Something to Think About While You Wait in Line at KFC

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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.

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  1. MG says:

    Any opinion on their famous bowls?

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  2. Joseph says:

    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.

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  3. Dang, I dropped another knife says:

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

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  4. Imad Qureshi says:

    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.

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  5. Ian says:

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

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  6. discordian says:

    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.

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  7. daniel says:

    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….

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  8. Mike B says:

    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.

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