Surprise, surprise. Just last month Starbucks finally threw its hat into the chicken sandwich ring with the Chicken, Maple Butter & Egg Sandwich. When I tasted it upon its debut, I was underwhelmed at best, not to mention confused—why would Starbucks even need to add chicken to its menu at this point? Well, apparently the higher-ups asked themselves the same question, because TODAY reports that after just five days on the menu, Starbucks pulled the chicken sandwich for “[failing] to meet its standards for quality.”
The Starbucks chicken sandwich’s greatest flaws
When I ordered this item, it was obvious from the start that what I was getting was not the best quality. The chicken patty looked like something out of my middle school cafeteria, soggy and mushy from Starbucks’ prep process and formed into a shape that signals “this is pink slime in patty form, not chicken.” So why would Starbucks even put out something so low quality to begin with, if that’s the real reason it was pulled?
According to TODAY, the sandwich not only lacked in flavor and texture, but also left a bad taste in people’s mouths on the way back up. Social media reports and posts on the site iwaspoisoned.com report that the sandwich made some people sick. Representatives of Starbucks deny that this is a health-related recall, saying that the sandwich was cooked, frozen, shipped, and then reheated at locations where it was sold, which should take care of foodborne illness.
While meant to be reassuring, just hearing that process out loud—cook, freeze, ship, reheat, serve—is an indicator as to why this thing failed. While that system is all well and good for the product we’ve come to expect from a fast food egg breakfast sandwich, for instance, there’s one key step missing from Starbucks’ setup that you need for the perfect chicken sandwich: a fryer. Anything at all to crisp that baby up.
Maybe Popeyes has ruined us. Maybe in the time before the great Chicken Sandwich Wars we weren’t all harboring an insatiable craving that crunchy, flavorful crust every time poultry is thrown into the mix. But here and now, simply “reheating” chicken will never be enough.
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Why restaurant chains should stick to what they know
I’m not here to yell at Starbucks and Starbucks alone—we’ve seen the same mistake replay itself at places like Panera, which lost us on the taste and price of its chicken sandwich endeavor. Even outside of the chicken of it all, some chains, like Subway, are so desperate to try to stay trendy and rebrand that they end up destroying their original model completely, a move that’s confusing and unwelcome to workers and customers alike.
Some brands have built their entire existence on experimentation. Taco Bell, for instance, can kind of do whatever it wants and we’ll be on board. Even if it’s something completely disgusting, we have already come to expect that items of all sorts will come and go from that menu. Starbucks, however, is not Taco Bell. It has positioned itself as a reliable stop for coffee, breakfast, and a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. If Starbucks started throwing Cheez-Its into its lattes, customers would surely be put off by that sort of irreverent brand-breaking stunt.
If there’s any redemption in Starbucks’ chicken sandwich experiment, it’s that it proved Starbucks can create something new within its wheelhouse. The sandwich’s toasted oat biscuit roll is an exciting innovation, one that falls in line with Starbucks’ long-running bakery options and isn’t simply trying to replicate another brand’s success.
The best way for brands to be successful is to innovate within their established lane. There can still be surprises, but crossing over into another lane entirely is likely to lead to a fiery crash. And for the love of god, enough with the chicken already. We’re so over chicken.