Something to Think About While You Wait in Line at KFC


I’ve loved the chicken at KFC ever since I was a kid. My parents were cheap, so KFC was splurging when I was growing up. About twice a year my pleading, perhaps in a combination with a well-timed TV advertisement, would convince my parents to bring the family to KFC.

“What is so ironic about the poor service at KFC is that, at the corporate level, they seem to try so hard to achieve good service.”

For as long as I have been eating KFC, the service has always been terrible. Yesterday was a good example. I went with my daughter Amanda. From the moment we entered the store to the time we left with our food, 26 minutes had elapsed. The line was so slow inside the restaurant that we eventually gave up and went through the drive-thru. We eventually got our food, but no napkins, straws, or plastic ware. That was still better than the time I went to KFC only to be told that they were out of chicken.

What is so ironic about the poor service at KFC is that, at the corporate level, they seem to try so hard to achieve good service. The name tag on the guy behind the counter yesterday said that he was a “customer maniac,” or something like that, as part of KFC’s “customer mania.” A few years back, I seem to remember they were focused on total quality improvement. At another point, I think they had posted on the wall a list of 10 customer-oriented service mantras all workers were supposed to strive for.

So why is it that KFC’s service remains so bad? I have two mutually consistent hypotheses as to why; maybe blog readers have better ideas:

1) KFC doesn’t have enough people working. The next time you are at McDonald’s, count the number of workers. It always stuns me how many people are on duty. It is not uncommon to see 15 to 20 people working at a time in a busy McDonald’s. There seem to be many fewer people working at KFC. I think there were only four or five workers yesterday when I visited.

2) KFC’s clientele is poorer than the customers at other fast food outlets, and poor people are less willing to pay for good service. There is no question in my mind that service is generally terrible in places frequented by the poor. Whether it is because poor people care less about service, I’m not sure. I do know that I virtually never saw bad service in the entire year I spent visiting Stanford, which I’ve always attributed to the fact that there are so many rich people in the area.


Any opinion on their famous bowls?


I never complain about bad service at fast food places for one simple reason: The workers are paid so little, which is translated directly into cheaper prices. I go into McDonalds, KFC, etc. expecting bad service, but willing to trade that off for a $5 meal. I mean, what is the motivation for these employees? Most of them are not trying to work their way "up the chain" to management, they are teens trading labor for money, with no incentive to provide anything beyond the minimum that will keep them employed.

Dang, I dropped another knife

Hey man...YOU try working efficiently with that patina of grease covering everything....

Imad Qureshi

I think its the company culture. If you remember couple of years ago there was a video released which showed KFC employees in farms killing chickens by jumping on them and crushing them. That's when I stopped going to KFC. I really believe its the company culture. Potbelly sandwiches are quite cheap (people who can afford KFC can easily afford Potbelly) but you can feel the difference and I am convinced its rooted in company's culture.


People with severe heart disease can't move very fast.


There's a new one in Pompton Plains, NJ that looks like a Starbucks and has a the best service if any fast food joint in the area - "sir", "ma'am", "Thank you".
If the food wasn't so evil I'd go more than for a once-a-month or so indulgence.
If they had a tip jar I'd leave one.

At least at lunch time. Can't speak as to the dinner staff.


Years ago, when I was sixteen I became an assistant manager at a local fast food joint because I was the only employee that would show up on time, dress in a clean manner, and not smoke pot on the job. Even as a kid I realized that the problem with restaurant service was about hiring the right kind of person. When you hire people who have no work ethic, no responsibilities/obligations, and their only interest is to make enough cash to get drunk that night, service sucks. We would hire older people who had kids and just needed a decent part-time job, they were the best employees. As to your points.. 1. It takes very few people to effectively run a fast food restaurant and their days will almost always follow trends (lunch rush, dinner rush etc'). Poor management results in too few people in place and the hiring inefficient people. 2. In a richer area, the patrons will stop coming if they witness poor service. There are other KFCs in town. I will agree that I tend to try to eat on the nicer side of town if I can, as the service and food are always better. Could this be a part of the self actualizing idea of being poor? That people who are poor are poor because they do not desire to be better off and thus they accept lackluster service? Now as business owner (with nothing to do with fast food), I only hire people who need the job, dress well, and can pass a drug test. Never has let me down....


Mike B

Have you tried comparing KFC with its New York City area knock offs like Kennedy Fried Chicken? If service is better at JFKFC then its probably a KFC culture thing. If the service is the same it might have to do with the generally poor clientele.


I agree with Imad Qureshi. It is all about company culture and not necessarily at the low-paid worker level, but at their management and even the management of the management at the store. I worked at a fast-food place for a couple of years and we ran at about 8 or 9 people including the manager; however the manager and even the owner of the store would be constantly showing us and instructing us as to the way to do our jobs. The repetition made us work quicker. Of course, the obvious response to this is that whoever designed the flow of the jobs at KFC goofed and they are more specialized than at McDonalds. With high turnover rates, if the job is more complicated than the service will be worse.


