Meat is back at Wendy’s, so save your “Where’s the beef?” jokes [Updated]

Illustration for article titled Meat is back at Wendy’s, so save your “Where’s the beef?” jokes [Updated]
Photo: David Dee Delgado (Getty Images)

Update, June 10, 2020: Beef is back at Wendy’s, baby! On Monday, the company filed an update on its COVID-19-era sales with the SEC announcing that its previous issues with its beef supply chain have, for the most part, been resolved. Other exciting news from the filing:

  • While sales have, understandably, been down in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic and, well, the whole “running out of beef” thing, same-restaurant sales began to increase again at the end of May.
  • Wendy’s new breakfast program seems to be a success. The program was launched in early March, and though it could have easily been quickly derailed by pandemic closures, the company says it has been performing “very strongly,” and in May it accounted for 8% of systemwide sales. (If you’ve yet to try Wendy’s breakfast please check out our review, as I suffered greatly eating all those breakfast sandwiches in a single sitting and need to know my sacrifices weren’t in vain.)
  • Digital sales only accounted for 4.5% of U.S. systemwide sales in May. Could this be a sign that Wendy’s may start announcing more app-only specials on Twitter?
  • Wendy’s is in a great financial position to ride out these unprecedented times, with approximately $375 million cash on hand, so if you’ve been having nightmares about a Baconator-less world, you can finally sleep easy.
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Original, article May 5, 2020: Fast food restaurants, by definition, are meant to supply you with exactly what you want exactly when you want it. Usually a fast food menu item has to be something of a sensation before it sells out and sends the restaurant scrambling to replenish it. But these times continue to be strange, and so some Wendy’s customers have noticed this week that the mobile app is only displaying chicken menu items, not burgers. Others have gone to the Wendy’s drive thru and seen signs alerting customers to the issue:

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According to Bloomberg, the problem lies in the meat supply chain, which (like everything else) is getting squeezed by COVID-19. “About a dozen slaughterhouses shut last month because of infections among employees jammed together on processing lines,” Bloomberg reports. Even the beef that is available has spiked in price; this increases the likelihood that beef, pork, and chicken will eventually not only be absent from fast food menus, but grocery store shelves, too.

Ironically, part of the problem for Wendy’s is that it’s an industry leader in using fresh, never frozen, beef. This claim to fame gained the fast food chain a reputation for quality, one that has even spurred its competitors like McDonald’s to follow suit. But for all its advantages, this model increases dependency on a domestic supply chain, whereas frozen foods can be imported from just about anywhere. When America’s beef supply is disrupted, it has huge ripple effects for restaurants using only non-frozen burger meat.

Wendy’s hasn’t run out of burgers everywhere; as Bloomberg notes, many beef-based items are still available at locations in Chicago. “We are working closely with our supplier partners and restaurant teams to minimize the impact to our customers and continue to monitor this closely,” a Wendy’s spokesperson said in a statement to Restaurant Business. With 5,800 U.S. locations and a relatively new line of meaty breakfast options, that’s a lot to monitor.

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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“Where’s the Beef?” - the most missed title opportunity in history.