- Popeyes plans to open over 200 new restaurants in the U.S. and Canada this year, and expects to surpass last year's expansion total of 208 restaurants, the company said in an email to Restaurant Dive.
- The chicken chain will open several units in New York City, including a flagship location in Times Square slated to open in June. The units will feature a new design including self-order kiosks, a two-story food transporter for upstairs dining, digital "order ready" boards and a merchandise store.
- The chain has been on a development tear since the success of its chicken sandwich, which boosted franchisee interest following a surge in sales after its 2019 launch. Popeyes grew to 3,705 stores globally last year compared to 3,451 stores in 2020, marking a 7.4% growth rate in 2021 compared to a roughly 4% growth rate in 2020, according to the company's full-year 2021 earnings release.
Popeyes' rapid pace of domestic development pushed it past the 3,000-store mark in 2021, Restaurant Brands International CEO Jose Cil said during the company's year-end earnings call in February.
"We saw the benefit of [Popeyes'] powerful development engine on full display in our home market during the fourth quarter as strong net new restaurant growth of 5.6% offset softer comparable sales and drove a 4% year-over-year increase in system-wide sales," Cil said.
Despite these expansion gains, Popeyes did post a year-over-year decline of 1.8% in its domestic same-store sales in 2021 due to staffing challenges and competitive pressures, especially increased chicken sandwich competition, Cil said. Ongoing labor challenges led to a reduction in operating store hours and service modes, which impacted comp sales by about 1%, he said.
These labor challenges don't appear to be slowing down the company's pipeline. In addition to the U.S. and Canada, Popeyes is expanding further into China, the United Kingdom, Spain, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Switzerland and Sri Lanka. It will also enter new markets, including South Korea, France, India and Romania, the company said.
Over half of the restaurants that will open globally this year will include double drive-thrus. The company expects this channel will help serve increased traffic, boost speed of service and enhance the guest experience, the company said.
Popeyes also reopened its New Orleans flagship store on Canal Street in March with renovations of the 200-year-old landmark building. The storefront includes self-order kiosks, digital "order ready" boards and dedicated areas for digital orders.
Popeyes is also launching a new back-of-house design, which will debut in Lafayette, Indiana later this year. Features include a new prep area for expediting orders, a crew-fed delivery shelf attached to the kitchen and a new manager desk to provide improved visibility, according to a design video shared with Restaurant Dive. As part of the new design, the company will also pilot technology that will improve operations and labor efficiencies.
The fast food chain said it will continue to innovate features such as mobile order and pay, curbside pickup, digital order pickup shelves, self-order kiosks and its Popeyes Rewards program, which will feature exclusive benefits this year, the company said.
Digital business has been a big sales growth driver at parent company Restaurant Brands International, which reached $10 billion in global digital sales last year, representing 30% of total sales, Josh Kobza, Restaurant Brands International's COO, said during the February earnings call. Digital made up 16% of sales at Popeyes, which Kobza attributed to a growth in delivery, an increase in mobile order and pay and ongoing tractions from its loyalty program, he said.