What is behind Chick-Fil-A's enormous success?

Is it the chicken? The customer service? Or something else?

Open only six days per week, Chick-Fil-A’s per store sales are outpacing the second best performing quick service restaurant chain by nearly 63%. The earnings per store are averaging $4.4 million. McDonald’s, ranking fifth in per store average sales, only collects $2.5 million per store, and they are open more than 52 additional days per year. Chick-Fil-A has significantly fewer stores than McDonald’s, ranking it eighth in overall sales, but it is on pace to move up to third place by 2020.

The Forbes article about this massive success attributes it mainly to two factors: great food, and outstanding customer service. If you have been to Chick-Fil-A, then you already know that it kills it in these two areas. I have chuckled to myself when visiting other quick service restaurants and found them trying to capture the Chick-Fil-A magic by saying “my pleasure” when I thank them. Everyone knows Chick-Fil-A has mastered customer service, and everyone is trying to match them. But the magic isn’t in just saying “my pleasure.”

I was not surprised that Forbes did not mention the more intangible aspects of Chick-Fil-A’s success. This really is the culture of the restaurant, but I like to call it their heart. The restaurant manages to recreate the wholesome American values of the past, and accomplishes it in spades. I know, many progressives will cast aspersions on the idea that America’s past values are something worth recreating. Then again, most of those progressives are already boycotting the delicious chicken sandwiches anyway, so I will just move on to my point.

Closing on Sundays places emphasis on family time as well as on religious values. While traditional thinking would hold that doing so would only limit profitability, the results speak for themselves. In this way and in others, Chick-Fil-A puts its money where its mouth is, living out the values that it claims to hold.

While progressives also take issue with the charities that the restaurant chain supports, Chick-Fil-A is a very active philanthropist organization, down to the individual store level where fundraisers are held frequently for local schools. There are also the cases of Chick-Fil-A working on Sundays to provide free food in emergency situations, and even instances when they have provided free refreshments to their own detractors and protestors. That is the perfect embodiment of Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (NKJV). This is not incidental to the success of the chain.

They also hold community events, and are not afraid even in this time to host father-daughter or mother-son dining events. I think that one of the most important pieces of the heart of Chick-Fil-A comes down to a role that I call the “store grandma,” although I have seen it filled by a “grandpa” at some locations. This employee, typically a senior citizen, not only helps to clear customer’s trash and offer them refills, they will linger and talk to the customers, ask about their families, and often even pray with them.

This person at the Chick-Fil-A that I frequent most often is named Diane. One day my husband expressed to Diane that he wished that she could be home, and not still have to work at her age (in her 80s). She quickly put him in his place, explaining that she does it because she loves it, and that she sees it as her ministry. What a wonderful opportunity for someone who most other companies would never even see value in, to give her a place where she has a purpose in her life and can spread joy to so many people who are blessed by being “loved on” by her. No, Forbes would never be able to explain the corporate value of employees like Diane, and competing restaurants haven’t figured it out yet either, but the customers who are behind Chick-Fil-A’s stunning success understand it very well, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

S. Truett Cathy had a business vision that fit right into his Southern Baptist and Biblical views, a vision which corporate America disdains. It worked because it came out of the middle or fly over America which shared many of the same values. The corporate and personal stand on social issues made the company and Mr. Cathy folk heroes for not buckling to pressures from groups intent on imposing their contrary values on all of America! Chic-fil-a became even more popular. Somehow it's refreshing to know that a company has a moral compass it works by and is a success!

It’s because they are almost tangibly authentic. They don’t do good customer service because it’s in a manual - they do it because they feel it. They don’t do good deeds because it will look good in the media - they do them because it’s the WWJD answer. Contrast that to the pseudoevent corporate mentality prevalent today, in which every good deed and kindness is transacted with an eye to the profit goal: a sale, good press, a political favor. People respond to love in a way they will never respond to that kind of cynicism.

The food is meh. But the service is pretty good.

Part of the Chic-Fil-A success is how they select employees and train them. I have observed that they reward them and promote the good ones. Also I have observed that in general the employees speak clear english such that you understand them. While the food is not excellent, It is consistent and the soup is pretty good. You get what you pay for.

The service is friendly, the restaurants are clean, and I think that - for fast food - it's pretty darn good. Definitely popular at parties!
No one has mentioned Truett Cathy's scholarship program for promising employees, up to $10,000 towards a 4-year college education. Per the Chick-fil-A web site, more than $45 million in scholarships has been awarded.