Recently, I was accidentally drawn into the middle of one of the “not-so-greatest” debate controversy and latest internet hypes I now refer to as “The Which Chicken Sandwich Battle of 2019.” My engagement as a participant in this battle moved planning on eating to where it totally intrigued me from a business perspective. While I will refrain from giving any additional exposure to two very large and successful fast food titans, I will simple tell my story and let you, the reader, fill in the players in this chicken sandwich saga.
On a recent Wednesday, my stomach growled while I was working. There are at least a half dozen national fast food chains that could or should have met my craving for something to eat. I should point out that I eat much less fast food than I used to but sometimes a busy schedule or work makes the visit to one of these establishments necessary.
At random I decided on the fast food company that offers New Orleans inspired chicken & shrimp. I drove a short distance and I parked in a nearly empty lot. I walked up to the counter with a smiling employee anxiously waiting for me to approach. I smiled back and we exchanged greetings.
Before I could start my order, the friendly young woman behind the counter said, “We are out of chicken sandwiches.”
I responded, “I wasn’t going to order a chicken sandwich.” She looked surprised and I had no idea why. She then said, “We are also out of fries.” I explained that I did not want fries either.
As I ordered a breast, a wing with a side of rice and a drink, I wondered what was going on and my business mind kicked in.
“When is your delivery truck coming?” I asked.
“Friday,” she said.
“Friday?” I questioned. “But today is Wednesday.”
She just smiled and handed me a cup to fill with flavored water. I grabbed my food, as I questioned to myself, who at this location forgot to place a delivery order this week? I turned my thinking to business logistics.
As I returned to the office with my fast food haul, I co-worker said to me “What is all the hype about that place and their chicken sandwich?”
I said, “I have no idea, I didn’t order a chicken sandwich.” Little did I know until that moment the battle that was raging online and throughout the nation for the best chicken sandwich between the place I just left and the other chicken place that is closed on Sunday.
Side note to the saga: I actually ate a chicken sandwich on Wednesday night, from the place not open on Sundays. Not as part of the research but for strictly “on the road” convenience reasons.
Friday around 11:45 a.m. my stomach growled. Then I remembered the truck delivery on Friday. I drove over to get a taste of the sandwich I had yet to try. Not so fast, at noon I arrived to find an empty parking lot. I parked and walked up to the door, only to find a sign saying they would open at 1 p.m. and sorry for any inconvenience.
Despite my initial disappointment, I was now fully engaged in the goal of getting my hands on one of these chicken sandwiches. After a quick trip back to work, I returned at approximately 1:08 PM to find a full parking lot, a drive-thru backed up to the street entrance and a line of 13 people stretched outside the door.
When we got inside the line doubled to 26 people, by 1:15 the line was over 50 people deep. And the first 13 people in front of me and the process of their orders being taken and fulfilled was not setting any land-speed records. As I looked around, I decided this was more than just quest for a chicken sandwich, it was my opportunity to speak with, learn from and conduct a little business research that may actually become an entry for Business Currents.
A customer in front of me admitted he called every day for the last several days. Others said they never eat at this location, but drove here just to try the sandwich. Many people seemed to have rearranged their day around trying this sandwich.
At 1:20, I placed my order. I toyed with the idea of ordering a dozen sandwiches to share with some co-workers; my entrepreneurial mind suggested I buy two dozen and sell them at a profit to those at the end of the line. In the end, realizing common decency, fairness and the fact that I did not want to face those who lost out on getting a chicken sandwich due to greediness. This was madness. But I was getting my sandwich, actually my sandwiches. I ordered one normal and one spicy. That was my order. No fries, no mashed potatoes, just the two sandwiches.
I then stood by and watched a bunch of orders being filled. Despite the hustle and activity behind the counter, a number of orders were not being filled, including mine. Somewhere around 1:30, I realized that only the non-spicy chicken sandwich orders were being filled. I have no idea why, but the time or process it must take to cook or season a spicy chicken sandwich added nearly 20 minutes to my order.
Finally, I received my order and walked out the door at 1:43 PM, 35 minutes after I had arrived. On my way out, I thanked the crowd for playing a part in my official unofficial “not so fast” food focus group.
Before I took my first bite of sandwich number one, I thought, was I just a participant in a low-cost huge media impact promotional game or did I just witness an epic fail in planning, preparation, customer service and everything else I experienced during the past hour.
I decided, as I took my first bite, it was a combination of both. Sure somebody in a position to help promote the internet buzz of the challenge took the time at the fast food corporate level to fan the flames and spice up the competition. At the same time, during the handling of the “shortage” nobody at that same corporate level it seems, took the time to provide some additional guidance or instruction to the front line workers that despite their best efforts could have used the assistance.
Which was the better of the two fast food chicken sandwiches? I can honestly say, they both have tasty qualities. That being said, if I could somehow take the bun and pickles from one and combine it with the chicken from the other sandwich, it would be my ideal fast-food chicken sandwich.
And with that, I may have just started the next big internet sandwich challenge. I am calling it the “Not So Fast Food Sandwich Mash Up!”