Diner Sues, Saying Boneless Chicken Wings Aren’t Really Wings

Remember the “fake tuna” lawsuit against Subway?

It comes to mind now that another major restaurant chain, Buffalo Wild Wings, faces allegations that at least sound similar. An Illinois man, Aimen Halim, filed a class-action lawsuit on March 13, arguing that the restaurant’s boneless wings aren’t really wings. They are nuggets made from breast meat, he says.

While both the Subway and Buffalo Wild Wings lawsuits share the central argument about false labeling, they are also quite different. Where Subway stands by its claim that its tuna sandwiches really do contain tuna, Buffalo Wild Wings actually agrees with the plaintiff. The boneless wings, the company admitted, aren’t really wings.

“It’s true,” the company responded in a cheeky statement. “Our boneless wings are all white meat chicken. Our hamburgers contain no ham. Our buffalo wings are 0% buffalo.”

In the Subway lawsuit, plaintiffs Nilima Amin and Karen Dhanowa argued that the restaurant’s “100% tuna” sandwiches contain, at best, material that is only partially tuna. In July 2022, a judge denied Subway’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the plaintiff had a good enough argument to proceed. That’s apparently where the matter rests. We still don’t have an answer on how much actual tuna is in a Subway tuna sandwich.

Ruffling Purists’ Feathers

By contrast, there’s not much mystery around Buffalo Wild Wings’ boneless wings. Poultry finger-food aficionados have known for years that boneless wings aren’t really wings. Some have even aired their grievances.

If Halim was ignorant of this fact, he’s done a good job of concealing it.

“Unbeknownst to plaintiff and other consumers, the products are not wings at all, but instead, slices of chicken breast meat deep-fried like wings,” the lawsuit reads.

So, is it harmless semantics if a restaurant uses breast meat for something called a boneless wing? Or is it consumer fraud?

Boneless wings are on thousands of menus and, typically, they are described as white meat. So it’s safe to say that a lot of people know that a boneless wing isn’t really a wing.

Of Wings and Prayers

But does that mean Halim’s lawsuit is baloney?

Not necessarily, because he’s making a more serious point: Buffalo Wild Wings, he says, is using the fake moniker to dupe the unknowing into spending money they otherwise wouldn’t have spent.

The lawsuit provides some history. In 2008, the recession prompted a downturn in demand for chicken breast meat, while demand for more affordable wings (which then were really wings) soared. The increased demand drew more restaurants, like Atomic Wings and Wing Zone, into the market.

This caused the price of wings to soar for restaurants and customers alike, and restaurants responded by substituting real wings with a cheaper white-meat substitute. The lawsuit notes that Buffalo Wild Wings was by no means alone in making that switch, but other restaurants either made up new names for this new type of finger food or made clear that their boneless wings were really white meat.

Halim says that Buffalo Wild Wings has done neither and is violating Illinois and nationwide laws banning consumer fraud and unjust enrichment.

Halim does sound madder than a wet hen over Buffalo Wild Wings’ allegedly fowl play and is seeking a jury trial to settle the matter once and for all: What is a chicken wing, anyway?

Related Resources:

Food Companies Face Heightened Scrutiny Over Labels (FindLaw’s Courtside)

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Not Sourced From ‘Happy Cows,” Suit Claims (FindLaw’s Legally Weird)

Something Smells Fishy as Subway Calls for Tuna Lawsuit Dismissal (FindLaw’s Courtside)

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