Since the Fried Chicken Sandwich Craze of 2019, Popeye’s has slowly faded into the background.
As what felt like every chain in the universe tried to mimic it with their own versions of the chicken sandwich, the Restaurant Brands International (QSR) – Get Restaurant Brands International Inc Report-owned fried chicken chain rode on the coattails of its success.
At its peak, Popeye’s employees were putting up hand-written “no more sandwich” signs to ward off customers who were lining up around the block for one.
Since then, the chain has kept largely under the radar when it comes to new menu items.
But at the same time, Popeye’s has been quickly expanding across the U.S. and beyond its borders.
In 2021, the fast-food chain reported opening 208 locations across the United States and Canada for a total of over 3,600 stores.
200 More Locations And a Flagship NYC Store
For 2022, Popeye’s just committed to opening 200 more stores across the US and Canada as well as locations in China, Spain, Brazil and the United Kingdom.
International markets that had not previously not had a Popeye’s include South Korea, France, India and Romania.
Among the new stores is a location 1530 Broadway, a flagship Times Square location that will have self-serve kiosks, a food transporting machine for diners on the second floor and a swag and merchandise store.
One day we maybe even be able to get that fried chicken sandwich on a hat or t-shirt.
Franchise owner Ali Butt will be operating the flagship store as well as additional locations in downtown Manhattan and Staten Island.
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Popeye’s Makes More Moves
The chain is also poised to expand in the South.
“Popeyes also re-opened its New Orleans flagship on Canal Street this March,” the company said in reference to a new restaurant on the Big Easy’s famed Canal Street a statement.
“New renovations refreshed the 200-year-old landmark building and featured the domestic debut of our bold and exciting NOLA Eclectic image that was unveiled in Shanghai plus a custom storefront for themed merchandise.”
The War Of The Chicken Sandwich (And Everything Else)
While the chicken sandwich craze certainly contributed to Popeye’s astronomical popularity, many of the other features promised by the chain are part of the way fast-food companies are trying to craft a new and more automated course in a post-pandemic world.
Over 50% of the restaurants Popeye’s opens in 2022 will include double drive-thru lanes to navigate long lines.
There will also be self-order kiosks, digital order pickup shelves and curbside pickup at Popeye’s locations.
The company is also promising to bring tech solutions to its kitchen in order to prioritize efficiency in back-of-house.
All of these moves indicate both Popeye’s and the fast-food industry’s increasing turn toward a more automated experience.
Features like cashless restaurants, 24-hour automated kiosks and food-delivery robots are becoming increasingly more common across the industry.
The food service industry alone is is expected to nearly triple to $54.4 billion by 2026, according to research from Polaris Market Research, as customers increasingly look for easy ordering and quick delivery.
The sit-down restaurant experience, meanwhile, is based on an entirely different business model, where customers are looking for a night out and an experience rather than the food alone.
“Over the last 12-24 months, technology systems were upgraded to facilitate mobile access, on-demand reservations, orders for delivery and pickup, contactless payments, digital menus, and loyalty programs to serve a ‘contactless’ dining experience,” digital analyst Brian Solis wrote for Restaurant Dive.