Everything You Need To Know About Slim Chickens

Slim Chickens has been around for over 20 years, but if you're not familiar with it, it's about time you get acquainted. While there were only a few locations for many years, this fast casual chicken chain is exploding on the national scene now. So, you're probably curious to know more about the history of this chicken restaurant and what sets it apart from all the other chicken restaurants taking over the U.S.

The chain got its start in a college town in Northwest Arkansas in the early 2000s. From the beginning, the plan was to do a chicken restaurant the right way. While many of the menu items are ones you'll see elsewhere, there are outliers, too. The more you read, the more you'll realize what makes this place stand out. It has a lot of things going for it, and there's even a way to get free chicken from Slim Chickens so you can give it a try if you're feeling curious.

Slim Chickens was dreamed up by high school kids and developed in a garage

Starting Slim Chickens called for a strong concept, a lot of time, and hard work. The guys who dreamed up Slim Chickens, Greg Smart and Tom Gordon, were still in high school when they got the idea for the restaurant. They both lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the time.

It wasn't until they were both out of college and had some restaurant and retail experience under their belts that Smart and Gordon moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to finally get their idea off the ground. It took months of testing potential products and recipes in a residential garage before they landed on exactly which ones they wanted to use. They'd fry up products in turkey fryers, and friends would come by to test everything, critique the foods, and help decide what to ultimately sell at the restaurant. The menu hasn't changed much from the decisions that came out of their garage testing back then.

They opened their first location on North College Avenue in Fayetteville in an abandoned Sake Express restaurant building on February 17, 2003. The original color scheme was yellow, purple, and green like a Mardi Gras parade. Even the hat-wearing chicken mascot gave off Mardi Gras vibes. The new restaurant was an immediate hit, with people telling their friends and coming back for more soon after their first visits.

It has a contemporary Southern Delta feel

Slim Chickens' founders grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the Mississippi Delta region. It's an area steeped in Southern culture, Southern rock, and blues music influences from nearby Memphis (a few hours away) and Mississippi, where co-founder Greg Smart went to college. Northwest Arkansas, where the first Slim Chickens restaurant opened, is about three hours from Little Rock and doesn't embody the Southern Delta culture at all. However, the founders still wanted a contemporary Southern Delta feel. The company sums up the vibe on its LinkedIn profile: "Our roots run deep in the Delta where the food is honest, meals are social, and the door is always open."

Blues music plays in both the restaurant and on Slim Chickens' commercials. For years, its restaurants tuned into a blues satellite radio station, but now they have a better mix of songs since they've started using Ambiance Radio to provide the music. Instead of employees being subjected to the same 300-song playlist daily, they hear a mix of blues and Southern rock that changes based on the time of day or season.

The chain's bird mascot and art have a blues feel, too. The modern version of the mascot wears a fedora and overalls and holds a guitar under its beak. The inside wall art often features a mural depicting a guitar and images appropriate to the location. The chain's flagship location on Wedington Drive in Fayetteville has real guitars on the wall.

It's thriving and growing quickly

Slim Chickens is one of the fastest-growing chicken restaurant chains, so don't be surprised if you see more popping up wherever you travel. As recently as 2015, Slim Chickens had only 23 locations. However, that number is changing quickly.

According to QSR, the total number of Slim Chickens restaurants grew 70% between 2020 and 2023, with 53 new locations opening in 2023 alone, bringing the total number of locations around the world to 250. The average sales that each location earned in 2023 was over $3.8 million — 13.6% more than in 2022, according to QSR. In 2024, the chain plans to open 70 more restaurants and has another 1,200 or so additional new locations in some level of development. If all goes as planned, that would bring the total number to over 1,500 locations sometime during the mid-2020s.

As of 2024, nearly every state in the continental U.S. is either already saturated with locations or is in the process of opening Slim Chickens. You can find the most restaurants in Texas (31) and Arkansas (27). There aren't locations or agreements in West Virginia, Delaware, New York, or any of the states north of New York yet. There aren't any in California either, but the chain isn't planning to target the Golden State. However, you can find 11 Slim Chickens in the U.K. and one inside the Kuwait International Airport.

Slim Chickens has a creative chicken fast casual menu

One reason the founders created Slim Chickens was to improve upon the chicken restaurant concept. Places like Zaxby's and Raising Cane's already existed when Slim Chickens came on scene, but its founders envisioned a better menu with better chicken. 

Slim Chickens uses high-quality chicken in its menu offerings. All the chicken products come from fresh, all-natural chicken that has never been frozen. Part of the secret behind how good its chicken tastes is the buttermilk batter and proprietary breading. The other part of the secret is options that don't always show up on other chicken restaurant menus.

