On a cold, blustery December day in 1999, I quickly made it to the entrance door at the Battlefield Mall in Springfield, MO, primarily to escape the wrath of the swirling wind that sent the cold air cutting through my lightweight, fleece jacket. If I had a do-over that day I would have worn the leather coat! Once inside, I began to refocus my attention on my purpose of going to the mall in the first place: lunch!
So, off to the food court I go looking for something hot, delicious, and fast (getting all of three of these in one place is like winning the lottery, but one could hope), as the man in me had no intention in staying at the mall once I’d consumed mass quantities of delicious food.
When I arrived, my senses become overwhelmed with what to choose. Who would of thought choosing what to eat could cause an anxiety attack?! For once you’ve decided on what type of food you want, now you must figure which place is going to get you fed today.
And at that very moment, I glanced to my right and began looking into what appeared to be a sea of red colors. They say red is an attention-getter, and boy did they get my attention. Then the olfactory bulb went to work as soon as the smell of chicken hit my nose.
Once my hunger pains settled down and allowed me to focus on the whole picture in front of me, I saw something amazing at work. The restaurant team was like a machine! The counter person was like something out of a fairy-tale. His smile was friendly, not forced. His uniform pressed like he was chairman-of-the-board. His voice communicated a willingness to help, not the usual snort & eye roll, with occasional glazed-glance into space you get at other restaurants.
There is something unusual going on here at this place, with a cardboard cow standing next to me. And I mean it in the best possible way! Like going to a ballgame where you bought a ticket to sit in the bleachers, and the usher comes over and escorts you to your box seats behind the dugout, while calmly saying, “will there be anything else, Sir?”
And, oh yeah, they have amazing food. But here’s the thing; having been a restaurant operator in my past life, these sorts of behaviors stand out like a sore thumb (or a bright red fairy-tale, in this case). But this is at the core of what Chick-fil-A is all about. They have taken service to such a stellar level that it is an effortless demonstration of what amazing hospitality should translate into for guests: love!
“We strive to treat people better than the place down the street. One way we do that is by remembering that we’re all people with a lot of emotional things going on that don’t necessarily show on the surface, so we try to offer amenities and kindness that minister to the heart.”
– Dan T. Cathy, President, CEO, Chick-fil-A, Inc.
Chick-fil-A loves their community and they are equally loved back. How is that love expressed? Many ways. Great food that is reliably consistent and taste great. A first-class approach to hospitality that you often see in the South. Team members believe it and live it. Executives lead by example. And when their community needs them, they do what the best leaders in any industry do in crisis. They don’t wait to be asked to help. They mobilize and decide to help those in need without expecting anything in return. They do it with class. They do it with compassion. And they don’t do it to get attention. They do it because they were taught this principle from their founder. And so they live it…every day.
This Love and Compassion was on display most recently in their flagship city of Atlanta, GA, the headquarters of Chick-fil-A. Shortly after noon last Sunday, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport experienced a massive power outage. The outage lasted until almost midnight! Travelers were stranded. Nothing worked. Nobody could eat because nothing could operate. So who do you call in a crisis? The Chick-fil-A team. And they answered the call in a big way!
And in doing so, they broke their longstanding company rule of ‘Thou shalt not open Chick-fil-A on Sunday’. But this company has their priorities straight. And when there is a need in their community — which is almost anywhere in the Nation — these folks don’t hesitate to reach out and give whatever they can provide people in a time of need. In this case, it was delicious chicken sandwiches and bottles of water. By 10:30 pm, the Chick-fil-A team had already donated 2,000 meals (probably made many more than this before it was over) to stranded passengers! This Tweet, from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, confirmed their generosity:
Other joined in on Twitter with praises for Chick-fil-A for coming through:
When America was hit with one of its worst National tragedies, Chick-fil-A was there. On June 12, 2016, 49 Americans were gunned down in cold blood inside Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL. In the aftermath of the shooting, amongst all the carnage and chaos, the Chick-fil-A team mobilized once again. This time, and with heavy hearts, a group of caring team members and managers got up early on a Sunday morning, again, to fire up the fryers, and make hundreds of chicken sandwiches! The team from their Lee Vista location showed up to feed first responders and blood donors, as a result of this instant tragedy that shook them off their foundation. What a courageous and loving act, given the circumstances and knowing that many of their neighbors had lost their lives!
