The truth about working at Popeyes revealed by workers

The Popeyes chicken sandwich became one of the biggest food stories of 2019. 

This Louisiana-based chicken chain was a fast food staple long before they challenged Chick-fil-A's sandwich throne, though. In 1972, Alvin Copeland began serving his Cajun-flavored chicken in a New Orleans suburb and four years later he opened the first Popeyes restaurant.

There's no telling how many people Popeyes has employed in its 2,700 plus restaurants over the decades, but the brand has never been more popular. All the buzz around Popeyes' chicken sandwich has also resulted in the spotlight being directed on the the employees who keep Popeyes afloat and serve that delicious sandwich. 

Working in fast food can be tough work, and Popeyes employees are on their feet for hours at a time while they work to serve a hungry and sometimes impatient public. Often for only minimum wage or a few bucks more. 

The employees of this popular chicken chain have recently witnessed customer fights, and themselves been the target of threats from customers. It's not all chicken chaos though. The job does provide a stepping stone to customer service, and some restaurant employees have even found themselves climbing the corporate ranks. 

Straight from the employees of Popeyes, here's what it's like to work for one of the biggest names in fast food chicken.

The shifts can be grueling for Popeyes workers

It's pretty much a given that if you work in the fast food business, you're going to be on your feet a lot. An employee of Popeyes could expect the occasional crowds of people during the lunch or dinner rush, but the introduction of the chicken sandwich only amplified that. 

The chicken sandwich has been nothing short of exhausting for the employees of Popeyes, and getting a break is almost unheard of. Popeyes' manager Wanda Lavender told Vox that she reportedly stands for 10 to 12 hours a day and that her "legs are still numb" from the work and "haven't recovered."

Lavender's experience is hardly the exception, and according to Business Insider, some Popeyes employees were pulling 60 hour weeks to meet the public's chicken sandwich demands. "I was working like a slave in the back prepping the buns with pickles and the spicy mayo,"  an anonymous Popeyes employee said. 

Even before the chicken sandwich craze, work at Popeyes was no walk in the park. A high school employee on Reddit said that they would work until 1 a.m. before getting up at the crack of dawn for school. 

Obviously, comfortable shoes are a must with this job.

The pay for Popeyes workers isn't very good

The low pay for fast food employees has been a hot topic of debate for years, and Popeyes isn't an exception when it comes to the wages its employees earn. According to Indeed, the average hourly wage for a Popeyes crew member is about $9.50 an hour. That may be a little more than two bucks extra than the United States federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, but many employees still feel it's hardly equal to the work of the job. 

Fran Marion, a Popeyes employee in Kansas City, Missouri who is a single mother of two children told The Guardian that despite working six days a week and a second job, she struggles to provide for her family. "It makes me feel like a peasant," Marion said. "In a way it's slavery. It's economic slavery." 

Popeyes managers do earn a little more at an average of $12.93 an hour, but even working 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, that's not even an annual salary of $26,000. 

According to Popeyes' website, the company does off certain benefits such as education assistance, a 401(k), and "cash awards on your employment anniversary." Who knows how many of Popeyes' fast food employees are actually getting these benefits, and despite the company having a score of 2.8 out of five on Indeed in the pay category, it has an overall score of 3.5 stars out of five.

The customers at Popeyes can sometimes be hostile to employees

Anybody who has ever worked in fast food will tell you that it can be a very tiring job. Aside from the long hours and low pay, employees also have to deal with their fair share of rude customers. "Two times people threw drinks back at me when I worked drive-thru," one former Popeyes employee said on Reddit

Rude customers are nothing new in fast food, and the demand for Popeyes' chicken sandwich has brought with it numerous incidents of hostile customer behavior. When the chicken sandwich first rolled out in August of 2018, Popeyes manager Wanda Lavender said one disgruntled customer threatened to shoot the staff over the sandwich. "It was out of control," Lavender said. 

"I had an instance where a customer was threatening to assault me when I was taking out trash," another employee said

Similar incidents have happened at other locations too. Police in Houston responded to a call that a drive-thru customer brandished a gun when they were told there were no more sandwiches (via The Guardian). 

