Defending the title of best fast food fried chicken sandwich takes work—so much work, in fact, that Popeyes is willing to completely rebuild its kitchen operation just to support the cause, Bloomberg reports.
The ongoing chicken sandwich wars have evolved over time, making it even more difficult for fast food chains to stand out in a sea of breaded poultry. As the originator of the phenomenon back in 2019, Popeyes’ sandwich has always been a standout, but there’s one thing customers have consistently complained about: the difficulty of actually acquiring one. Following the initial boom upon the launch of the Popeyes chicken sandwich, same-store sales growth took a steep dive in late 2020, as many were complaining about consistently slow service and incorrect orders.
To combat these issues, Bloomberg reports, Popeyes has implemented a multi-year plan with a focus on speeding up the fulfillment of chicken sandwich orders and making the sandwiches and overall experience better. This is going to require a physical renovation of many Popeyes kitchens.
Part of the problem, noted Popeyes’ US/Canada president Sami Siddiqui, is that many Popeyes restaurants have their sandwich station located in the back of the kitchen or off to the side, increasing the amount of time it takes to get the order to the counter or out the drive-thru window.
In a revamped Popeyes kitchen, the new sandwich setup will consist of five numerically ordered modules, with a machine spitting out stickers that indicate the details of the order (such as “no pickles” or “extra mayo”). The completed sandwich order ends its journey in a “landing zone,” where it is given one final check to ensure quality and accuracy before being marked as ready. Even the boxes that hold the orders were redesigned to make them easier to close, thereby increasing their efficiency.
In addition to improving chicken sandwich assembly, Popeyes is automating how the frying batter is made, and it’s implementing “predictive software” to tell cooks what to make and when. The intention behind these changes is to reduce the wait time for customers and, in turn, increase sales volume (and hopefully repeat visits as well). Although the brand is currently testing this new kitchen design in just four locations, the plan is to expand to 30 restaurants by the end of the year. The goal is to eventually have all new Popeyes restaurants outfitted with this sandwich-making process. Similar kitchen designs are already in use at other fast food chains, such as Burger King, which is owned by the same company as Popeyes.
The days of overflowing drive-thru lines and general mayhem as customers try to get their hands on the Popeyes chicken sandwich might be over in 2023. But shorter wait times and more accurate orders could be the key to reminding people which brand is responsible for the fast food chicken sandwich renaissance in the first place.