Shady Things About Popeyes' Menu

The Popeyes menu may be shadier than it looks at first glance. Most bad menu experiences customers have there involve not getting what they ordered or getting something very different than what they expected, though at least one disgruntled customer has brought a lawsuit against the company when its menu failed to meet their expectations.

We've taken a look at a variety of reviews and social media comments about Popeyes' menu items to get a bird's-eye view of what makes customers complain the most. Some of those who have been disappointed with the Popeyes menu include those looking for specific cuts of meat, ones who hope to find vegetarian or vegan menu items, or those looking for reasonably-sized pieces of chicken. Other disappointments come from menu items that seem to have changed, the type of oil the chain uses for frying, and just how fresh some of those items are. Sometimes, the disappointments are a matter of personal taste and opinion, while other times, it's a more pressing matter of food quality and health.

Popeyes often runs out of popular menu items

When you go to Popeyes, you expect it will have what's listed on the menu. However, many customers have noticed Popeyes running out of food, and we're not talking about locations running out of chicken sandwiches like they did when they were new in 2019. Some locations have run out of most of the items on the menu.

Occasionally, a location may be out of just one thing, like bone-in chicken. However, it's often worse than that. As one Redditor said, "Whenever I order at my like 3 local popeyes, they literally are out of over half the menu every time." Another Reddit user says that they and other customers at the store made their chicken orders only to learn that "They absolutely knew they had zero chicken ... but still took our orders so they could keep our money." Instead, they were offered "$34 worth of fries and mac & cheese. ... After researching it, I've discovered this is the process at Popeye's."

This problem occurred both before, during, and after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when much of the restaurant world was dealing with supply chain issues. Even today, Popeyes sometimes runs out of food when the chain has a special that makes people flock to their local restaurant. However, it seems that at least some locations are as likely to run out of food on a random Tuesday as during a special rush.

Some of the menu items you expect to be vegetarian or vegan aren't

When Popeyes introduced a plant-based sandwich in 2021, it didn't stay on the menu for long. It does offer a vegetarian menu in the U.K. and there's a vegetarian menu at Popeyes India. However, these considerations don't exist in the U.S. So, you must research which menu items have meat or dairy, because looks can be deceiving.

For instance, the Southern classic of red beans and rice contains lard and meat at Popeyes. The mashed potatoes are vegetarian ... as long as you get them without the meat-infused gravy. The green beans are also a no-go since they contain turkey bacon for flavoring. What's left for a vegetarian — maybe — at Popeyes is Mac & Cheese, Cajun Fries, Hash Rounds, Coleslaw, Biscuits, dipping sauces, and desserts.

Finding something vegan at Popeyes is even more difficult. The Cajun fries and Hash Rounds might qualify as vegan to some, but they are sometimes cooked in the same fryers as non-vegan items and may experience cross-contamination in other parts of the kitchen, which may also disqualify them from vegetarian status. Popeyes has also said that it fries items in beef tallow, according to one Redditor who shared an email that appears to be from the chain. The coffee and most drinks on the menu do appear to be safe options. That's all. Not even the biscuits, apple pie, coleslaw, or mashed potatoes — yes, without the gravy — are vegan because they typically contain dairy or eggs.

When Popeyes' chicken sandwich returned, many felt it wasn't the same

When Popeyes brought back its chicken sandwich after running out of the highly popular menu item back in 2019, there were many complaints that it wasn't the same as before, though the sandwich was only off the menu for a couple of months. Its return was met with mayhem and violence in some extreme cases, in part because it didn't look quite the same sandwich everyone remembered.

Even though Popeyes swore nothing had changed, the nutritional content, photo comparisons, and personal experience of hungry customers told a very different story. The first hint that something had changed was that the sandwich decreased from 690 calories to 660 calories. Looking at images of the old and new menu items, the new sandwich was visibly smaller than the first one, without the chicken or bun being nearly as thick as they had been the first time around. There didn't seem to be as many pickles anymore, either. Plus, the new bun was lighter in color, while some people thought the breading was also somehow different.

Even though there were clear caloric and size differences, others maintain that the returned Popeyes chicken sandwich seems to be just as delicious as always. Some even thought that it tasted better, with the spicy version perhaps containing more spices on the meat and in the sauce.