The sandwich was briefly taken off the menu when Popeyes couldn't keep up with demand, but when it came back the rude customers returned along with it. A man in Harlem, New York was captured on video berating employees because they weren't making the sandwiches quick enough. 

Working with the public isn't always easy, but at Popeyes, it can be downright dangerous.

It's not unusual for employees to abruptly quit Popeyes

With the long hours, low pay, and occasionally rude customer, it doesn't come as a surprise that some Popeyes employees quit on the spot. People can only be pushed so far in a job before they reach the breaking point, and the chicken sandwich madness has ushered in that breaking point for numerous Popeyes employees. 

"Everyone wanted to quit so bad because it was that bad," one Popeyes crew member in Orange County, California told Business Insider.  "We have never seen it get this insanely busy." Another employee at a New Jersey restaurant said that she abruptly quit right in the middle of putting together two sandwiches for customers. 

Manager Wanda Lavender told Vox that she too has had employees quit on the spot because the job just became too stressful to handle. "It was too much," Lavendar said before adding "It's overwhelming."

While some Popeyes employees may decide to take their chances and look for another job, quitting isn't an option for others such as Lavender, who has six children to care for. "I'm not doing this just for kicks."

Getting hired at Popeyes isn't too difficult

If you're in need of a job and have a Popeyes restaurant not too far away, they might be viable place to put in an application. Considering the hectic pace of the job, is it really all that surprising that Popeyes doesn't require potential employees to jump through too many hoops? 

Popeyes general manager Jordan Suriano says that if you can get an interview, then you'll likely get the job. Just as long as you don't come in smelling like a pot dispensary. "It happens fairly often," Suriano said before adding, "If you don't get a call back after submitting an application call to check up on the status of your application and let them know you are still interested."

A Popeyes employee on Indeed seemed to back up Suriano's tip and said that after applying online and having an interview, they called back and got hired over the phone. 

Now when it comes to getting a job in the Popeyes corporate offices, that can be a little trickier according to Garrison Xian, who spent a summer interning at Popeyes. "For the corporate office it has become a very competitive process as now applicants have to apply to Restaurant Brand International," Xian said." It is a very long process with three rounds of interviews and a 'superday.'"

Getting fired from Popeyes is pretty easy too

The fast food industry has a high turnover rate — like, ridiculously high. 

According to CNBC, turnover in the restaurant industry is around 130 percent a year, largely because fast food jobs aren't particularly desirable for many of the reasons outlined above. But not all of those workers are quitting.

Always showing up late or simply not doing the required work will get a person fired in any job, but Popeyes employees have been fired for a whole range of reasons. In 2015, a Popeyes worker claimed they were fired after refusing to pay back money that was stolen during an armed robbery. In August 2019, Popeyes canned employees for putting too much cayenne pepper in the store's chicken sandwiches. 

Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising example of Popeyes employees getting the ax came from a former restaurant manager on Reddit. According to the manager, several months after the Popeyes restaurant opened, a regional supervisor told him "Tomorrow an RV will be parked in the parking lot when you arrive. Send each employee out to take a polygraph before they clock in. Tell them, 'We're not looking for food theft. If you gave away food or ate food without paying for it just admit it so you don't get tagged as deceptive. We're looking for somebody who stole money.'"

The Popeyes manager said they suspected a real polygraph wasn't used, but regardless, half the store's employees were fired because of the ruse.

You get free food if you work at Popeyes, but might start to dislike fried chicken

Popeyes is famous for their fried chicken and one perk of the job is that employees may get a free meal of that chicken while on their shift. 

"If the manager is chill enough they might let you have a 5-minute break and eat whatever you want," one employee said on Quora. While some employees on Glassdoor backed up this claim, others contradicted it and said they were only given a discount on select items while working their shift. "I feel like it should be better than what it is if you work over eight hours you should get a free meal," one employee said. 

Even if employees are getting some free food, that free fried chicken can get old pretty quick when the smell follows you home. If you're knee-deep in fried chicken for hours at a time, that smell is going to stick to you and it won't be long before your car starts to smell like the Popeyes kitchen. 

"Oh my god, you would not believe the amount of air fresheners I go through just to try and keep the smell of chicken sweat and my bad life decisions away," confessed one employee on Reddit.

