Popeyes braces for the return of the chicken sandwich after the original launch sparked chaos and left workers exhausted

Popeyes braces for the return of the chicken sandwich after the original launch sparked chaos and left workers exhausted

Popeyes workers are bracing for the return of the chain's massively popular chicken sandwich. 

On Monday, Popeyes announced that the chicken sandwich would return to locations across the US on Sunday, November 3. 

Due to intense demand from customers, the sandwich disappeared from menus just two weeks after it debuted in mid-August. Traffic spiked by more than 100% during the peak of the "chicken sandwich wars," according to data from foot-traffic tracker Placer.ai. This created chaos in many stores. 

"I was working like a slave in the back prepping the buns with pickles and the spicy mayo," one 18-year-old Popeyes crew member in Orange County, California, told Business Insider in August. 

The Orange County employee estimated that he made at least 600 sandwiches during an 11-hour shift on a Saturday. One order consisted of 35 spicy chicken sandwiches. Four other workers described similarly chaotic scenes, with one employee saying she quit in the middle of a shift. 

This time around, Popeyes' franchisees are working to make sure stores are ready for the influx in orders from chicken sandwich lovers.

"Our distribution centers are getting ready for the hype this time," an employee in a franchised California Popeyes location told Business Insider in September. He added that his location will have two extra people per shift to help keep up with demand for the menu item. 

This employee also mentioned in a survey distributed by Business Insider that the chicken sandwich was one of the worst parts of working at Popeyes.

Another employee in a California Popeyes in September also cited the hype of the sandwich as one of the worst aspects of her job at Popeyes.

"We were heavily understaffed but were [sic] working on it right now," said a shift leader in a Texas Popeyes whose store experienced the adverse effects of the chicken sandwich wars. "I also hope the company helps their employees after the craze finishes. Hopefully a raise would be great. Other than that it's gonna be a hell of a week."

Popeyes franchisees are hiring more workers to prepare for the chicken sandwich's return 

A sign posted inside Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen states that the restaurant is out of their new chicken sandwiches in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Executives acknowledged that the chain was not fully prepared for the massive response to the sandwich when it originally launched over the summer. In addition to the chaos in stores, the chain's supply chain could not keep up with demand, resulting in the sandwich's short run. 

Popeyes executives emphasized to Business Insider that franchisees - which run the vast majority of Popeyes' locations - have full control over employment issues, including wages, hiring, and retaining workers. Franchises have worked to hire more employees after realizing that staffing needs had evolved in the post-chicken-sandwich era.

"Most Popeyes restaurants are franchised, so employment matters are handled directly by franchisees, but across the system our franchisees have worked really hard ... to be ready to serve our guests with fast and friendly service once the sandwich returns," Felipe Athayde, Popeyes' president for the Americas, told Business Insider on Monday. "For the past two months, the entire system has been working really, really hard."

Guillermo Perale, the CEO of Popeyes franchisee Sun Holdings Inc., recently told Bloomberg that an additional 400 employees would be hired at the company's nearly 150 locations to manage the hype. Up to two people per store will reportedly be tasked with making the sandwiches when they return to the menu. 

Executives say the last few months have been filled with hard work to make sure the relaunch goes more smoothly than the original launch, with Athayde describing the emotions surrounding the sandwich's return as "exhausted and happy." 

"We had very aggressive expectations before the national launch, but then what came next surprised all of us," Athayde said. "We had to readapt our system to this new reality of being able to serve so [many] of our fans. I guess this was the biggest challenge - to guarantee that the supply chain was prepared and that we were ready to come back, this time for good."

The plight of the Popeyes worker goes viral

Online, the plight of Popeyes workers was a viral topic of discussion when the chain announced on Monday that the chicken sandwich would be returning to menus. 

One apparent employee posted a meme expressing the unease that at least some Popeyes employees might be feeling as they prepare for the return for the return of the sandwich. 

Another apparent employee tweeted a similar sentiment.


If you're a Popeyes worker or franchisee with a story to share, email retail@businessinsider.com.