Slim Chickens has both normal chicken restaurant fare as well as items you're less likely to find at other chicken chains. Like other places, there are chicken tenders, wings, craft sandwiches, wraps, and a salad on the menu. You can even order your tenders grilled. There are half a dozen sandwich and wrap flavors from which to choose. Meals feature sides, like garlicky Texas toast, dipping sauces, and a medium drink. There are even meals that are half wings and half tenders. Some of the more interesting items to get you in the door include chicken and waffles and two varieties of Mac Bowls. You can order the regular bowl with mac and cheese, chicken tenders, and shredded cheese or get the Buffalo Tender Mac Bowl, which takes the regular version and adds a sprinkling of two sauces, fried onions, and fresh green onions.

Slim Chickens has an impressive sides menu

If you're looking for a place with more than just fries as a side, Slim Chickens is an excellent choice. Having a robust sides menu is also great news for vegetarians so they're not stuck with ordinary options.

Lots of sides at Slim Chickens are Southern comfort foods worth trying. In addition to the typical choices such as mac and cheese, coleslaw, fries, and a side salad, Slim Chickens has some tasty but different sides, including an interesting version of potato salad, fried mushrooms, fried pickles, fried okra, and Texas toast. Because waffles are on the menu, there's even an option to get a side of butter or syrup, but we won't judge if you order them for something other than your waffles.

There are a couple of things you need to know about the sides. Slim Chickens has a crave-worthy style of potato salad that we've experienced often in Northwest Arkansas restaurants. It uses ranch dressing for creaminess and gets added flavor from crumbled bacon and fresh green onions. It may end up being your new favorite potato salad once you try it. Another thing to note is that the fried mushrooms are great, but they don't hold up as well over time as some of the other sides. So, for best results, you'll want to order them to eat in the restaurant or nosh on them in the car on the way home if you get them to go.

It offers an excellent variety of great sauces

We've found that some chicken restaurants have just-okay chicken and rely on their signature sauces to make their chicken taste better. However, the chicken itself at Slim Chickens has a lot of flavor. So, while you don't need the sauces to make the chicken taste good, the sauces enhance the overall Slim Chickens experience. Some sauces come in a meal. However, you can order extras — $0.39 for one, $1.99 for five, $3.99 for 10, or $7.19 for 20.

One distinction at Slim Chickens is that all 17 sauces are made in-house rather than in a factory somewhere. So, you can taste the difference in quality since the chain uses fresh ingredients. Slim Sauce is the chain's signature sauce. A while back, an employee leaked the recipe for this sweet sauce, which reportedly contains mayo, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, paprika, pepper, vinegar, lime juice, butter, and salt.

There are plenty of sauces beyond the house specialty. There are some standards like ranch and honey mustard. It has several types of barbecue sauce, including a smokey-tasting standard one, honey BBQ, Korean BBQ, and spicy BBQ. Other spicy sauces include sweet red chili, cayenne ranch, mango habanero, Buffalo, hot, inferno, and sriracha garlic. You can also get blue cheese and garlic Parmesan sauces. Another dipping option is gravy, which comes warm. Plus, there are a variety of salad dressings (beyond ranch), including balsamic vinaigrette, lite Italian, and raspberry walnut vinaigrette.

It has interesting desserts, some of which come in a jar

It's not unheard of for customers to visit Slim Chickens just for dessert. One of the options you won't find at too many other restaurants is the Jar Desserts. Brownies are another option. Plus, some locations have shakes.

In a 2023 podcast called "Get Real with Chris & Mark" that featured Maryland franchise owner Darrin Atlas, cohost Chris Hill said the Jar Desserts are "beautiful, and people rave about them" (via YouTube). They come layered with ingredients like brownies, pudding, whipped cream, or cheesecake and are made or baked by the morning crew daily. Even the strawberries are fresh, not frozen or canned. You can take the jars home with you, and they're reusable. Some flavors you might find include birthday cheesecake, Oreo cheesecake, chocolate brownie pudding, and pumpkin pie (during the fall). You can also get a chocolate chip brownie all by itself.

Slim Chickens is also test-driving the idea of including shakes on its menu. Currently, they're available for a limited time and not at every location. Chocolate and vanilla are some of the standard flavors, but you can also get Oreo and salted caramel. Plus, you may find a special featured flavor like red velvet Oreo. When we visited the flagship location, we were able to try a Reese's shake.

Some of its nutritional content may blindside you

It's not likely that you'll go to a fried chicken restaurant thinking everything is super healthy. However, the nutritional content of some Slim Chickens menu items may be more surprising than others.

One thing to consider is possible allergens. The chain uses soybean oil and batters its chicken with flour and buttermilk. It also uses monosodium glutamate (MSG) in some items. Besides dairy, wheat, and soy, other allergens you might encounter include eggs, fish, tree nuts, and peanuts.