The chicken doesn't always get cooked through

When people have gotten uncooked chicken from Popeyes, they've been mortified. After all, chicken is something you never want to get uncooked because of the possibility of it being contaminated with Salmonella and causing food poisoning. There's a certain amount of trust we have in chicken restaurants to know exactly how long to cook chicken so that it's perfectly done and safe to eat. Yet, while getting uncooked chicken from the chain is a shocking experience, it reportedly happens far too often.

Lots of people have gotten raw chicken sandwiches at Popeyes. When Redditor u/boredtopia got a raw chicken sandwich from Popeyes, they said, "I got sick. The restaurant was closed down after four days of my visit. ... [T]he owner did nothing and corporate did nothing." Another Redditor who got an uncooked chicken sandwich was ineffectually told, " '[W]e check our broilers every 4 hours to make sure they are at the food safe temperature, I'm sorry you were dissatisfied with it.' "

Chicken sandwiches aren't the only menu items from Popeyes that occasionally come undercooked. Customers have complained about similar issues with the chain's bone-in chicken, including its wings. So, it's perhaps a good idea to cut into the meat for an inspection before you take a bite of chicken at Popeyes — or anywhere else for that matter.

The chicken tenders aren't consistent in quality

Some customers have complained that the chicken tenders they get at their local Popeyes aren't as good as they once were. There are several complaints about the changes customers have experienced, including smaller amounts of crisp batter, tiny portions, and increasingly low-quality meat.

Several customers have noticed texture problems. One Redditor said, "[N]ow they are quite chewy and dense." Another Redditor claimed that "They def have some weird spots in them! Like rubbery." Others have received tiny pieces that they argue should have never been counted toward the number of tenders they got.

The breading is another common source of disappointment. Since regular chicken tenders are breaded by hand at Popeyes, it can vary significantly from store to store. So, the breading problem is probably more about who is doing the breading or what method the location uses rather than a universal issue. The spicy tenders seem to be more consistent because they come pre-breaded. If you don't like the breading at your particular location, try another or ask for spicy ones instead.

It uses palm oil for frying

If you've noticed that Popeyes fried chicken has a different oil flavor compared to other fried chicken places, it's may be because Popeyes may use palm oil for frying. That's a bit unusual, as other major chicken chains like Raising Canes and Chick-fil-A use blends that contain different oils, like canola, soy, or peanut oil. The often untold truth of palm oil is that it has a bad reputation for several reasons. And while Popeyes — which hasn't been entirely clear about what's in its typical blend of oils — has sought to overcome some of the negatives related to palm oil, it hasn't necessarily conquered all of them.

Palm oil may have some health benefits but it's also high in saturated fats. One 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that palm oil can keep cholesterol at higher levels than other types of oil like soy and canola. Another big problem with palm oil is that it often comes from unsustainable sources that contribute to deforestation. However, in 2022, Popeyes said that "certified sustainable palm oil is part of Popeyes ambition to support deforestation-free supply chains," indicating that the ingredient is at least partially on its menu.

Quite a few anecdotes on social media claim that eating at Popeyes gives individuals intense digestive problem. A few think palm oil is to blame since some people report similar symptoms after eating products known to contain the oil. However, it's not clear what oil blend Popeyes really uses, while some sources report that the chain uses beef fat in its fryers.

Some slower-selling items aren't always fresh

Even though some menu items don't sell as quickly, Popeyes still cooks them and puts them under the heat lamp in anticipation of customers eventually ordering them. While they will still (usually) get to you hot, they won't necessarily be fresh and may even be stale. So, if you're one of those people who likes their fried foods straight out of the frier, there are a few menu items that are more likely to disappoint you in that regard.

As one purported Popeyes employee said on Reddit, "Spicy [chicken] doesn't sell as well as mild, so it just sits there for longer than the 30 min. [I]t's supposed to be there, until we get a complaint or we have time to look. Same for the fish, just doesn't sell." This varies by location, however. Spicy chicken is so popular at Popeyes restaurants in New Orleans that these locations are more likely to run out of the sandwich than allow it to sit around. But if you live in an area where people don't like spicy food as much, it might be one of the slower-selling and therefore less-fresh items available.

There are a couple of workarounds to help you get fresher food. One option: only visit when the restaurant is super busy and doesn't have enough time to put anything under a lamp. The other workaround is to politely tell employees you're willing to wait for your food to be cooked fresh.

