On August 12, 2019, Popeyes introduced their new chicken sandwich. Something that normally would have been a blip on the radar became a huge thing. Lines went out the door, cars went out into the street, chicken breasts ran out, arguments ensued, and fights broke out. It was mayhem. Back in August, I waited in the drive-thru for almost an hour to get the sandwich, and while it was tasty, it was not that tasty.
After its release, The Popeyes chicken sandwich sold an estimated 1,000 units per day per store. People literally lost their minds over the sandwich. In September, a Houston man pulled a gun after finding out the restaurant had sold out of the sandwiches. A Brooklyn woman fought an employee after paying for the last sandwich only to have the employee give it to another customer. There were other acts of violence and frustration at Popeyes restaurants around the country. I was happy when the news was announced at the end of August that the sandwich had run out and only remaining sandwiches would be sold.
After the first run with the chicken sandwich, I suspected something psychological was at play. It seemed like some type of FOMO where people did not want to miss out on the chicken sandwich. If “everyone” was talking about it, you didn’t want to be the one person who hadn’t tasted it. If it was causing that type of chaos, then it must have been something special about it. Only there was nothing special or remarkable about the sandwich.
The chicken sandwich was reintroduced on December 3 and things took an unexpected and tragic turn. In a senseless act of violence a 28-year-old man was stabbed to death in the parking lot of a Maryland Popeyes because he cut the line that was specially designated for customers buying the sandwich. Nobody should ever die over a chicken sandwich, and while Popeyes is not responsible for the actions of their customers, one would think that they would evaluate the selling of their chicken sandwich when someone is murdered over it.
Instead Popeyes released a statement saying, “what happened in Maryland last night is a tragedy and we are saddened to hear about this senseless act of violence…our thoughts are with the victim’s family and friends.” That’s it.
The only way I can explain this phenomenon is by comparing it to the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment showed that people’s behavior can be influenced by their environment, not their personality. It’s a chain reaction occurring that is making people act violently at Popeyes restaurants. I don’t think all these incidents would have happened if it had not become a common occurrence at Popeyes restaurants.
While restaurants rarely put people over profit, if the violence increases, hopefully Popeyes will be hit where it hurts — their pockets, as customers decide to steer clear of the violence happening in their stores.