When the clock counts down to midnight on New Year’s Eve in Marietta, Ga., it’s not a big ball that’s dropped from on high. It’s a big chicken. Specifically, The Big Chicken.
The Big Chicken, a 56-foot-tall corrugated steel fowl, was built in 1963 to attract diners to Johnny Reb’s Chick, Chuck and Steak. In 1974, the chain—then known as Kentucky Fried Chicken—took over the one and only Big Chicken. In the years since, it’s become a community icon and a navigational beacon in the area. (The city of Marietta even created a Big Chicken Snapchat filter.)
In May, KFC franchisee KBP Foods, which runs about 450 of the fried chicken quick serves around the country and purchased the Big Chicken store in 2011, completed its $2.2 million remodel of The Big Chicken, in the hopes of turning the city landmark into a full-blown tourist destination. The Big Chicken serves KFC’s regular menu (plus some premium soft drinks).
“Before we remodeled, it performed better than a regular KFC,” says Anthony Gianino, KBP’s vice president of marketing, noting the roadside attraction factor. “Now, it performs considerably better than a regular KFC. It’s one of the higher-volume [units] in the country.” (KPB won’t release sales figures, but KFC reported average unit volume of nearly $1.1 million in 2016.)
Efficient design maximizes sales
To accommodate the crush of traffic from locals and tourists alike, the kitchen was redesigned to minimize the number of steps an employee must take between packaging an order and bringing it to the service counter. Walk-in coolers and refrigerator space were also expanded, and the unit was outfitted with high-capacity breaders and pressure fryers, unique within the chain.
These updates, along with other operational efficiencies, have shaved about 30 seconds off total order time, reports KPB's Gianino. And they’ve allowed KPB to double the number of employees working inside the 4,731-square-foot store.
“We’ve doubled the capacity in the restaurant for what we can do,” Gianino says.
The updated Big Chicken includes a new large, bright retail space with branded Tshirts, hats, mugs, aprons, ornaments, postcards and more. “I can’t keep it stocked,” Gianino says. Customers have even asked to buy the new employee uniforms, but those aren’t available for sale – yet.
A typical KFC sees 60% to 70% of traffic from the drive-thru lane, with the rest dine-in. With the revamp, those numbers are reversed at The Big Chicken. The remodel allowed for 98 seats in the main dining room, with an additional 68 chairs split between two new outdoor seating areas. To speed the drive-thru process, an employee with a POS-enabled iPad now takes orders directly from customers in their cars outside.
Drivers near The Big Chicken can now tune their radios to a low-power station to hear the chicken “speak.” Reginald, The Big Chicken, has taken over the unit’s Twitter feed. The unit features numerous selfie-friendly spots. In the future, Gianino would like to put up highway billboards directing travelers to the Big Chicken.