Sometimes, a restaurant opening transforms into a prolific extravaganza that galvanizes the community. The renowned chicken chain Raising Cane’s recent Connecticut debut fits that profile. Nearly a month into business, the Enfield Raising Cane’s location continues to amass waves of ravenous patrons looking to savor some mouth-watering chicken.

The spectacle is an astounding sight to see. A never-ending vehicle barrage curves around the restaurant at all times, stretching as far as the desolate Enfield Mall parking lot. During peak hours, a police detail is present to help organize the chicken-caused chaos. I tried going to the drive-thru at 8:45 p.m. on a Wednesday, and the wait to just place an order was an hour minimum. I respect your patience if you can wait that long, but I am not wasting an evening idling around while I patiently await a few measly tenders.

Fortunately for me, I know how to game the system. I went right as the restaurant opened on a Sunday morning and spent a mere few minutes in line before getting my order. After weeks of chatter and anticipation, I sat eagerly in the parking lot, ready to devour my meal. I opened the box in the spirit that Indiana Jones would unveil an ancient relic, intricately setting my meal up as I awaited that satisfying first bite.

The food was … solid enough. The tenders maintain a fresher, homemade approach compared to several questionable fast food chains. In addition, the inclusion of buttery Texas toast made for an ideal palate cleanser amidst the savory richness of the fried chicken. Still, the experience did not wow me.

The chicken is well-prepared yet severely lacking in terms of seasoning. I would also argue that the limp french fries and flavorless lemonade compared unfavorably to many of their fast food contemporaries. Then there is the signature “Cane’s sauce.” It makes for a solid complement to the chicken, although it does not live up to the lionized legacy it carries. Would I eat it again? Most likely, but I am certainly not waiting in line for it.

My 10 a.m. odyssey for chicken tenders reminded me of a fascinating phenomenon that drives much of pop culture — the fear of missing out. I feel like most products and businesses that achieve success today are the entities that cultivate an air of mystique. Whether or not the marketed item is of quality, these fascinating findings exude a certain allure that draws people’s attention.

A great example is what Apple regularly achieves with its products. Some iPhones implement ground-breaking innovations. Others struggle to build upon their pre-existing foundation. However, no matter what is released, people will line up in droves to buy the new creation on day one. The Apple brand carries so much significance with consumers that they are almost guaranteed to hit a home run every time they step up to the plate (unless you count the Newton).

The influence of hive mind thinking was also ever present during the coronavirus pandemic. As many found themselves imprisoned at home, Netflix seized the pop culture spotlight with the release of “Tiger King.” I still have not watched a frame of the so-bizarre-it’s-true docuseries, but I could not escape the waves of recommendations that came my way upon its release. I would always follow up with a simple question, “Is it any good?” Unsurprisingly, no one could make a strong case in that regard. The social media chatter became so intense that everyone hustled to see what the fuss was about.

Tuning into an expansive social frequency is inherently appealing, and when something genuinely fantastic connects in the zeitgeist, it’s intoxicating to take part in that moment (I think back to great movies like “Barbie” and “Parasite”). That said, our desire to participate in these developments can inhibit considering whether it is actually an enriching experience for us.

I would argue that many companies have cleverly keyed into this trend, often trying to manufacture a “major event” without ever earning their gravitas. Recently, the disgusting-looking KFC chicken-pizza monstrosity entitled “the Chizza” showcased a food chain trying to drum up spectacle through sheer shock factor alone.

From tantalizing tenders to shiny new objects, we all eventually become prey to the FOMO phenomenon. The takeaway from this week’s rambling is to think twice the next time you find yourself ensnared in a pop culture vacuum.

Matt Conway
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