Illustration for article titled Burgers are off the menu at Wendy’s thanks to beef shortages
Photo: David Dee Delgado (Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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