As you may or may not know, I have a tendency to write the odd restaurant review. However, I thought I’d write a special one today for a chain of restaurants that has been in my life for a long time – KFC.
Born and raised in Brixton, the heart of South London, (brap brap), there has always been a demand for quality fried chicken. Sometimes a Morley’s just won’t satisfy your craving for that secret spicy herb and you’re feeling a bit fancier than a bargain at Chicken Cottage – let’s not bother with Favourite or Dallas Chicken and Ribs, who ever has? Maybe it’s pay day or maybe you’re just feeling a bit fancy and you want to treat yourself to that “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken. And who cares about the extortionate pricing of 99p for 2 hot wings?! You pay that premium cause you get what you pay for. You get the best damn hot wings with those 11 secret spices that you can’t get anywhere else. You get KFC chicken wings and that is all we want in life. And alas, ask and you shall receive as in the early 2000s, the Pizza Hut in Brixton became a KFC and as you look down Brixton Road at the constantly changing town, you sing to yourself: “McDonald’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken used to be a Pizza Hut”.
Now in all honesty, KFC in Brixton hasn’t always been the saving grace I wanted it to be as in the early days of chicken buckets I had a few incidents of getting home only to realise that they had forgotten my chips. Or the fact that to get to KFC on any given evening you will have to manoeuvre your way through 14 drug dealers, 47 drunks and 6 beggars who will follow you right up until KFC’s regularly broken glass doors. But it doesn’t matter, as the end will always justify the means – that “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken.
As you might have seen advertised on TV, KFC’s marketing briefs seem to be focusing on that truth that a KFC bucket means “family time”. That moment when you see your parents returning home with a KFC bucket with a smile on their faces showing undoubted proof that they truly love us. The memories burn deep into our beings and with all the ongoing nostalgia of love and joy, KFC quite simply becomes a member of the family. The uncle that visits every now and again who brings you the best gift of all – a bargain bucket of “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken.
But of course as you definitely already know, KFC had a difficult start to this year. Changing delivery suppliers to ones that couldn’t deliver put them into a horrible position where they could not supply the chicken that we all love. They were forced into closing their restaurants and for those who could survive, could only offer a limited menu. It was heartbreak across the nation. We trusted in KFC to provide us with fried chicken and they let us all down.
Please do not contact us about the #KFCCrisis – it is not a police matter if your favourite eatery is not serving the menu that you desire.
— Tower Hamlets Police (@MPSTowerHam) February 20, 2018
It was all over the news, it was a crisis throughout the country. People were calling the police and families were distraught at the thought of a broken home unable to come together over a bargain bucket. Then in comes one my favourite bits of PR in recent years.
With good PR like that, you can’t help but forgive KFC. They’ve held their hands up and gave an honest response to the public. And can you really stay mad at someone you love? Of course not, KFC were never going to lose our custom and the important thing is that they show us that they are trying their best to give us what we all want (need). That “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken.
Which takes us to “The Limited Menu” saga. Some of KFC’s restaurants were able to survive the apocalypse and therefore able to stay open with a limited menu. This was a test to the nation. Your local KFC may not be open, will you embark on a journey to get to the one that you love? The answer is of course, yes.
And so my first experience of the “limited menu” was just a short drive away at the KFC in Wandsworth and here I found the “limited menu” was truly hard to take. There were no Twister wraps, no Popcorn Chicken or anything involving hash browns or tomatoes. It was time to get back to basics. Like going back to the start of your relationship and discovering why you fell in love with them in the first place. I opted for a Mighty Bucket For One. “Two pieces of Original Recipe chicken, two 100% chicken breast Mini Fillets and a pair of spicy hot wings, with regular fries and a drink. A truly mighty meal for one.”
I waited patiently for my meal as I watched the KFC staff give the heartbreaking news about the limited menu to one customer after another. Cute girlfriend and I discuss and wonder – if there are no deliveries to this KFC, where is the chicken coming from? Have the staff gone to the local Tesco and bought some chicken and seasoned it themselves with that Original Secret Recipe? If they have then why can’t they buy some tomatoes to make the Twister wraps? There were so many questions but the answers didn’t matter. What was important were the inspirational staff at KFC who were doing their best to keep families together by providing as much as they can of that “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken.
Once my order was ready and presented in front of me it was sad to see but there was no bucket. The chicken was provided in paper bag on a paper plate. Hard times. Desperate times. Cute girlfriend asks for ketchup. The KFC staff member looks at her and pauses. His face drops and he shakes his head. There is no ketchup. “What about salt?” we asked. He slowly pulls out a whole bottle of salt from the supermarket. There were no sachets. We couldn’t believe it. It was truly dark times. He knew that we knew the situation and as we picked up our tray, we shared a short moment as I looked him with a nod just to say “well done man, you’re doing your best and that’s all we can ask for”. But the important thing was the chicken was still good. It was still the chicken that we wanted. The chicken that we needed. The chicken that still says that KFC is worth it and they will make things right again.
