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Popeye's workers on what it's like to work in chicken sandwich chaos



When Popeyes launched its chicken sandwich in early August, no one expected it to come this far.

Following the roll out of the new menu item, Popeyes and Chick-fil-A engaged in a fight via Twitter about which chain had the better sandwich. Even Wendy & # 39; s got in on the action, but venerable defenders of Popeyes rose to defend the sandwich that was crowned number one by Business Insider's fast-food critic Irene Jiang in a head-to-head chicken sandwich.

The Twitter feed and subsequent syringe drug got a massive boost in chicken sandwich orders at Popeyes, causing the item to be lacking in many places.

Read more: Popeyes sells chicken sandwiches as the frenzy over the new menu item reaches a fever pitch

For Popeyes and Chick-fil-A, the chicken sandwich war is still raging. And at the forefront of the fight are the staff ̵

1; managers, sandwich makers, shift managers and cashiers – some of whom work more than 60-hour weeks and many days without breaks to curb the audience's craving for chicken sandwiches.

Business Insider talked to five Popeyes employees across the United States about working at the chain during the so-called "chicken wars." The workers say they are overwhelmed and exhausted, and many consider quitting the job.

"I worked as a slave in the back, prepping bowls of jam and the spicy mayo," said an 18-year-old crew of Popeyes in Orange County, California.

This employee and other Popeyes workers have been given anonymity to allow them to speak honestly about the working conditions and the situation more generally at Popeyes. Orange County staff estimated he made at least 600 sandwiches Saturday during an 11-hour shift. One order consisted of 35 spicy chicken sandwiches.

"Popeyes restaurants have experienced unprecedented volume over the last couple of weeks. All restaurant employees have worked really hard. We are very grateful for everything they do for Popeye's guests," a Popeyes representative said in a statement to Business Insider.

& # 39; Everyone wanted to quit & # 39;

A sign posted in Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen in Queens neighborhood of New York.
Reuters

Employees told Business Insider that when chicken sandwich was rolled out, the response was almost instant and overwhelming.

"Everyone wanted to quit so bad because it was so bad," said the 18-year-old crew at Popeyes in Orange County, California. "We've never seen it get so crazy busy."

According to the employee, his place sold out of the chicken sandwich at around 10 p.m. The first day. The next day it was sold out after mid day.

He added: "My experience with Popeyes has been good until this sandwich has come."

A now former Popeyes employee who worked at a Newark, New Jersey, location told Business Insider that she actually quit last Wednesday "in the middle of making two sandwiches." Crowds had settled on her site when the viral debate over who had the superior chicken sandwich ravaged.

"The problem with Popeye's or fast food is the processing and salary amount that a worker gets," the former employee said.

"The extra demand increased the amount of work ten times, while I still get paid next to nothing," she added.

A part-time employee on a west coast of Popeyes said she and her colleagues do not usually take breaks until at least four to five hours into their shifts.

"My colleagues said that there have been evenings when they leave home at 2am when closing time is 11am," the employee added. Employees in junior high school said her shifts have generally been tolerable, although she has considered quitting if the store has been so busy in recent times.

Popeye's workers say the situation is getting dangerous in some places

Popeye's chicken sandwich.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

In some cases, the working environment at Popeyes has become dangerous.

"I had customers who were almost fighting some of my colleagues because they were told we were not serving the sandwich because we had run out," said a manager at an East Coast Popeyes.

She said that the lines at her place were like nothing she had ever experienced at work.

"You would believe in Popeye's I work in that there was a concert going on," she added.

"I had a case where a customer threatened to assault me ​​when I took out garbage," said a California employee. "A customer sees me and shouts:" Do we have a problem or what! Why no sandwiches! You're the third pop owner to say that! You have to stop looking at me or something! " . "

The employee added that it is not uncommon for workers to go full shifts without taking a break, saying that a colleague worked 65 hours over six days. This employee said that their restaurant has gone over to mainly focus on completing orders, neglecting certain tasks such as sweeping and washing the dishes at present. According to the Popeyes employee, many workers are looking for new jobs.

"It's pretty stressful," the employee said.

Popeye's & # 39; CEO says there has been a & # 39; tough week & # 39; for workers

Popeye's chicken sandwich.
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

For many employees, the sudden overwhelming response to the new menu item was strange, considering that chicken sandwich had already been served in many places for about a year .

In fact, when Business Insider went to sample chicken sandwiches in early August, before the new sandwich was officially announced, a place in Manhattan was already serving it.

It is much harder to get a chicken sandwich. Reports of chicken sandwich shortages continued on Tuesday, raising concerns that it may be a more long-standing problem .

When Business Insider spoke with Jose Cil, CEO of Popeye's & # 39; s parent company Restaurant Brands International, last Friday, he acknowledged that it had been a "tough week" for many store workers.

"They have worked really hard, and in fact the success that we have seen with the launch of the chicken sandwich is really a success that has been driven by our franchise partners as well as our team members and restaurants," he said.

If you are a fast food employee with a story to share, email retail@businessinsider.com.


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