer preference with teens, consumers from nearly every demographic are choosing chicken at unprecedented levels. Chicken is still an affordable protein for both consumers and food service operators. Year-to-date, chicken prices remain lower than 2023 and significantly lower overall than 2022. Chicken and poultry not only satisfies many consumer demographic preferences, but margins and pricing remain a viable option to promote and feature.”  

Working with our restaurant consultants to engineer your menu is the best way to maximize your offerings and profitability while tending to what customers want. We use hard data to analyze what guests love about your restaurant and how to meet those needs cost-effectively. 

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