A couple weeks back my family and I were headed out of town for the weekend. On Saturday morning as we started our drive, we stopped at a local fast-food restaurant to get breakfast on-the-go. Because COVID had at first eliminated and then severely restricted any “dine-in” option, there were far more cars in line than usual. But that didn’t mean it took any longer than normal to get our food. As I progressed through the drive-thru line I was stunned at the operation I witnessed.
Everywhere I looked, modifications had been made in order to make the process more efficient. The parking lot had been entirely restructured, eliminating parking spaces in order to streamline the drive-thru. In the spot where you’d typically place an order via intercom, double lines of cars moved through, with multiple attendants walking the lines taking orders on tablets. They were protected by tents overhead, with hydration stations to help beat the heat and hand-washing stations to help keep things sanitary. The efficiency and ingenuity on display was remarkable. It was clear that this place was significantly different from all the other fast-food restaurants you might encounter.
So where was I? I’m sure many of you have already guessed: Chick-fil-A. And the fact that so many of you could guess that based not on a description of the food, but on how the people operated says a lot. It speaks to the world-class culture Chick-fil-A has developed and the power of that culture to serve as a differentiator in the fast-food industry.
Differentiating through culture
While other franchises often have surly employees, who rarely bother to greet you, Chick-fil-A is known for its pleasantry, even replying “My pleasure,” whenever you thank them. While other places appear satisfied with employees who don’t seem to care how fast or slow their service is, Chick-fil-A is obsessed with efficiency, and it’s evident in how their franchises operate and how their people perform.
Far more than what they serve, it’s how they serve it that makes Chick-fil-A the 2nd highest grossing fast-food brand in total revenue and by far the highest per location. Oh, and that’s with them operating only 6 days per week instead of 7, because all their stores are closed on Sunday.
Developing a world-class culture
What I find most remarkable is that Chick-fil-A pulls from the same labor pool as their competitors. Do they pay significantly more to monopolize all the top talent? No. Do they just get lucky and happen to hire the perfect employees every single time? I highly doubt it. So how, with the same people as everyone else in their industry, do they have such a phenomenal culture while everyone else around them struggles?
The answer is that Chick-fil-A has both clearly defined the culture they want to have and then put in place a system to ensure that their people actually live that culture, rather than it just being words on a page or a slick marketing slogan. From their hiring process, through training, and each day on the job, everything is aligned to reinforce the culture they’ve defined. While the chicken might be good, they know that their culture is the true “secret ingredient” in their success.
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