Just down the street through the Freedom Tower in brand new York City, the fried chicken sandwich chain Chick-fil-A’s newest restaurant, along with its largest to date, opened on Thursday morning. The eatery spirals up a few stories, rising through a basement-level kitchen to cashiers on the ground level, along with up through two levels of indoor seating which are capped by a rooftop deck. There’s seating for 140 people.
The opening of the behemoth store reflects the franchise’s quickly changing position inside fast food matrix. With about $9 billion in sales in 2017, the Atlanta-based restaurant — as well known for its sandwiches as for its strong Christian values — today ranks seventh nationwide among fast food chains in terms of sales, although which’s on track to become the third-largest inside next two years, behind McDonald’s along with Starbucks, according to restaurant consultancy Technomic.
“The trajectory we’re on might support which,” said a Chick-fil-A spokesperson when asked about the possibility of rising to the top three by 2020.
Helping to fuel which growth can be technology such as mobile ordering along with on-site ordering by tablet, which have sped up Chick-fil-A’s service, brought in brand new customers, along with encouraged old customers to come more often. Yet digital progress presents a challenge to Chick-fil-A: how to translate its trademark cheery service along with abundant free food in stores — which helped create its loyal customers inside first place — when its primary point of contact with some customers becomes a touchscreen.
These little details in service are “part of the context in which we operate Chick-fil-A,” said the company’s vice president of restaurant experience, David Farmer, who describes his mission as creating “[NASCAR] pit crew efficiency, although where you feel like you just got hugged inside process … We’d better not lose our edge relative to service along with hospitality.”
Thus far, which edge has paid off. The company scores well above fast food chains overall when which comes to satisfaction, positive buzz, along with likelihood of purchase, according to YouGov BrandIndex.
“The pathway can be in Chick-fil-A’s favor in terms of continuing to leapfrog iconic chains which are still doing fine,” said Technomic senior principal David Henkes. Old-school fast food companies are doing well again after years of losing ground to higher-end chains like Chipotle, he said, “although Chick-fil-A can be doing phenomenally.”
Since its first location opened in 1967 in Atlanta, Chick-fil-A has steadily expanded, recently branching further away through its Southeast home base. which opens about 100 brand new stores each year, amounting to 2,300 total locations today, along with they manage to stay remarkably busy.
The average Chick-fil-A restaurant rings up more than $4 million in annual sales, according to QSR magazine, millions more than virtually any various other restaurant chain’s locations, including giants like McDonald’s, Burger King, along with Wendy’s — despite Chick-fil-A being open just six days a week. (All restaurants close on Sundays.) The average McDonald’s, for instance, makes about $2.5 million per year.
“We’re constantly keeping our eyes on the horizon, along with what major tech shifts could be happening,” said Michael Lage, Chick-fil-A’s senior manager of customer digital experience. “We want to be even faster, more personal, more convenient.”
Farmer describes his mission as creating “[NASCAR] pit crew efficiency, although where you feel like you just got hugged inside process.”
In just the last few years, digital upgrades like the Chick-fil-A One app, which spent a week at the top of Apple’s App Store when which launched in 2016, along with ordering on-site by tablet, which began in 2014, have helped to move an unthinkable number of customers through its stores. One drive-thru in Oklahoma City recently served 216 cars in one hour, according to a company spokesperson. Chick-fil-A’s first brand new York store rings up between 2,500 along with 2,0 transactions on busy days, owner Oscar Fittipaldi told BuzzFeed News, along with he said some locations are even busier.
“We have become a big company,” said Bryan Bullington, a Chick-fil-A owner in Houston who runs one of its most-visited locations. The chain has come a long way since he joined in 2001, he said, when which did not accept credit cards, a subject which sparked a big battle internally at the time. Today, Bullington said, some owners are even advocating for cash-free stores.
“Technology, competition, healthy food trends, along with on-demand delivery are all pressing in on us. The cost pressures with food along with insurance along using a better work environment have all changed dramatically since I came to Chick-fil-A. although fundamentally we’re the same… We’re still chicken,” Bullington said.
