Published on: November 6, 2019
by Kate McMahon
“That’s all I can stands, ‘cause I can’t stands no more!” – Popeye
Leave it to the iconic cartoon “sailorman” to succinctly describe the excruciating wait for the much-hyped Popeyes chicken sandwich, “re-released” this week amid a fast-food social media frenzy.
Popeyes debuted the sandwich on August 12th, and sold out two weeks later. Completely. As in no more chicken filets. This set off the Great Chicken War of 2019 with Chick-Fil-A, which condescendingly clucked on social media about Popeyes’ production woes. The viral sparring and ensuing publicity generated an estimated $65 million in media value for Popeyes, according to marketing estimates.
Popeyes came back swinging by re-releasing its chicken sandwich on National Sandwich Day – this past Sunday – a day when Chick-Fil-A is closed across the nation, and fans lined up to try it.
The ever-intrepid Content Guy and I ventured to our local Popeyes just after noon on Monday. The drive-thru line snaked onto and down the Boston Post Road, the parking lot was full and patrons – about 80 percent male – were jammed into the small ordering area.
When we finally placed our order for one classic and one spicy sandwich at 12:39 p.m., we were told the wait would be 15 minutes. Disgruntled customers, many on a lunch break from work, complained about supposed 10-minute waits turning into 35 minutes and more.
So, we waited 10 minutes. Then, since we planned to do a taste test versus Chick-fil-A, KC ambled down the Post Road to that franchise, ordered two comparable sandwiches, got them, and strolled back. We waited another five minutes. We finally sat down at a Popeyes table to sample the Chick-Fil-A offerings, finished them, and yes, kept waiting. Forty minutes after placing the order, a beleaguered employee with laryngitis finally called out our lucky number – 47.
The classic sandwich – toasted brioche bun, a large chunk of chicken breast, mayo and two pickle slices - was piping hot and tasty. The signature spicy sandwich was barely warm, and the chicken filet was smaller and less crispy. Which was mystifying, since they'd been ordered and delivered at the same time, and consistency is supposed to be one of the great advantages of fast food - even when it is delivered very, very slowwwwwwwly.
The Chick-fil-A sandwiches, on the other hand, were both hot, well-proportioned and consistently delicious. The $4-plus price tags were comparable, and we exited Popeyes like all the other patrons - grumbling.
Meanwhile, in the online arena, Instagram and Twitter have been buzzing with photos of the Popeyes sandwiches and tales of long lines and alternatingly delighted and disappointed customers. Chick-fil-A has been mum online - it probably figures it is better to just do a better job and serve disgruntled Popeyes customers.
(Pictures below, from left: Popeyes' sandwich, the Chick-fil-A offerings, the line at Popeyes, and the absence of a line at Chick-fil-A.)
My take is this: Popeyes squandered an amazing opportunity fueled by luck and social media. Forty-five minutes for a sandwich? Ridiculous. Popeyes had two months to plan for this re-release, and yet the franchise was clearly unable to meet the demand. The employees put on a brave face and were working as fast as they could, but every patron I spoke with said “never coming back.”
The last time I trekked to this row of fast food joints on the Post Road I was in search of Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, which also debuted to social media fanfare and was unavailable in 99.9% of the country. Since the plant-based burger has been credited with boosting BK’s second quarter same store sales by 6%, KC and I decided give that a try as well. (Gluttons for punishment? Maybe.)
Other than the higher price tag ($5.99), the Impossible Whopper resembled the regular Whopper: a bland piece of “meat” topped with flavorful ketchup, lettuce, mayo, tomato and chopped white onions. No lines, though. Make of that what you will.
By the end of our Burger King, Popeyes and Chick-fil-A adventure, one constant remained: heartburn. With a bad taste in our mouths.
And, to use another Popeye line, "Disgustipated."
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