Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Popeyes' service goes high-speed

Posted By on Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 10:41 AM

A few years back, I regularly wrote updates of my experiences at the Popeyes on Boulevard near its intersection with Ponce de Leon Avenue. The very fact that I liked the fast-food restaurant's fried chicken was cause for criticism by people with more refined palates.

But even Scott Peacock, then chef at Watershed and famous for his own fried chicken, shared my taste for the restaurant.

What I didn't like was the service, seriously the worst I'd encountered anywhere on earth. I learned to inspect my take-out orders closely, because they were usually screwed up. It wasn't uncommon for the staff to substitute an item for a sold-out one without offering me a choice.

One of the employees always called me Bruce...because she weirdly thought I looked like Bruce Willis. She would actually call me to the front of the line, explaining loudly that "Bruce is always number one." This of course didn't keep her from screwing up my order. After three such experiences with her, I used only the drive-in window.

The climax of the story occurred when my car's battery died in the parking lot and I left it there overnight. I returned the next morning to find the driver's window broken. Then the place closed temporarily because of a fire. (The two events are not related; I did not torch Popeyes.)

I broke my Popeyes addiction during the closing, suffering occasional relapses after they reopened. I found the service genuinely improved. As it happens, I've been twice in the last month and the service now is almost comically high-speed and accurate, unlike anything you see in other fast food joints. I'm not kidding.

Apparently, service was an issue at many of the franchise chain's restaurants. Jeremiah McWilliams reports in the AJC that Popeyes is doing very well and that improving the service is part of the reason:

Executives at Atlanta-based Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen say the company is gaining market share in one of the toughest economies in memory, using better customer service and national advertising to draw attention and business....

Popeyes says it has made progress on service times and customer service scores such as "intent to return" and the percentage of customers who are "delighted." The company, whose stock has risen 33 percent in the past year, said it posted its eight straight quarter of rising market share in the fast food chicken category, with its share hitting a 10-year high of 13.2 percent last year.

The company expects to earn between 73 and 77 cents per share this year, compared to 74 cents last year, when the company logged a net profit of $18.8 million. Store operators are posting wider profit margins.

Meanwhile, in other Popeyes-related news, the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered an appeals court to reconsider arguments in the appeal of the death sentence of a man convicted for killing three Popeyes employees in Gasden, Ala. I do not believe bad service prompted the killings.

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