As more people drift through shopping at brick-along with-mortar stores to the internet, Chick-fil-A’s innovation efforts are focused not on brand new menu items, although on improving wait times along with keeping customers flowing through. Chick-fil-A’s Farmer said, “The closest Chick-fil-A to my home can be inside parking lot of a Target. along with I just don’t go to Target because of online shopping.”
The shift of shoppers away through physical stores may not appear to be an obvious threat to restaurants, although which’s one which former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has been warning about for years, calling which a “seismic change” in consumer behavior. Starbucks, which has led the restaurant industry in leveraging consumer-facing technology, launched a mobile order along with pay app nationwide in 2015 which at which point represents 11% of US transactions for the company.
“Convenience can be the big thing,” said Lage. Chick-fil-A’s app has been downloaded by 10 million users so far. along with the chain, like so many others, can be at which point testing options for meal delivery.
Yet even as massive sales volumes pressure Chick-fil-A to shorten some interactions with customers along with bypass others, Farmer said he remains committed to old-fashioned hospitality. “I don’t think which’s everybody’s angle, although which’s our angle. You have a transaction along with which’s functional along with which works. although where do you go where the transaction can be uplifting?”
Chick-fil-A’s ascent was no sure bet even a few years ago. In 2013, the company was the ninth-largest fast food chain inside US, along with which was still reeling through a public relations fiasco set off a year earlier when then-chief operating officer Dan Cathy (at which point CEO), made public comments against same-sex marriage, saying he supported “the biblical definition of the family unit.”
Consumer threats to boycott the chain didn’t meaningfully impact business — inside a few years since the controversy erupted, Chick-fil-A’s overall sales roughly doubled along with hundreds of successful brand new restaurants have opened. although Cathy’s comments cast a long shadow, even as Chick-fil-A withdrew through political commentary as a matter of corporate strategy.
In 2015, the Denver City Council delayed approval of a brand new Chick-fil-A in Denver International Airport over concerns of discrimination. (which was approved after the company reassured the council of its employment policies.) A spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “Do we have gay team members? Yes. Do we have straight team members? Yes. Do we differentiate when we tell their stories of service? No.”
In 2016, several months after Chick-fil-A’s high-profile opening of its first store in brand new York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio discouraged people through supporting the business. “What the ownership of Chick-fil-A has said can be wrong,” the mayor said at a press conference at the time.
Years later, questions still linger about Chick-fil-A’s politics, despite the company’s silence. Asked about a 2017 ThinkProgress post which said the chain continues to donate to anti-LGBT organizations — which named the Fellowship of Christian Athletes along with the Salvation Army — a spokesperson replied, “The Chick-fil-A Foundation can be focused on supporting youth inside areas of education, entrepreneurship, along with development of emerging leaders — including more than $46 million in scholarships to Team Members.”
along with while the 2012 incident cemented the company’s image as a Christian restaurant for some consumers, Farmer said its founder, who died in 2014, “never saw Chick-fil-A as a Christian business. which label made him uncomfortable.”
Today Chick-fil-A’s stated corporate purpose remains unchanged: “To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all which can be entrusted to us along with to have a positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A.”
“which got controversial a few years ago with the Christian focus of the owners, although which doesn’t seem to have slowed Chick-fil-A at all. If anything, their growth has accelerated,” said Henkes. “I still see traces of which [controversy] at times. although which’s probably more a thing on the internet along with on Twitter than in real life.”
Chick-fil-A can be trying to move as far away through which controversy as possible, saying simply which the company treats everyone with “honor, dignity along with respect,” along with which’s leveraging technology to provide a great customer experience.
“The focus at corporate, the leading measure, can be to focus on doing the right thing, the right work. If we get better, growth will follow closely behind,” said Bullington. ●
Venessa Wong can be a business reporter for BuzzFeed News along with can be based in brand new York. Wong covers the food industry.
Contact Venessa Wong at email@example.com.
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