NEW ORLEANS Like many Louisiana institutions, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen strives to make the most of Mardi Gras, and this year will be no different. Beginning Friday, the fried-chicken chain’s Canal Street location in New Orleans will be open for 24 hours through the end of Fat Tuesday festivities on Feb. 24, and the rest of its nearly 35 branches in and around the city will open at 5 a.m. to serve the parade crowds.
Last year, during the 12 days of Mardi Gras, Popeyes restaurants in New Orleans served approximately 40 tons of red beans and rice, 1.5 million pieces of chicken, and 1 million biscuits, and the company projects it will surpass those figures this year, said Dwayne Fontenette, director of company operations.
“What I’m hearing from the local hotels is that they’re all full,” Fontenette said, “so we expect to exceed last year’s sales.”
He added that Popeyes’ normal volume in New Orleans triples during Mardi Gras. Though the company is now based in Atlanta, Popeyes was founded in New Orleans in 1972. It is owned by AFC Enterprises Inc.
“The taste and spirit of New Orleans are the essence of our brand,” said Dick Lynch, chief marketing officer, “and for many people, Mardi Gras and Popeyes are synonymous … Paradegoers rely on Popeyes for quick, authentic Carnival food, and each year we implement a plan to ensure that we meet customer demand.”
In preparation for the crowds that descend upon Popeyes as early as 5 a.m. to pick up food to take to the parades, Fontenette said, the most important thing for the managers and crew members to do is plan ahead for everything.
“You need to be aware of supply and having all the product available, but it’s also the small things you have to think about,” he said. “You have to have enough change for all the increased sales. You have to be prepared for the increased volume.”
There also is a significant amount of training involved every year to make sure staffers know how to serve non-regular customers, mainly tourists, from all over the country.
“With my employees, the No. 1 thing is hospitality,” Fontenette said. “You have to treat people with respect and have patience. Some of the customers entering the building have never been in a Popeyes. Make sure you have all the product available and that the restaurant is clean and everybody is working together. We do specific training on conflict resolution, especially for the 24-hour downtown locations, because a lot of alcohol is involved [with Mardi Gras].”
The best selling items during Mardi Gras are 12-, 20- and 50-piece bundles of chicken, Fontenette said.
Once Mardi Gras is over, the chain starts promoting its seafood-focused menu items for customers observing Lent. The Butterfly Shrimp Tackle Box, sold for a suggested $4.99, includes eight pieces of shrimp. Cajun Battered Fries and a biscuit, and a Butterfly Shrimp Platter also will be sold.
The Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen system has 1,905 restaurants.