Bread lines. Soup kitchens. It’s happened before. What’s next — fast-food shortages?
We’ve entered a twilight zone where even burger bun rationing is becoming conceivable.
And incidentally, Wendy’s is changing their fries. It’s only the second time they’ve tinkered with the world-famous recipe in over 40 years. Meatless burgers we get — but switching fries?
Exactly what in the heck is going on?
It’s all about demand and supply, in atypical order. Driving the point home, PYMNTS and the rest of the world shuddered in August when McDonald’s temporarily dropped milkshakes from its U.K. menus, citing supply chain disruptions (and possibly Brexit). Brits seemed unamused.
A golden arches spokesman said on Aug. 24 that “bottled drinks and milkshakes are temporarily unavailable in restaurants across England, Scotland and Wales.”
When in Scotland, scotch is always an option. But even the smokiest Glenlivet is no match for a creamy Mickey D’s milkshake. It’s all part of a multifaceted problem, as the pandemic gums up the gears of global production and logistics, causing stockpiles to dwindle — and meanwhile, quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and fast-food chains are having a devil of a time attracting workers.
It’s a perfect storm for quick, convenient comestibles — and it doesn’t stop there.
Wait until we start flapping on about chicken wings. Go ahead and laugh — it’s a real issue.
The Wing Ding, and French Fry Fiddling
Chicken wings took flight in recent decades as a “center of the plate” entrée, so much so that retail enterprises have been built around the delectable drumette. But now, wings are being clipped.
We knew things were getting weird back in Q2, when chicken wing king WingStop pivoted to a different chicken part altogether, launching its virtual ThighStop concept with delivery by DoorDash. The chain is making no bones about it, saying in a statement that they are “addressing consumers’ fear of a chicken wing shortage head-on.” We draw the line at beaks.
It was Wendy’s that joked back in the 1980s that “parts is parts” in a famous TV campaign addressing the composition of chicken sandwiches. So are thighs, but never mind that.
We want to know more about this Wendy’s French fry fiddling around.
CNN reported that the chain “is giving its top-selling menu item a makeover for the COVID era: a fry that retains more heat and keeps its crispiness longer compared to its predecessor. The upgraded fry, which will be available nationwide by mid-September, was created as more people shift their ordering preferences to drive-thrus and delivery because of the pandemic.”
Wendy’s President Kurt Kane told CNN Business that customers will “notice a difference as soon as they taste it. The proof will be in the tasting.” There’s a new “batter system” involved, too.
Could be great. Guess we’ll find out in September. Until then, get your old-school fry on — fast.
With Human Servers Scarce, Chains Do the Robot
As thighs push out wings and millions of milkshakes go missing, the USDA says there are no actual shortages, just supply chain disruptions. That being the case, don’t read anything into their recently announced Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force to “convene stakeholders to diagnose problems and surface solutions — large and small, public or private — that could help alleviate bottlenecks and supply constraints related to the economy’s reopening.”
Maybe start with wings.
But suppose the skies are filled with chicken wings tomorrow, the fry fix is a total success and shakes shimmy back as if they never left. There’s still concern as to who will cook and serve it all.
CNBC reported in August that “in recent months, Chipotle Mexican Grill has raised hourly wages and introduced referral bonuses, while McDonald’s is chipping in millions of dollars to help its franchisees pay workers more, and even piloting an emergency child care program.”
Staffing is so tough that mighty Chick-fil-A closed some dining rooms for want of servers.
That situation is taking a turn for the weird, too, as a paucity of restaurant workers is activating the robots. Clayton Wood, CEO at robot-as-a-service (RaaS) company Picnic, said that the digital shift — not COVID or pay or hours or the lack of milkshakes and chicken wings — is to blame.
“Digital orders means that you can get many, many more orders instantaneously than you could ever get with a walk-in, a call-in or a sit-down customer base,” Wood said. “It’s an operational challenge … but it’s an opportunity for those who can get the right technology.”
Freaked out by all of this? Don’t be. Come hell or higher prices — another snag in the story — we expect QSR and fast-food to forge ahead. For now, care to try our new fried chicken beaks?