But this company is about a whole lot more than chicken. Just click on their website and the founder will tell you. Truett Cathy, who passed on in 2014, placed his stamp firmly on the brand and what they are about. His quote about this very purpose is the first thing you encounter on the site when you want to know about Chick-fil-A. This is where you can discover many interesting facts about their history; when they first opened, why they chose to be closed on Sunday, and when the cows came home to roost in their famous “Eat Mor Chikin” campaign.
Before his passing, Truett told Christian Science Monitor about his legacy:
“I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order” Cathy is quoted as saying. “We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed. I have always encouraged my restaurant operators and team members to give back to the local community. We should be about more than just selling chicken, we should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.”
His son and current CEO, Dan Cathy, was hard at work in Dad’s company training every day for this moment. And he has not disappointed the father in keeping with Truett’s plan to serve. “We strive to treat people better than the place down the street. One way we do that is by remembering that we’re all people with a lot of emotional things going on that don’t necessarily show on the surface, so we try to offer amenities and kindness that minister to the heart,” he said.
Mr. Cathy has learned many important lessons as a leader in demonstrating love with his customers. Though some would like to talk about his missteps of the past, the best leaders stay true to who they are, learn from their mistakes, and pursue excellence in what they do each day.
But he made it clear, in keeping with the core values of his company, that his customers are always, without exception, treated with dignity and respect. He said “…the thing for us to do is to stay focused on customer service.”
And stay focused he has, as raving fans continue to drive sales throw the roof for Cathy. The company generates more revenue per restaurant than any other fast-food chain in the US, and it’s only open six days a week. Chick-fil-A’s average sales per restaurant in 2016 were $4.4 million, according to a new report from QSR magazine. Its fried-chicken competitor KFC sold $1.1 million per restaurant that year.
Cathy continues to share love with his customers, and restore it where necessary. But they are not the only ones that feel it. The team members love the Chick-fil-A experience as well. Former Chick-Fil-A team member, Jeb Williams, a Business Administration Major at the University of Arizona, says his experience was nothing but positive. “When I went to work for Chick-fil-A, it was my first real (paycheck) job. The owner & managers always showed understanding in working with our schedules, and if we needed to switch and cover our shifts, they had a system in place.” Jeb continued: “What I noticed is the bosses were easy-going with me and helped me (with the limited experience I had) to improve.
When I asked Jeb about something every team member loves, Sundays off, he said, “Yeah, it was really nice to know we had a day off we (could count on) so you can reset. It allowed us to decompress, spend time with family, go to church…”. But then, Jeb showed real insight into what all businesses must think about at the end of the day—profit. And being closed on Sunday reduces your profit…or does it? “I know that they have sacrificed a lot by being closed on Sunday. I’ve seen how busy we get (at this location in Tucson), and they would make a LOT of money if they opened on Sunday,” he said with a wry chuckle. But Jeb went on to say, “But, at the end of the day, I believe that is why they are so successful. And it shows…because they are always busy!” Certainly, love for the team members is palpable!
“Nearly every moment of every day we have the opportunity to give something to someone else – our time, our love, our resources. I have always found more joy in giving when I did not expect anything in return.”
S. Truett Cathy, Founder, Chick-fil-A, Inc.
What life has taught me about love is that whether people tell you they want it or not, everyone needs love. It is attractive no matter who you are. God has shown his love through the birth of a savior. The baby Jesus, wrapped in a manger, is the purest form of love we can be given. We were given all the love we need wrapped up in that child. And the love that we all need is reborn every Christmas Day.
This Christmas, please take a moment to use whatever gifts God has given you to share your love with others, as Jesus has shared with us. Kindness is something all of us can give to demonstrate our love for one another. Whether you give out chicken sandwiches in a time of need or give hot beverage to a friend on a cold December day.
Thank you, Chick-fil-A, for loving all your neighbors in a time of need. You made a lasting impression on a man that wandered into a mall that day (long ago) looking for something hot and delicious, that was served up fast and friendly. Man, that was like hitting the lottery!
(Chris Gaines is an author and Editor-In-Chief of Patriot Gaines. He lives in the Cedar Valley of Northern Iowa with his wife, Jennifer, and two kids, Patrick & Megan)
Photo Sources: Chick-fil-A, Peach Bowl, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Article Sources: Forbes, Christian-Science Monitor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Peach Bowl, Chick-fil-A, QSR Magazine