I gave into the hype and got the Popeyes chicken sandwich. It’s tastier! But the experience is no match for Chick-fil-A.
At the end of November 2019, I took up a challenge issued by some readers and commenters on this blog, who called my first post on this topic “laughable” because I hadn’t eaten the sandwich before writing about it.
After reading this comment in August 2019, I did try to go to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen to both see what the insanity was all about and defend my journalistic integrity. I went to two suburban locations in the Kansas City, Missouri, area and failed at both.
My first attempt – on a Saturday around lunchtime – was at a location positioned between two directions of a U.S. highway. Traffic to turn into the restaurant was backed up eastbound and westbound on the highway. The restaurant, parking lot and drive-thru line were slammed. I drove on.
At the second try – a 20 minute drive later – I saw another packed restaurant but I was at least able to park and go inside. The lobby was shoulder to shoulder. A grinning man took his bag and announced it took an hour. A man standing next to me responded he had better things to do than wait that long, and I was inclined to agree with him.
Little did I or the commenters know the sandwich would be totally sold out within days.
In November 2019, I returned to the same restaurant I abandoned earlier in August. This time, it was around lunch again but on a bleak Wednesday. I was relieved to see no line at the drive-thru this time and a sedate scene inside. I had a tough time at the drive-thru, though – the screen was out as were the drinks I wanted and the order was bungled – but I got the sandwich.
The item itself was wonderful. As the reviews promised, the chicken filet was extra crispy, well-seasoned and tender. The bread was true to brioche’s character and was a fine complement to the meat, as were the sauce and pickles. It was delicious fried goodness with just enough Cajun essence to be complementary but not overbearing.
Upon finishing it, I judged the new sandwich was indeed better than Chick-fil-A’s. But, eating at the market leader in the category is about much more than the sandwich.
Customers at Chick-fil-A – or another leading quick-serve restaurant – are used to a quick, easy ordering experience in the drive through. Inside, they expect a clean lobby, comfortable dining room and maybe a play place for parents and children.
Popeyes is selling a great product. But if it wants to make people switch routinely, and change their established fast food habits, it will need to focus on matching or beating the experience at the market leaders’ locations.