Oh Chick-fil-A, Oh Chick-fil-A, how lovely are your sandwiches… (to the tune of Oh Christmas Tree). The delectable and delicious chicken sandwich, America’s new sweetheart.
This phenomenal chain restaurant, referring to themselves as “quick service” rather than fast food, Chick-fil-A has proven to be easily listed as #5 most popular quick service restaurant in the country in 2018, and then #3 in 2019. How did they do it? What’s Chick-fil-A’s Secret?
Chick-fil-A is a comfort food place, where you can grab a chicken sandwich, nuggets, or a salad, some fries and a drink, all while having the most efficient and friendly service.
Several times while I worked there I heard “This drive thru was so long when I first pulled up, I’m surprised I’m already here at the window!” or “You guys are always so friendly and smiling, it sure turns my day around when I come here for lunch,” and one time a lady who owned a Swig down the road told me “I tell my team members to be like the employees at Chick-fil-A!”
I’ve also seen it all over social media; compliments about our speed of service, how they never feel rushed, that the food always tastes scrumptious, and that if Chick-fil-A’s drive thru was in charge of counting the votes or doing all the COVID testing this year, they would have done it twice as fast.
What’s the Secret?
Certainly, all this success is just falling into their laps, right? They’re “blessed” for being closed on Sundays? Unfortunately, these aren’t their go-to answers when asked what their secret is.
Here is what I learned during my amazing year working at Chick-fil-A (please recognize that not every Chick-fil-A restaurant is the same, depending on the restaurant each Operator/owner has different styles, disciplines, and policies).
When I first got hired on as an Assistant Manager for Catering, I was surprised to learn that the catering team had weekly meetings.
Every Tuesday we would meet, talk about the orders that week, and how we could go above and beyond serving our guests. Chick-fil-A is excellent at communicating and coordinating.
In a restaurant they have a chain of command and everyone knows and respects that, so if the Operator (owner) has a new item of business to implement, it would float down the chain to his directors, then the managers, then the assistants, then the rest of the team.
If gossip was a thing at that restaurant, it would spread like Chick-fil-A sauce on a buttered bun (but they’re too nice for that).
In the process of becoming a manager they give you a few books to read. One of them being The New One-Minute Manager. In this book, Ken Blanchard discusses one-minute praises, one-minute redirects and one-minute goals. These items are there to reinforce good behavior and to redirect not good behavior, then to also set goals quickly with team members.
A manager can give a one-minute praise to an employee by telling them how appreciated they are for something specific. These aren’t broad or general, but rather you tell them something that they did that you’re grateful for or something that they’re good at.
A one-minute redirect is the action of taking an employee to the side (where they won’t be embarrassed by their co-workers around them), and bring up the disobeyed policy or command, and train them on how they can improve, and commit to a follow up to check progress.
Lastly a one-minute goal setting session is just a moment where you can talk with the team member about where they want to grow or something they want to practice getting better at.
This is one of Chick-fil-A’s secrets, it’s tiny but mighty. They want their leadership to thrive and learn how to teach and govern a team.
This is their way of helping everyone feel appreciated, keep them growing, and make sure everything is running smoothly. As a side note, sometimes you feel just a little too appreciated, everyone is just always complimenting everyone!
Another small and simple secret is their words and phrasing. Everyone knows instead of saying “you’re welcome,” they say “my pleasure.” That’s not the only word/phrase they substitute. They hardly say employee, drink, or “can I take your trash” but instead say Team Member, beverage, and “may I clear your table.” These little changes make a difference in the fanciness of the whole appeal, and it’s always thoughtful and meaningful. They are never mundane or passive in their word and deed, they literally breath cheery and happy mannerisms.
There’s No Such Thing as “Down Time”
During slow hours they have their team members productive, either training, cleaning, or reporting.
Everything in those restaurants has a place and a purpose. If not, it’s tossed or re-vamped. That place is pretty much always spotless because they have daily checklists of things that need to be cleaned and taken care of.
Behind the Giant Swinging Door
So what about behind the giant swinging doors? What goes on backstage in the kitchen?
Well first off, there’s not a microwave to be seen. Instead you see a giant walk-in fridge that has fresh produce that was delivered that morning, and fresh squeezed lemon juice that will shortly be mixed with water and sugar and turned into lemonade. You’ll see several well functioning stations and you’ll hear a few different songs playing in the background, that’s just the team members enjoying their shift as they jam out to Disney songs together.
Every station is wiped down and everyone is paying attention to the screens that indicate what food needs to be made next. Each sandwich is a work of art and beautifully stacked. Each nugget is evenly coated and fried until golden brown. Perfectly crisp waffle fries are only out of the fryer for 5 minutes otherwise they are no longer “perfectly crisp,” and a new batch is made.
This kitchen has it all under control and works tirelessly to please the guests.
Transparency and Respect
I’ve never seen a place treat their high school employees so well. They are respected and have opportunities for leadership from the get-go. They can be trained in anything they want, and Chick-fil-A is transparent about that, because they want their team members to grow and to enjoy their jobs. Not to mention the pay is very nice as well.
Each person that works there is recognized as a human being, with physical, emotional and mental needs. They get it that everyone needs a break sometimes! However, Chick-fil-A also sets expectations and it’s up to each store and its team members to be on the same page, everyone works together and depends on one another to fulfil their duties and responsibilities.
These are all great insights to what it’s like working at Chick-fil-A, but the great catch of them all, is that everything really is their pleasure.
These people take great pride in what they do and they love to serve and to serve well. They love making their guests smile (that’s another great substitute word they use instead of customer) by making their day with a friendly face and a yummy sandwich.
They treat their team and each other like family, and they know how to be decent human beings. Their culture is comparable in only some places (like Lemonade Stand, wink wink), where they are just well-rounded, servants of the community.