Some employees feel that Popeyes is taking advantage of them

According to Forbes, when Popeyes chicken sandwich returned in November of 2019, Popeyes' traffic was 300 percent above normal and even higher than when the sandwich initially launched. What's good for Popeyes as a whole, however, hasn't necessarily trickled down to the employees making the sandwich. 

"The corporation made all this money — millions — off of these sandwiches, but where's our cut? Where is our appreciation? Where is our thank-you? We made 5,000 sandwiches just in Wisconsin and sold every single one of them," Popeyes employee Wanda Lavender said.  

Fran Marion, who was working at Popeyes before the chicken sandwich came along, grosses around $950 for Popeyes taking orders in a seven-hour shift, but only takes home $76 (via The Guardian). Marion feels that Popeyes should pay its crew members a higher wage. "It's united we stand or divided we fall," Marion said

When asked by Business Insider about the overworked fast food employees, Popeyes CEO Joe Cil said it was a "tough week" for crew members around the country and said the sandwich's success was "driven by our franchise partners as well as our team members."

While that may be a verbal pat on the back, Popeyes workers would likely prefer a monetary one. "The added demand increased the amount of work tenfold, while I still get paid next to nothing," confessed one employee.

Mardi Gras is the busiest time for Popeyes employees

The slam of the chicken sandwich will end eventually — at least that's what Popeyes employees are undoubtedly hoping for. After that, it'll be back to business as usual. That doesn't mean that Popeyes doesn't experience busy times of the season, though. The same way that Long John Silvers gets busy around Lent, Popeyes locations in the New Orleans area gets slammed with customers every February when Mardi Gras rolls around. 

It's not unusual for Popeyes locations to serve as much as 40 tons of red beans and rice, 1.5 million pieces of chicken, and over a million biscuits throughout the 12 day Mardi Gras celebration (via QSR). To keep up with that demand, the restaurants must hire extra staff and extend their normal business hours to nearly 24 hours a day in order to meet customers' needs as they head to and from various Mardi Gras events.  

"Mardi Gras is one of our biggest times of the year," vice president of operations, Dwayne Fontenette told Nola. "We open up at five o'clock in the morning... just to get ready for the parades."

Had Popeyes rolled out its chicken sandwich during Mardi Gras, well, it may have simply been too much for the staff to handle.

Some Popeyes employees enjoy the job

Despite the long hours, lower wages, and potentially hostile customers, a lot of Popeyes workers take great pride in their work and some enjoy the job. One Popeyes employee on Quora said that they enjoyed numerous aspects of the job, from the crew member camaraderie to the customer interactions, fast pace of the work, and even the cleaning once the store was shut down. 

"Even though it's not a professional job, it is quite interesting to work at a Popeyes," the employee said, adding "Especially since it's my first job."

Other Popeyes employees expressed a similar satisfaction with the job and said that it provided them with a chance to serve people in their community. "Great opportunity to get a chance to work with the general working population and gain pointers on customer service," former employee Denise Davis said. 

While a lot of employees on Indeed did say that the work could be tiring for their small paycheck, numerous employees agreed that their coworkers made all the difference. "My coworkers where my biggest joy throughout my time at Popeyes, one employee said. "We created a bond like family and looked out for one another day after day."

Working at Popeyes may not be the perfect job, but it can certainly be a decent place to start if you need a steady paycheck and want some customer service experience.

If you can stick it out at Popeyes, there's the opportunity to grow

Working at Popeyes for the long haul obviously isn't going to be the right path for every employee, but for those who can hang in, there is an opportunity to move up through the ranks of the organization. 

While one employee on Indeed said that numerous changes in management did impact the morale of some employees, they said that they "worked hard and moved up quickly." Other employees voiced similar opinions, but noted that climbing the ladder gets more difficult after being moved up to the role of assistant manager. 

To be fair, climbing to the top of any organization is almost always going to be difficult, but as vice president of operations, Dwayne Fontenette proves — it can be done. "A lot of our employees start out as hourly employees and move up to management," Fontenette said. "Like myself, I moved up to the vice president of operations and I started out at the Popeyes on Read Boulevard in August of '84... first job out of high school." 

It's a long way to the top if you wanna call the shots at Popeyes.