America loves hot wings. According to the National Chicken Council’s annual Chicken Wing Report, Americans were expected to eat 1.35 billion hot wings during 2018’s Super Bowl weekend — and that’s just one weekend. Needless to say, chicken wings are a big business.
If you want a piece of the chicken pot pie, you can open your very own hot wing restaurant. Start with a solid business model, excellent sauces and spot-on delivery to make it happen.
Consider Your Business Model
The restaurant business is risky, and the truth is that most restaurants fail within the first three years, but you increase your odds of success by either coming up with an idea that fits a hole in the market or opening a franchise that already has a huge base of consumers. A number of popular hot wing businesses like Wing Zone, The Wing Basket and Wingstop all offer franchise options. Unfortunately, it can cost anywhere from $400,000 to more than a million to get started.
If you’re looking for lower-cost chicken wing restaurant ideas, you may want to start from scratch. You can get started with a small takeout restaurant for as little as $12,000 — just make sure you have an excellent hook. It’s hard to compete against the big guys, so make sure you offer something they don’t, like higher-quality ingredients or better service.
Pick a Location
Location should be written into your business plan. Not all hot wing restaurants will succeed in all locations, especially if you’re in a town rife with Buffalo Wild Wings and Wingstop. Make sure you opt for a location that doesn’t have a lot of competition nearby.
It's also important to consider your potential clientele. For example, if you’re in a trendy, urban area with a lot of health-conscious, progressive individuals, you might want to consider opening a vegan wing shop. If you’re in a college town that televises sporting events, a traditional takeout spot with a focus on cheaper prices might be a better option.
Set Up Your Wing Business Legally
There are a ton of chicken wing restaurant ideas, but they all have pretty similar legal requirements. All businesses need to set themselves up as a legal entity. For a wing shop, you should probably consider forming an LLC, or limited liability company. You’ll also need a business license from your local government and the required insurance.
Food businesses require more permits and licenses than most, but it depends on the state and city. For example, New York City requires different permits for mobile food vendors (something to consider if you open a hot wing food truck rather than a restaurant) and a shared kitchen permit (if you share a kitchen with a different establishment).
Generally, all hot wing shops will need to be inspected by the health department in order to get a food service license. Employees will also have to take a test and get a food handlers' license. You might also want to consider getting a liquor license because beer and hot wings go hand in hand.
Get the Equipment
At minimum, you’ll need some pretty standard commercial restaurant equipment to get started, like freezers to store your chicken, deep fryers, refrigerators, sinks, tables and chairs. You'll probably also need a fully functional bar and TVs if you're opening a sit-down restaurant. Sports and wings are a cultural institution.
The fryer is the most important tool for a wing shop. You can opt for a countertop fryer, which saves space in a stand or food truck, or a floor fryer if you’re planning on opening a high-volume restaurant that also has a rich takeout business. These run on either electricity or natural gas.
Hire Your Staff
All chicken wing restaurants need staff. Whom you hire depends on your business model. You’ll likely need a head chef to help you shape your menu and additional cooks to support the volume of orders.
If you offer takeout, you may need delivery drivers. If you’re opening a chicken stand, you’ll need a cashier. If you’re opening a sit-down restaurant, you’ll need a host, wait staff and bartenders.
Refine Your Menu
The menu is what brings customers back for more, so before you have a hard grand opening, you need to refine your menu and get the best flavors at the best price point. Many wing shops order wholesale frozen wings. You should focus on a mix of quality (think: free-range, antibiotic-free chicken) and value. Hormone-free wings can cost as little as $100 for 40 pounds, but regular wings can cost half as much.
Sauce is the star of a wing shop, so you need to carefully develop your flavors. Work with your head chef to create a menu and refine this based on feedback from soft openings.
Market Your Wing Business
Marketing is key to a successful restaurant. Consider signing up on Yelp, Google and Facebook and offer patrons incentives to leave reviews. Some restaurants even offer discounts for social media check-ins. You can also place ads in the local paper or town and church bulletins.
Behind Yelp, Instagram is particularly important in driving sales for modern food businesses. You’ll want to create an account and post drool-worthy photos of your food. Consider jumping into the world of influencer marketing, which has become a standard because of its decent return on investment.
- National Chicken Council: Americans to Eat 1.35 Billion Chicken Wings for Super Bowl
- Small Business Trends: 10 Chicken Wing Franchises for Food Entrepreneurs
- City of New York: Restaurants and Other Food Service Establishments
- Upserve: Learn How To Get Your Business, Food Service, and Liquor Licenses
- WebstaurantStore: How to Choose the Best Commercial Deep Fryer
- Restaurant Engine: 5 Things Startup Restaurants Typically Overspend On
- Inc.: Open a Hot Restaurant With $12,000
Mariel Loveland is a small business owner, content strategist and writer from New Jersey. Throughout her career, she's worked with numerous startups creating content to help small business owners bridge the gap between technology and sales. Her work has been featured in publications like Business Insider and Vice.