A high-end chicken sandwich one might see in full-service restaurants
Adobe Stock/Brent Hofacker

The Chicken Sandwich War Heats Up in Full Service

How fried chicken sandwiches are quickly becoming industry-wide menu staples.

In 2019, fried chicken sandwiches dominated the restaurant industry. Led by a battle among quick-service chains, restaurant brands aimed to prove their respective sandwich was superior and the ultimate victor in “The Chicken Sandwich Wars.”

However, in the years that followed, consumers’ hunger for the comforting, portable meal only grew throughout the pandemic. During this time, more than 20 fast-food brands had introduced chicken sandwiches to their menus, including Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Golden Chick, KFC, Fatburger, Church’s Chicken, BurgerFi, Zaxby’s, Fuku, Jack in the Box, Sonic, Carl’s Jr., Shake Shack, Pollo Campero, Bojangles, and more. Meanwhile, even brands not traditionally known for chicken, such as Taco Bell and Panda Express, added variants to their menus.

Now, four years later, consumer interest is just as high as ever, and full-service brands have listed elevated adaptations of the product on their menus. And the appeal of the chicken sandwich reaches far beyond quick-service and nontraditional restaurants.

Take, for example, Rock & Brews—the 18-store, rock music-inspired, California-based casual-dining brand founded by KISS bandmates Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley—has featured its Southern Fried Chicken Sandwich on its menu since the chain launched in 2010. The fan-favorite dish features a sesame brioche bun, iceberg lettuce, pickles, mayo, a tomato, and, of course, fried chicken.

Then came the Demon Chicken Sandwich. This large, spicy variant was designed and named to reflect Simmons’ stage persona. Tossed in Rockin’ Hot Sauce, the sandwich features a house-made pepperjack cheese spread, chipotle slaw, marinated red onions, fresh jalapeños, and chipotle ranch, and ranges from $13.50 to $17.95, depending on the location.

However, just like its quick-service counterpart, the full-service industry is also seeing competition among restaurants heat up in the chicken sandwich space. In August of 2022, Wingstop launched its own sandwich, which sold out of four weeks’ worth of inventory in just six days. The product relaunched after an October restock and was rolled out to restaurants in phases to ensure staffing levels were high enough to meet demand.

The casual-dining brand’s differentiating factor is consumers’ ability to customize their sandwiches by having the chicken tossed in one of the brands 12 unique flavors, including Lemon Pepper or Garlic Parmesan dry rubs and Cajun or Mango Habanero sauces. 

Despite early inventory shortages, the payoff was worth it for Wingstop, which saw sales growth from the rollout. With positive feedback from guests and growing sales, there is little doubt full-service restaurants will continue adding the popular dish to menus for years to come.