It may also be due to the management opportunities available within the franchise/company. McDonald's seems to pride itself on promoting people who have worked in the actual restaurant itself. But for KFC since its part of a larger corporation, that probably doesn't happen. So someone at McD might potentially see working at the restaurant as a potential long term career and would therefore put a lot of work/effort into their job. For someone at KFC, it would be seen as just a job, or one in a long chain of low paying jobs and not a career.

L . F. File

It seems to me that once you take the "Fast" out of "Fast Food" there is really not much left to pay good money for.


The "poor customers" argument doesn't really hold water, as the majority of menu items at KFC cost the same or more than the majority of menu items at McDonald's. Of course you could be basing your hypothesis on the idea that southerners, people of color and other groups who stereotypically enjoy fried chicken are more likely to be poor...and I *sincerely* hope you aren't going there.

Anyway - as a native of Kentucky I have to say that KFC isn't the best thing going in fried chicken. That title belongs to Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken, which is far crunchier and accompanied by far lighter and fluffier biscuits. I will say that I haven't noticed the service at KFCs in this area to be any better or worse than typical fast-food service. Perhaps you need a broader sample size.


There is a wide disparity in service even between stores of the same chain. I've noticed that service in poor urban neighborhoods is a lot worse than service in wealthier suburban neighborhoods. It's not just KFC. It's McDonald's, CVS, movie theaters, and even relatively higher-end restaurants like Applebee's. I think the idea that poorer clientele tend to put up with subpar service is a pretty good explanation. Employers, then, don't have as much of an incentive to improve service.


I too have a yearning for KFC from time to time. Original recipe not what Harlan Sanders called the "fried doughball on a stick" of extra crispy.

And I too have often wondered about service in many outlets. I think there are two reasons why. First, is they do carryout much more than eat-in. I've noticed service declines in McD's & BK when more emphasis is placed on the drive-through. To translate this to KFC, they fill up a lot of take away buckets and the like and that detracts from attention to people in line.

2nd reason is their product takes longer to prepare and takes up more room in cooking and thus they have a harder time balancing demand and supply. You can produce those thin patty hamburgers very quickly but whole pieces of chicken take more time. If you then have buckets being filled for take-out you are trying to balance two operations at once with a resource that's a little more time-consuming to produce.

I first thought about this over 30 years ago while waiting with friends at a KFC. I gathered then it wasn't worth enough to KFC to up their production capacity of chicken and then maybe they didn't want to keep extra chicken sitting around, both for profit and quality reasons.



In my experience there's a huge difference in the quality of KFC service depending on the franchise. Specifically, in the medium sized Midwestern city where I grew up, the service at the KFCs out there is fast and (by virtue of it being the Midwest) friendly. I moved to DC after college and have stopped in a KFC or two in NYC as well. I think it could reasonably be argued that poor KFC service is more commonly found in urban KFCs. In that sense, I would agree with some of the other comments about poorly paid employees based on the cost of living difference. A minimum wage gig in NYC would have a far worse qualtiy of life than a minimum wage gig in Iowa.


My wife is not a fan. My son is. So KFC is a special father/son treat for us. I will admit to indulging in an occasional Famous Bowl for lunch, but I am not proud of it.

I think that a McD's or BK product is more amenable to a just-in-time delivery system than a KFC meal. Each order of x number of pieces each of 4 possible parts must be individually counted multiplied by x orders which may themselves have multiple subsets of pieces (vs.a simple yes/no choice for cheese/veggies/condiments on one sandwich multiplied by x sandwiches) and the number of sides is dizzying (vs. "you want fries with that?").

Ray Ray

My first job was at KFC, in 1990. At the corporate culture level, they never considered themselves as fast food... but more of a restaurant. Anyway, I remember we would always have people waiting for chicken.

The problem was a few things: Food Cost, freshness, cook time, and random customer arrivals.

It takes about 24 minutes to prepare and cook a basket of chicken. You also had to cook in batches of 18 pieces.

Due to the high food costs in the store, close to 30% back then, and the desire to serve fresh food, there was always an effort to NOT overcook.

When you combine this with the fact that people would randomly come in and order 20, 40, 50 or more pieces in some mega bucket deal, you are just asking to run out.

As a side note, I think I'm immune to salmonella now!

Kevin C

"That was still better than the time I went to KFC only to be told that they were out of chicken. "

Reminds me of the time I went to Burger King and they were out of burgers. The only thing they had was their fish sandwich.


KFC is more expensive for fast food and they move less product than McD's. Sub shops also seem to be in the same bind, they keep fewer employees on duty and have trouble handling any kind of rush.

southern boy

Go to Bojangles. They have much better southern fried chicken and airy biscuits.

Now, I'm hungry.