learning from a fast-food restaurant?

As we met yesterday in the dining area of one of our favorite local eateries, we paused a bit from our Chick-n-Minis, Egg White Grills, Scramble Bowls and Burritos, long enough to ask why this is so good. Not so much the food — even though the food is great — but what about this experience? Why is it so good?

What makes Chic-fil-A so popular, being one of the nation’s top ten, revenue-producing fast-food chains, even though they’re closed one day every week? They are open 52 fewer days per year.

What does Chic-fil-A do uniquely well?

It’s a great question…

… great to ponder for any institution, government and even self..

What can we learn from Chic-fil-A?

What struck us first is that Chic-fil-A offers a consistently great product. The quality of what they do and what they offer is never in question. They know there exists no such thing as partial excellence. (Even though in admitted pure opinion, I could do without the pickle.) 

They don’t do what they don’t do well. They don’t serve burgers. Let the person who does that well do it. Celebrate them. None of us, no institution, is meant to be all things to all people.

They keep it simple. Not all the red tape. There is no chicken alfredo, cacciatore or even divan. Unnecessary complexity can be appetizing, but it also provides room for all sorts of inefficiency and waste. (We’ll save for another day if any institutions we know have any excess waste.)

They communicate well. Their “yes” means “yes” and their “no” means “no.” They mean what they say. We can trust them. Trust is an eroded virtue in current culture.

They’re adaptable. Yesterday morning I walked in, wanting to pay for 20 people, each who would be strolling in individually. It was outside Chic-fil-A’s typical order rhythm. But rather than saying “we can’t” or “we won’t,” they listened well, collaborated on a solution, and made it work. 

They recognize the value in community. As they write on their corporate website, “’We are better together’ — one of our core values at Chick-fil-A — means when we combine our unique backgrounds and experiences with a culture of belonging, we can strengthen the quality of care we deliver.” Love that. Current culture would be so much wiser if we recognized what we had in common. With, uh, all.

They give back. I love that one of their core giving philosophies is that everyone’s job is “to serve.” Service puts other people first. Not just some people.

They have a solid value system. They are about far more than selling chicken. Said their founder, S. Truett Cathy, “We should be a part of our customers’ lives and the communities in which we serve.” They thus have a value system that never wavers. We know what they are for.

They respond to culture with generous care. I love how in my hometown of Orlando, when the awful Pulse nightclub shooting happened, where an Afghan-American domestic terrorist murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others at a gay dance club, Chic-fil-A opened their doors on a Sunday — which is not their practice — to provide food to those who were donating blood and to law enforcement officers who were part of the organized response.

They greet customers with sincere warmth. In response to all who thank them, employees always reply, “My pleasure.” That’s not “no problem,” “you’re welcome” or something simply transactional. “My pleasure!” That means more. That is excellent customer service. 

I suppose in a nutshell, that’s it. Chic-fil-A never compromises on who they are nor why they do it. Sometimes the rest of us do that. Sometimes our government does that.

We simply don’t do everything with excellence. And clearly it’s not always a pleasure.

We can do better.

Maybe we start by selling chicken. 🙂

Or by at least learning from one who does more.