Out of all the cool things I have been invited to do, when I was invited to Atlanta to visit Chick-fil-A headquarters my husband nearly feel out of his seat. He actually pondered out loud if I thought they would notice if he went in my place as The Suburban Mom. (Yes, he was kidding, but he was really jealous.) You see in my house, while Chick-fil-A is just another fast-food join to me, to my husband, daughter and extended family it is THE fast-food joint.
That was my opinion before my trip, meh. Now, I too have converted to a die-hard Chick-fil-A fan. I learned a lot more than I can convey in a single post in my 24 hours with Chick-fil-A, but here are nine things that made the biggest impression on me.
1) Chick-fil-A is first and foremost a family restaurant. Yes, it is a huge chain with more than 1,600 locations, but at its core it is just a family restaurant. With three generations of Cathys working side-by-side in the family business, the Cathy family holds tight to the traditions set forth by its patriarch, Truett Cathy. At 91 years old, Truett still keeps an office at Chick-fil-A headquarters that he regularly works from. While I didn’t get to meet Truett, I spent the better part of the day with CEO Dan Cathy, with his brother and Senior Vice President, Bubba Cathy, and sister Trudy Cathy (Director of Winshape, Chick-fil-A’s non-profit) and even met a couple of the dozen grandkids who work in the family business.
2) Only the best will do. If you ever have a chance to tour the kitchen of a Chick-fil-A anywhere in the country you will find only the best ingredients used – Hershey’s, Sunkist, Nilla Wafers. Dan Cathy explained the use of name-brand ingredients like this, “When I buy food for my family I might buy generic to save money, but when I host a dinner party I always make sure I use name-brand ingredients so my guests know that they are worth the very best.” No Acme brand food supplies here, when you are Chick-fil-A’s guest you get the best.
3) The secret is out; lemons, sugar and water – that’s it. If there is anything my K loves more than Chick-fil-A chicken, it is Chick-fil-A lemonade. I always assumed (incorrectly) that it was made with artificial flavors. After all it is SO yummy, it has to be unnatural, right? Wrong. We learned firsthand when we made our own batch that it is only three ingredients. Yes, it is a lot of sugar, but nothing artificial. (The diet swaps sugar for Splenda, in case you were wondering.) Oh, and did you know every location squeezes its own lemons and mixes its own lemonade every day?! I suddenly feel immensely better about serving and drinking Chick-fil-A lemonade.
4) Service first. To the Cathy’s putting the customer first isn’t just lip service. Southern hospitality overflows from the Cathy family. How many CEOs have you ever met who are the first to grab a rag to wipe down the table after a coffee spill? Not many, but I sat in awe of Dan Cathy who did just that when a mishap occurred at breakfast. And forget pointing in the direction of the restroom, Trudy Cathy personally escorted me across the building to the ladies room.
5) Closed on Sundays. Alight, you probably already knew this one. After all, my daughter knew this fact at 18 months old. But do you know why? When Truett first opened his restaurant, The Dwarf House, it was open 24 hours (the original location still is). After working in the restaurant ‘round the clock for six days he decided that he was taking Sunday off to rest. Back in 1946 being closed on Sunday was common, and he was tired. While the tradition is no longer the norm, Chick-fil-A stuck with this practice to offer its team members a day to rest and be with their family.
6) Styrofoam cups are 100% recyclable. One of my personal pet peeves about Chick-fil-A is the use of Styrofoam cups. Yes, they keep drinks colder (which is a major plus for my husband), but each cup will live on in our landfill for a long, long, long time. But they are recyclable and, as James Cathy pointed out, wax covered paper cups are not. Chick-fil-A is on a mission to add cup recycling to each Chick-fil-A location. Look for cup recycling in all Chick-fil-A locations by the end of 2013. Another green initiative to date, 900 locations have been retrofitted with energy-efficient light bulbs, and Chick-fil-A is working to outfit the rest of the locations soon.
7) Healthier Kids Meals – Chick-fil-A recently rolled out a healthier option for kids meals that includes grilled chicken and Buddy Fruit. While I don’t think I will be able to get K to give up her fries, swapping Buddy Fruit for fries and then splitting an order of small fries with my girl is an acceptable option. Yep she is still getting fries, but I feel better about getting her some fruit too.
8) New mouth-watering deserts. Have you seen the new desert options on Chick-fil-A’s menu? YUM! While my hubs raves about the banana pudding milkshake, I can’t get enough of those cookies! (And that’s saying a lot because I am a cookie coinsurer.) No these divine deserts aren’t calorie free (the banana pudding milkshake packs a whooper), but for an occasional treat the goodness is sooooo worth it. As Dan Cathy says, “Always drink responsibly.”
9) You are invited. Did you know Chick-fil-A offers tours of its headquarters? Anyone visiting Atlanta, GA is invited to schedule a tour of Chick-fil-A. Upon arriving on the Chick-fil-A campus, visitors will be wowed by the lush drive up to the main building. The tour includes a history lesson in the Chick-fil-A museum and visit to the test kitchen. I can assure you that next time we are in Atlanta my husband will be first in line!
Disclosure – Transportation and lodging for my visit Chick-fil-A headquarters was provided, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.