Why Chick-Fil-A Is Thriving Despite the Pandemic

Michael Beausoleil

Last year was hard for many businesses, but some places have withstood the challenges of 2020. Restaurants have been hit particularly hard with capacity limitations, but fast food restaurants are built on a model that can adapt to these changes. Among the fast food market, Chick-Fil-A stands out as a glowing success.

The Atlanta-based chicken restaurant began 2020 on a strong note. It now holds the title of third most profitable restaurant in the United States, passing chains like Burger King, Subway, and Taco Bell. This shouldn't be surprising. Prior to 2020 the restaurant was experiencing a great amount of growth and was poised to continue to grow. Consider this fact alongside the fact that Chick-Fil-A earns more per restaurant than any other chain. When they open more doors, this means they’re going to outperform the competition.

With the restaurant industry slowing, Chick-Fil-A has relied upon its core values to continue thriving. Their success if no fluke, and they’re built upon a model that allowed them to serve customers throughout 2020 without needing to compromise their identity.

Go Where the People Are

In recent years, Chick-Fil-A has been opening free-standing restaurants. Many people first encountered the chain is shopping areas such as malls. The first restaurant opened in 1964 as a mall location. There wouldn’t be a free-standing store for another 22 years until one opened in Atlanta in 1986.

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(Photo: Staten Island Mall Chick-Fil-A)

Malls experienced significant growth in the 80’s, becoming a popular stop for young adults to spend money and time. Early malls were a different experience. There weren’t a lot of restaurants in malls during the 60’s. Those places were reserved for stores and the occasional eatery in department stores. Chick-Fil-A’s gamble paid off, allowing the chain to please customers in a convenient setting.

In recent years, you’ll see Chick-Fil-A adapting to changes. It’s probably not a coincidence we’re seeing more free-standing stores open because malls are closing rapidly. Chick-Fil-A has already been embracing app-based purchases, and picking up your order can be a breeze if you order on mobile. Perhaps this isn’t hugely innovative, other stores have allowed mobile ordering for years, but Chick-Fil-A isn’t always trying to innovate. They’re simply trying to remove inconveniences when it come to obtaining their food. Adapting to this change allowed the brand to follow customer trends before it became a necessity.

Perfect Your Product Before Expanding

As far as fast food restaurants go, Chick-Fil-A has a fairly small menu. It’s not as small as In-N-Out Burger, but it’s not as large as a McDonald’s. When it comes to meat, you can get grilled or fried chicken. That’s it. It might be a sandwich, nugget, or strip, but their batter and seasoning is consistent. By doing this, customers can expect a certain level of quality and staff can prepare orders more easily.

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(Photo: Spicy Chick-Fil-A Sandwich)

Chick-Fil-A has even tested a smaller menu so they can streamline their service and provide a faster customer experience. While removing items may be unpopular, the chain recognizes the importance of keeping fast foodfast. With a focus on speed, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the company doesn’t tamper with their signature sandwich. You can get it spicy if you want, but beyond that there’s very few ways to complicate your order.

Treat Your Customers With Value

If you’ve ever been to a Chick-Fil-A you’ve likely noticed something about their employees: they’re really nice. They’ve ranked number 1 in customer service, and this has been engrained in their culture. When you go to a restaurant, you can expect employees to smile and get your order right.

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(Photo: Chick-Fil-A staff)

Some of their tactics are obvious, such as the smiles and willingness to answer questions. Other things are hidden in plain sight, such as staff only saying “my pleasure” instead of “you’re welcome.” Regular customers aren’t supposed to see every element of the experience, but you’re supposed to feel the impact during their visit.

For the brand, this is their form of marketing. Word of mouth has a powerful impact, and people speak highly of their positive experiences. Chick-Fil-A doesn’t need an advertisement to tell you they’re great, they know you’ll feel it when you enter the stores.

Care About Your Employees, They’ll Care For Your Business

If a business cares about its development, it will be reflected in their employees. This will allow them to gain more skills, apply them to their work, and move into better roles.

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(Photo: Chick-Fil-A Leadership Program)

Chick-Fil-A wants their employees to develop. They offer a leadership program so employees can learn how to run a business and prepare for more responsibilities. They also offer scholarships for team members to pursue educational endeavors. This keeps employees committed to the brand and allows them to promote from within.

When businesses have unmotivated workers and high turn over, this trickles down to the customer and quality of the product. As a brand, Chick-Fil-A does what they can for their employees to stay energized and loyal. It helps that they never need to work on Sunday because every store is closed. The bigger motivator is the employee benefits and growth potential.

Innovate Where It Makes Sense

Perhaps one of the most impressive feats at Chick-Fil-A is their drive-thru.For such a popular restaurant, they get food into your hand quickly. This is because they have an organized system and staff who know what they’re doing.

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(Photo: Chick-Fil-A Drive Thru)

Team members carry tablets and go up to car windows. They’re usually multiple lanes and windows, but it’s all guided by the staff. The restaurant was already set up to serve food quickly, but this reduces friction when it comes to payments and entering orders.

Originally this system was designed to reduce congestion in busy areas. The staff kept the lanes of traffic moving and orders were filled quickly. It was also designed because the company saw other restaurants embracing technology. Little did they know how important the use of technology would become as we moved into the 2020's.

Chick-Fil-A Continues to Thrive

In 2020, when people aren’t going into restaurants, Chick-Fil-A has built a system that adapted to the changing environment. This can be seen with their drive-thru and app-based systems, but the technology is just the culmination of company values. They want customers to have a fast and reliable experience, but they know consumer trends are changing. Some parts of the customer experience will need to adapt, but others are irreplaceable.

Companies with old-school drive-thrus will see delays in their service as business cannot continue indoors. If a company doesn’t have an app, customers may be afraid to spend their money there. None of this applies to Chick-Fil-A who adapted when they saw industry trends shift. However, customers can still expect a pleasant experience and friendly staff. That’s a staple of Chick-Fil-A and a reason they invest in their employees.

It wouldn't be a shock to see Chick-Fil-A post some type of a loss in the second half of 2020; most restaurants will be heavily hit by the pandemic. While this is a concern, the progress Chick-Fil-A has made will allow them to rebound. Despite all of their challenges and controversies, the brand has focused on its mission and values. They serve chicken, make it tasty, and give it to you fast. All of this will allow the brand to grow while customers and staff keep smiling.

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