Fast forward a couple of months and the impact of the KFC crisis was worst than we all thought. Some restaurants were still only providing a limited menu. What was going on? As although over time, my beloved Twister wraps and Popcorn Chicken makes a return to the some of the restaurants, other restaurants are still struggling to provide anything with hash browns. I’ve never tried a Zinger Tower Burger before and now I’ve never wanted to try one so much in my life. How did changing delivery suppliers go so wrong and how did it make such a long lasting effect on KFC? At this point, I’m thinking of doing some sort of 5k run to raise some money and help them through this difficult time.
But finally we come to last week, my most recent trip to KFC and this time cute girlfriend and I opt to try one of the restaurants I haven’t been to before – KFC in Collier’s Wood. On the journey we’re wondering if they are still on a limited menu as we both specifically wanted Twister wraps. Cute girlfriend does some googling but can’t find anything to say that they aren’t on a limited menu at the moment and so we continue on our journey and arrive at a rather large KFC restaurant with a drive-thru. Late in the evening around 10:30pm, we park outside with nothing but excitement ready for some “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken.
It was relatively empty inside but understandable given the time. There was a small group of young men who seem to be on a night out and looking for their quick fix of “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken and a small family of four sitting in the corner enjoying their family time over a bargain bucket. As we approach the tills, I can’t help but notice that this KFC has recently been refreshed and the decor has moved KFC into a slightly fancier setting. The hanging lights had some funky looking shades that I’m sure some interior designer was paid extortionate amounts to choose and some large prints of fresh fruit and veg just to prove that KFC use fresh ingredients and is therefore a nutritional and healthy meal. Nothing like a bit of fine dining for date night with cute girlfriend.
It was our turn to order and we approach the till to be greeted by a KFC staff member wearing what I initially thought was a non-uniform t-shirt but upon closer inspection it was an interesting artistic print which incorporated the KFC logo into some abstract colourful line art. I wondered if KFC were selling these t-shirts, had they joined the fashion business or was this a clever way to attract new staff? A staff benefit that you didn’t have to wear a standard uniform, you can express yourself through a variety of KFC designed t-shirts? I broke out of this moment of distraction as cute girlfriend was waiting for me to order. I had a brief look at the menu above me but I already knew what I wanted.
With no signs saying “limited menu” anywhere, I confidently ask for a Twister wrap. Normal one please, not the Zinger. But the KFC man with the slightly worryingly overgrown finger nails responds “Sorry, we can’t do the wraps today or anything with fillets, we’ve ran out of them I’m afraid”. I’m completely thrown. Cute girlfriend doesn’t know how to respond either. We have come to KFC specifically for Twister wraps only to have our hopes and dreams stripped away from us.
With other customers queuing behind us and only one staff member taking orders, the urgency now starts to sink in for both of us. Cute girlfriend doesn’t know what she’ll order instead and I instinctively opt for my second choice, the Mighty Bucket For One. But he awkwardly responds with “sorry, we don’t have any fillets so we can do the chicken and the wings but it won’t have the fillets”. Of course Andrew, you idiot, you knew that. Calm down, take your time and place your order. I see the Zinger Tower Burger on the menu thinking they actually have the hash brown to fulfil this order but this time they’re missing the fillet. I know the response but I ask to be sure. “So you can’t do the Zinger Tower Burger?” “No, unfortunately not I’m afraid”. I don’t know what to do, we’ve come too far now to just leave but leaving is definitely now becoming an option.
I check in with cute girlfriend to see if she’s decided on what to order yet and she is also stuck but she says she can settle with some hot wings and chips. But she looks disappointed and that’s just not good enough. The KFC man and cute girlfriend are eagerly waiting for me to order but I can’t help but notice that there are some wraps that have just been made behind him. I stare with confusion on my face as everyone is starting to become impatient with me but I don’t want to make the mistake of making cute girlfriend settle on hot wings and chips when wraps are indeed available. I’m wondering if I should ask about the wraps behind him but I’ve already asked 3 redundant questions, I don’t want to ask another one. And of course people are still waiting behind me but this is an important moment so I take my time.
