Does Fried Chicken Taste Better When It’s Free?

by Jillian Mapes

I do not often have food delivered to my apartment. But a few weeks ago, a night came when I hadn’t been grocery shopping in awhile, and I had no desire to put on pants. Seamless don’t fail me now. I ordered a whole mess of “comfort food” from the diner near me. They claimed to have the best fried chicken in Brooklyn. I’d never had it, so I ordered it.

It sucked. It sucked so much I was compelled to sign up for a Yelp account at 11 p.m. on a Thursday night just to be one of those assholes who posts a bitchy review. It was an exercise in futility and bitterness and poor writing. But I was filled with fuming, food-induced anger. I criticized the not-caramelly enough caramel milkshake. I criticized getting three drumsticks. I criticized the gravy. I threatened to never eat at the diner again. (An overreaction — the diner is two blocks away, a neighborhood hangout. It would be near impossible to avoid it.) But I was 100% positive I would never again eat their fried chicken.

But the next night, the buzzer rang at 9:30 p.m. I figured it was a delivery for my roommate and buzzed up. But when I opened the door, there he was again — the same delivery guy from the night before — an unwashed Rivers Cuomo type in a bike helmet.

I told him that I hadn’t ordered anything. He said the order came through Seamless — a caramel milkshake and a fried chicken platter with gravy on the side. It was the exact order from before, exactly 24 hours after my original order had been delivered. He told me to keep it and work out the charges with Seamless, he couldn’t do a thing.

I took the food, set it down. I immediately looked at my order history on Seamless. Not there. Then I looked at my bank account online. No pending charge. I refreshed both pages a bit obsessively. I called Seamless and talked to a very confused operator. Nothing. The meal really was completely free.

So I ate a little bit of it. Just a nibble of cornbread, I thought. That turned into, just one chicken thigh. Then another chicken thigh. It didn’t taste bad! I actually sort of liked the herby flavor I had found overbearing the day before. It was not unlike roasted chicken.

Did I suddenly like it because it was free?

I stowed the meal away in the fridge, later to be eaten semi-drunkenly, and I set off for the night. I met up with a friend and told him about my mystery meal. “Wouldn’t it be funny if this meal haunted you forever?” he said. “Anywhere you move, this delivery guy shows up and brings you fried chicken at 9:30 every night. Even out of state.”

That actually didn’t sound completely awful.

I haven’t updated my Yelp review. I think part of why I enjoyed the mystery delivery more than my original order was because it felt like I was getting a value — all this fried chicken for the grand total of $0! Reconsidering the free meal on a site full of reviews from paying customers feels morally sticky to me.

And yet. When the buzzer rang at my apartment a little after 9 the next night, just for a second I thought, “the delivery guy is early tonight.” It was just my friend, and he didn’t have any fried chicken for me. I think he could hear the disappointment in my voice.

Jillian Mapes lives in Brooklyn and willingly trades words about music and pop culture for money. She enjoys a good Twitter beef and fries up some killer chicken.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.