Chicken Wing Pricing Redux

(Photo: Southern Foodways Alliance)

About a year ago, I blogged about how odd the pattern of chicken wing prices was at my local Harold’s Chicken Shack.  Here was what they were charging for their wings:

2-wing meal $3.03

3-wing meal $4.50

4-wing meal $5.40

5-wing meal $5.95

6-wing meal $7.00

It is quite odd because they gave you a big discount on the fourth and fifth wings, but charged you a lot for the sixth wing.  There were many incongruities throughout the menu.

Since that time, Harold’s has invested in a fancy new menu up on the wall above the bulletproof glass that protects the workers from the customers.  I’ve also invested in a fancy new phone that actually takes pictures, unlike the phone I carried a year ago.  So this time, instead of having to write down all the prices, I just snapped a photo.

Did Harold’s fix their pricing?  Look for yourself.  They did indeed change prices, but not quite the way I would have expected.  It appears that they took all their old prices and multiplied then by 0.996, and those are the new prices.   So the prices fell by between one and three cents.

My favorite part of the new menu is the line that is blacked out.  There used to be an offering between six and 21 wings, but they crossed it out so you can’t see it any more.  I would love to know, given the rest of the pricing, what could have been so bad about the one they deleted.  Maybe they multiplied that one by 0.995 instead of 0.996, throwing it out of whack with the rest of the menu items.


And somehow they offer 21 wing rather than 20...


There's one chicken out there that friends call "Lefty"...


I think they do this to get free advertising from perplexed economists.


Obviously, the 21-wing deal is the best. If you want 40 wings, just buy 2 21-piece orders, it's 33 cents cheaper, and you get 2 extra wings!


This says "wing dinners". Do they all include fries or something? You'd think if it was just the wings, it would just say "wings".


hehe. two orders of 21 wings is cheaper than one order of 40.


As everybody knows, the optimal harold's order is the half-dark special on any number of special days.


Off topic, but "...Harold’s has invested in a fancy new menu up on the wall above the bulletproof glass that protects the workers from the customers."? I remember a recent snarky remark about people like me living out in the boondocks with a closetful of guns, yet I'm pretty sure that the fast food places hereabouts have not invested in bulletproof glass. Wonder why that is...


What are the totals when you add tax? Some of the prices may reflect an imperfectly devised strategy to minimize counting change. Of course, the social way to solve the mystery would be to ask the proprietor.


My mother used to keep the books for a liquor store and that was exactly their pricing strategy. She would enter the prices into the computer based on the desired markup and make it so what when the sales tax was added in it would end up being divisible by 25¢.


Presumably the price change is due to a local increase in sales tax: the new prices might come out to even dollar or quarter amounts after the tax rate change.

David G.

Interesting that the only way you get the wings for less than a dollar per wing is by ordering 21 or 100. So if you really want 75 wings you're better off order three packs of 21 and 2 of 6. You'll save yourself two dollars. Of course, we've probably put far more thought into this pricing than Harold did.


We could hypothesize that there are significant jumps in marginal wing production costs that correspond with the discontinuities in marginal wing price. Maybe Harold's uses several different sizes of baskets in their deep-fryer, and the smallest one holds exactly five wings; thus, the marginal cost of production of the sixth wing includes the costs of utilizing an entire new fryer basket for the lone sixth wing. A large fryer basket with a 21-wing capacity - or perhaps a switch to a different frying apparatus altogether - could account for the discontinuity at 21.

Unfortuantely, this hypothesis struggles to account for the jump at 25 and the remarkable smoothness until 100. So alternatively, I'd submit that these prices are the manifestations of the intuitions of a boundedly rational manager, who perhaps would rather spend his time eating his delicious chicken than optimizing his prices.


Michael Lehet

Have you been to Harold's lately though?

Last week we called in an order and the lady on the phone told us that 4 wings were now $7 +tax because of an apparent "chicken wing shortage" needless to say, we didn't have chicken that night.


Yuk. Tendons and grease.

Could the weird price have anything to do with sales tax? One local store I know has things priced so our 6 percent NJ tax hits the dollar amounts on the nose.

Conversely, someone hoping to catch coin tips in a jar might price wings at $3:02, as these guys do....


I have nothing else to say except that Harold's Chicken Shack sounds like a very sketch place.

alex in chicago

You would be correct. Delicious, but sketchy.

Basil White

6-14 wings is the range at which two people will split an order. Previously they were pricing the wings to make it unprofitable to split orders in this range; now they've eliminated this range completely.

Psych major for the WIN.

Would you like to hear my plan for fixing student loans?

Steve S.

Levitt, so is this a new law: is an inverse relationship between pricing skills and chicken quality?

Kevin Yeung

I'm guessing it's to do with 2 friends splitting a bucket of chicken wings. One person can quite reasonably eat 4 or 5 wings but beyond a certain number they start to get greasy and unpleasant. Perhaps somehow Harold's figured out that people ordering a 7-wing bucket split the order and so made it more expensive.