Some menu items are a little less healthy than others, so you might want to take note before placing your order. For example, the Chicken Club Sandwich has 747 calories and 42 grams of fat. However, it's the Smokey Cheddar Wrap With Grilled Tenders that has the most sodium among the sandwiches and wraps (1,860 milligrams). We noticed that the grilled tender items tend to have more sodium than the corresponding fried tender items. Some of the regular-sized sides may also surprise you. The fried pickles and fried mushrooms both have 476 calories, and the fried pickles have 32 grams of fat and 3,086 milligrams of sodium. A Buffalo Tender Mac Bowl is probably the most surprising menu item with 1,402 calories, 73 grams of fat (31 of which are saturated), and 4,791 milligrams of sodium. And if you have a Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake Jar Dessert, it's 802 calories with 48 grams of fat (22 of which are saturated).

Slim Chickens does a lot of in-store fundraising

Slim Chickens says that it likes to give back to the community through partnering "with national charitable organizations, helping local non-profits with fundraisers, donating food to community events, and doing everything we can to improve the lives of people in the communities where we live and work." If you are at Slim Chickens during a community fundraiser, 15% of what you pay for your order goes to help fund the organization as long as you mention the fundraiser.

All sorts of organizations partner with Slim Chickens for fundraising events. Schools often have special nights where friends and family make a concerted effort to eat at a particular Slim Chickens location to help raise money for school needs. Even groups like sororities and bigger organizations like United Way and Children's Miracle Network take advantage of special fundraising nights.

If you come in to support a specific fundraiser or you see a sign outside talking about a specific fundraiser that night, you must mention the fundraiser before you order. Otherwise, you'll fill your stomach but not fill the coffers of the organization that needs your help.

It's tech-savvy

As Slim Chickens has grown from a handful of restaurants to a whole army of restaurants across the U.S. and around the world, it became obvious that more of its operations needed to be streamlined with tech. Being able to manage the operations of so many locations from afar has been one thing that's made it even possible to grow as much as the chain has in the past few years.

Slim Chickens started getting away from the idea of a static menu board in 2014. Now it can make instant menu changes in all of its locations across the globe as necessary. This cloud-based tech is especially useful to promote menu items that are more popular during certain times of the day or to promote limited-time-only offerings. The last time we visited, an employee was out taking orders on a tablet instead of making customers interact with the menu board. The company is also working on an AI drive-through experience. Kiosk ordering is available in some locations. Plus, you can order online or through its app.

Slim Chickens also uses software behind the scenes to help streamline its operations. For example, it uses cloud-based ArrowStream software to help optimize its supply chain system and Olo software products to assist with marketing efforts, manage call-in orders, and do much more.

Getting food at Slim Chickens might take a bit of a wait

Slim Chickens doesn't fry up a lot of chicken and let it sit under a heating lamp waiting for people to order it like some chains do. Since the chicken is served hot and fresh right out of the fryer, you should expect to have to wait a little while for your food. The fast casual chain does about half its business through its drive-through, and we always see lines.

Some people have complained about wait times in the drive-through, but we found them to be reasonable when we timed them. The car we timed in the drive-through at the flagship location took 408 seconds to order and drive away with their food around noon on a Friday. According to QSR, 408 seconds is slower than the average total wait time in 2023 for eight of the fastest fast food drive-throughs. However, it's faster than the average wait time at a McDonald's or Chick-fil-A drive-through. Of course, the wait time might be different based on your location or the time of day, but it wasn't as bad as we initially thought based on social media chatter. For example, one customer on Reddit talked about not even getting to order in 30 minutes when there were only seven cars in line waiting. So, it's not always perfect.

There's a way to get free chicken at Slim Chickens

We saw a rumor floating around the web that said it was possible to get a free chicken sandwich from Slim Chickens. So, we decided to investigate and see if we could get one for ourselves. We were thrilled to find that it worked. It turns out that there's not only a legitimate way to get a free sandwich, but Slim Chickens also occasionally gives away free chicken for a whole year.

We found that getting a free sandwich was easy. All you have to do to get started is download the app and create a login. You then need to verify your email address. After verification, you'll immediately get another email that promises a reward for a Cayenne Ranch Chicken Sandwich within 12 hours of creating your account. Our reward showed up almost exactly three hours later. Other people have reported getting it in as little as two hours. You'll get an email when it's ready. The reward shows up in the app's inbox, under the "redeemables" tab. Then, you can use the code to redeem it during an online, app, or in-person order any time within 90 days.

We've also found some advertisements from different years about downloading the app or following social media accounts for a chance to win free Slim Chickens for a year. So, keep your eyes open if you like the idea of lots and lots of free chicken.