The fries become soggy surprisingly quickly

Getting fresh fries from any fast food place can be tricky. That may be all the more difficult at Popeyes, where diners claim that the fries are rarely served fresh. Instead, they report that Popeyes fries tend to arrive greasy and soggy. Sometimes, they're even cold when you get them. One Popeyes customer told Reddit that the fries are a greasy mess "90% of the time," though it wasn't all bad: "[T]his past week I must have hit the fry jackpot or something cuz I got a batch of crispy, not-too-oily fries and everybody agreed they were the best popeyes fries we've ever tried." So, it's not impossible to get great fries there.

Not only do you have to get them super fresh for them to be good, but a Redditor explained that you "have to eat them right away. If the[y] sit in the bag, they become soggy [c]uz of all the steam being created in the bag, that cant vent." Maybe the trick for getting good fries is similar to getting fresh versions of slower-selling menu items. Politely tell the employee taking your order that you are willing to wait for a fresh batch of fries. Once you receive them, keep the box or bag open so the spuds don't drown in their own steam and become a soggy, greasy mess.

The bone-in chicken pieces are often tinier than you'd expect

Getting tiny bone-in chicken pieces from Popeyes can be disappointing. Getting super small ones can leave you both hungry and feeling cheated. The quality of the chicken may be up for debate, too. While Popeyes promises that it uses antibiotic-free chicken, it has never promised cage-free or hormone-free chicken. This likewise means that there is little reason for its chicken pieces to be so small. 

Yet, there have been plenty of size complaints. One Reddit user said that "the in-bone chicken at Popeye's has gotten ridiculously small. The legs can be eaten in almost a single bite and the thighs are only slightly bigger than the legs. ... And don't even get me started on the wings."

A customer who visited the chain in 2023 told Reddit that the wings they received on their last visit were "the tiniest, dinky wings I have ever seen. About ⅓ the size of the wings I'm used to getting." While one Redditor called the last wings they got nearly hard to see, TikTokker @max3evanss was so put off by the size that decided to take his back and requested that employees "at least give me two of them" in exchange for the minuscule serving.

The shrimp may not be deveined

Nearly everyone who has prepared shrimp knows that part of the process involves deveining the shellfish — well, at least nearly everyone but those at Popeyes. If getting cooked shrimp with the vein intact sounds unappetizing (though it is technically food-safe), you might want to stay away from Popeyes shrimp lest you get an unpleasant surprise.

The potential problem with leaving the vein in the shrimp is that it is actually the shrimp's digestive tract. It's dark because it's filled with all the food the shrimp was digesting. It's essentially the shrimpy version of eating an animal's intestines — just on a smaller scale. While it's not harmful to eat cooked vein-in shrimp, many argue that there is an undeniable ick factor involved. Plus, it can sometimes leave a gritty residue behind — and who likes to bite down on something sandy when they're eating shrimp?

One grossed-out customer who got non-deveined shrimp from Popeyes shared their unpleasant experience on Reddit, saying, "Popeyes doesn't even Devein their shrimp. Looks like no more Popeyes for me!" Tiktokker @queenm3dee was likewise disgusted to find that all her popcorn shrimp had veins. Some customers have even reportedly found tails left on all their shrimp, which most of us never want in fast food shrimp, especially if we're eating it on the go.

Some people assume the chicken tenders are made from tenderloins

While not everyone is under the assumption that all chicken tenders are made from actual chicken tenderloins, the distinction was important enough that one person took Popeyes to court about it. As its name suggests, the tenderloin part of a chicken breast tends to be more moist and tender than other white meat cuts of a chicken. Natasha Sanders, the woman who sued Popeyes, felt that she and other customers were getting cheated when they ordered tenders at a premium price since they were not made from tenderloin meat.

However, Popeyes doesn't specify that its tenders come from a certain part of the chicken. Moreover, the chain doesn't call them tenderloins. The USDA even defines chicken tenders as literally "any strip of breast meat." According to court docket info, the case does not appear to have moved forward between 2022 and 2024, after the court suggested a dismissal or amendment. In the meantime, Popeyes has continued to advertise its chicken strips as tenders rather than strips or the even more potentially confusing chicken fingers.