But to my luck, the KFC man notices his colleague holding a wrap and turns to ask “why are we taking orders for wraps, I thought we couldn’t do them?” His colleagues are confused as to where he got his information from as more wraps start appearing behind him. He returns confused but confirms that the wraps are indeed available as they have now “found some more fillets”. I waste no time and give him no option to retract his statement so I confirm my order of a Twister wrap meal with a Cherry Pepsi MAX and 2 hot wings as cute girlfriend orders exactly the same. He reads back the order to confirm, “so that’s 2 Twister wrap meals with Cherry Pepsi MAX, 4 hot wings and a Mighty Bucket For One?”. No KFC man, you have gotten lost in the confusion you have caused. I no longer want the Mighty Bucket For One that you said you couldn’t provide as I am now able to get my original order – the reason why I came here in the first place, the Twister wrap. I correct the order then we step aside and wait.
Wondering why our order was taking so long given the restaurant was so quiet, I remember that the restaurant is also a drive-thru and so as we wait patiently for our “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken, I take a moment to take in my surroundings as I notice the H in the Pizza Hut sign across the road is out therefore reading “Pizza ut”. More amused at this than I should be as I realise that the absence of the Pizza Hut in Brixton after KFC took it over and the growth in popularity from Dominos Pizza for home delivered pizza has almost eradicated any relationship I had with Pizza Hut and hence the KFC opening in Brixton in Pizza Hut’s place had a larger impact on my life than I had realised. Would I have this relationship with KFC had one not opened in Brixton? Did my parents have a relationship with KFC before KFC Brixton or did we grow to love that “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken together as a family?
Our food arrives and another KFC staff member serves up 1 Twister wrap meal with a Cherry Pepsi MAX and 4 hot wings. We look at him confused as he confidently slides the tray over to us. Cute girlfriend asks if this is our order showing him our receipt and he confirms, “yes, this is your order”. The look on his face suggests he wants us to take the tray and move along but cute girlfriend points him to look at the order again clarifying that we were expecting 2 Twister wrap meals with Cherry Pepsi MAX and 4 hot wings. He reluctantly takes another look and realises his mistake. He confirms with a simple “ah yes you did, sorry about that”. He quickly corrects his mistake adding another Twister wrap meal with Cherry Pepsi MAX to the tray and apologises again.
Cute girlfriend picks up the tray ready to rush off to avoid any more confusion or errors from the staff however I notice next to the tray there is a pile of condiment sachets. Remembering that cute girlfriend usually opts for mayonnaise to accompany her chips, I ask if she wants one of the sachets on the counter. She says she already noticed them but the only one that is mayonnaise on the counter has been opened and she doesn’t want to ask the staff for some. I won’t stand for this, there will be no compromises in our KFC fine dining date night. I ask the staff member if he has any mayonnaise and he says yes. Cute girlfriend offers up the tray for the mayonnaise sachet but to our surprise he give us a handful of about 10 sachets of light mayonnaise. I look at him awkwardly wondering if 10 sachets was necessary but technically he did give us what we asked for albeit a rather excessive amount of it so we just move on to sit down.
Although there are plenty of empty seats available in the newly refurbished restaurant with slightly dimmed lighting for that intimate dining experience we were looking for, we opted for a booth for maximum comfort. However, as we walked past one booth after another we found that previous parties had thought the same and had left a mess behind. We therefore decided to sit at an adjacent table where we were finally able to enjoy our “finger lickin’ good” fried chicken. But wait, cute girlfriend noticed that they have not provided us with any napkins and unlike McDonald’s restaurants, the napkins aren’t in a publicly accessible dispenser, you must request napkins from the staff. And so she returns to the till where I ask her to also get some salt. This time, our request is fulfilled quickly and she returns with a regular number of napkins and a couple sachets of salt.
I start by emptying my chips onto the provided paper plate to season them with salt – thank you KFC for giving us the option to season with salt ourselves. I then start eating my Twister wrap and is was indeed “so good”. Taking a pause from my wrap, I have one of the hot wings to confirm they are indeed the high quality hot wings I have come to expect from KFC. And their recently improved chips also as expected (I don’t know what’s happened, but KFC have changed their recipe for chips recently for the better. It’s not as good as McDonald’s fries but then again I continue to suspect McDonald’s fries are covered in some sort of addictive class A drug).
It was a perfect KFC meal and although it was some what of a struggle to eventually get our food, as with any KFC, the end justifies the means. And as I finished my meal thinking that the “limited menu” saga may finally be over as we welcome home our favourite member of the family into our hearts, I came to notice that the staff had also forgotten to give us the standard lemon scented wet wipe and therefore with the handling chips and hot wings, my fingers will go uncleaned. Cute girlfriend says she has some hand sanitiser in her bag so not to worry but I wasn’t worried as I looked at their slogan printed on paper that had contained my Twister wrap – it’s “finger lickin’ good”.