Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Despite a slumping economy, ethics and service help people ‘eat mor chikin’

Chick-fil-A is four years into their “extreme service makeover,” which sets the growing fast-food giant apart from its competitors, the company’s president and chief operating officer, Dan Cathy, said during an April 22 speech at DU’s Daniels College of Business.

Cathy said the company’s foundation of ethics and values prompted the makeover. He encouraged the business students in the audience to remember the importance of values when following their own career paths.

“You must be vigilant and on guard, and need to have a tremendous sense of humility,” Cathy told the crowd of about 150.

Instead of using fad products that can be fun but only excite a customer for so long, Cathy explained, his company focuses on other ways to innovate. In the fast-food business, he said, service is the most difficult area of the operation to find new ways to satisfy customers.

“Our unique innovation is service. You’ve got to grow in a way that really relates to our customer.”

Some examples?

Many Chick-fil-A locales give customers kitchen tours. Dining room tables sport fresh flowers. Workers are encouraged to tell the customer, “My pleasure.” [“How often do you hear a 17-year-old say that?” Cathy laughed.] Some drive-throughs offer dog biscuits for pets along for the ride.

His favorite, he says, is that workers walk around the dining room with three-foot-long pepper grinders offering freshly ground pepper to customers sitting down with their food, just as in full-service restaurants.

“We have a lot of people nodding yes, and they don’t even like pepper,” Cathy added. “They just really like the idea.”

Innovations such as these, he said, are the reason why Chick-fil-A’s sales have grown for 63 consecutive years.

But values go deeper for the company than their degree of service. The Cathy family, devout Southern Baptists, made Chick-fil-A distinctive among its competitors by closing all of their restaurants on Sundays. Cathy referenced the importance of God and religion in his life numerous times in his speech.

“Every business has humble beginnings,” Cathy said as he explained the company’s modest roots. In 1946, Cathy’s father, S. Truett Cathy, opened a small diner called the “Dwarf Grill” in Hapeville, Ga. In 1963, he decided to market the idea of the chicken sandwich and began opening new restaurants in the following years. “You gotta start somewhere,” Cathy said.

It’s certainly ended up somewhere.

Despite a recession, the Atlanta-based company—which has 1,300 restaurants in 37 states—is expanding their Colorado presence. It opens its new restaurant in metro Denver April 23 at the River Point at Sheridan shopping center, 4090 River Point Parkway.

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