Illustration: Lindsey Wiercioch
A great deal of careful consideration goes into a successful eatery. Location, staffing and decor are just a few items on a long list of necessary factors for an aspiring restaurateur or a franchisee. However, the most important element, the sine qua non of it all, is the food.
When a restaurant lacks this last element, there’s no salvaging the situation. If the stars align, hilarity just might ensue.
The internet erupted into nearuniversal ridicule earlier this month as hundreds of UK branches of Kentucky Fried Chicken, the ubiquitous American chain known for its Dixiestyle fast food, were temporarily shuttered for lack of chicken. The chain itself, however, turned what could have been a business fiasco into a series for self-deprecating jokes that transformed potential disappointments from customers into laughter.
The closure, some noted, drove business to KFC’s competitors. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” asked one Twitter user. “To go to @NandosUK.”
Some observers took to farce, dressing up as KFC employees and bulk-buying chicken breasts at an ASDA supermarket. One journalist, joining in the mirth, noted that the prank was “ruffling feathers.”
Others seemed markedly less amused by the closures, with a wealth of complaints, some unprintable, to be found on social media from angry, deprived customers. Somewhat improbable, they were joined by online activists, vitriolic in righteousness, who capitalised on the malcontent to highlight accusations of animal cruelty against the poultry giant.
The chain itself, to its credit, joined in on the fun, running a full-page ad in The Sun. The advertisement featured one of the firm’s iconic chicken buckets emblazoned with “FCK,” a play on the chain’s name, followed by a sheepish apology.
“A chicken restaurant without chicken,” the caption read, “it’s not ideal. Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed.”
Bemoaning “a hell of a week,” KFC promised that the firm was “making progress” in getting stores back into operation and thanked customers for “bearing with us.”
The advertisement seems to have struck the right tone, with members of the public praising KFC for being a good sport about what is undeniably an embarrassing logistical failure.
However, just as the chain was returning to near-normal operations late last week, new problems came to the fore. Media outlets reported that the embattled eatery is now facing a shortage of gravy, a popular – and to some, indispensable – accompaniment to KFC’s fast food offerings.
The twin incidents seem to point to a systemic problem with KFC’s new distributor in the British Isles, DHL.
In mid-February, Yum! Brands – the US corporate parent of KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and WingStreet – switched over from Bidvest, a British supplier to DHL, causing the closure of a Bidvest facility and the loss of 255 jobs.
All indications seem to point to something of a rough transition.
Noting that the problem is multifaceted, Wired reports that the shortage and subsequent closures can be primarily attributed to problems at the singular DHL distribution point supplying all Britain’s KFCs. An accident near Rugby, where the DHL warehouse is located, set off a chain reaction of delays, with reports of chicken rotting in the facility.
Some observers have reasoned that DHL has only one distribution point whereas Bidvest had several across the country, making such a catastrophic failure of the supply chain possible.
Others also cite a lack of planning and good order, with Mick Rix, national officer of the GMB trade union, calling the situation “an absolute cockup” and calling conditions at the DHL warehouse “an absolute shambles.”
“We tried to warn KFC this would have consequences,” wrote the GMB in a press release. “Well, now the chickens are coming home to roost.”