When Did Chick-fil-A Become Popular?

Chick-fil-A Retail Fast Food Location.

Lately, people have been scratching their heads, wondering: “When did Chick-fil-A become so popular?” While it’s a mystery to some, Chick-fil-A has always been popular. Here are the secrets to their success.

Founder’s Vision and Early Beginnings

Instagram post showing a statue of Chick-fil-A's founder, S. Truett Cathy, by @cfacookeville

Chick-fil-A had humble, yet promising beginnings. It all started with their founder, S. Truett Cathy. The first Chick-fil-A location was in a mall, back in the late 1960s.

Funnily enough, that location shut down in 2023, even though they’re a fast food giant nowadays. This wasn’t the first restaurant Cathy owned, however.

He and his brother opened up a diner in the 1940s. When he died, he was a billionaire, at the helm of one of America’s richest families.

Enter: the Original Chicken Sandwich

Instagram post showing workers holding a cardboard cutout of Chick-fil-A's original chicken sandwich, by @cfasaxon

This is Chick-fil-A’s staple, so it makes sense that it was one of the first things on its menu. It’s pretty simple: fried chicken, butter bun, pickle slices.

It’s a tried and true success, so it’s no wonder why they’re still serving it. However, it took them a while to get the process down pat.

We don’t know every bit of the chicken recipe — it’s actually kept a secret. We do know that it took Cathy years to figure out.

Influence on Malls and Food Courts

Tweet by @hawaii_isla808 showing a Chick-fil-A in a mall food court

It all started in a mall. In fact, their expansion was limited strictly to malls at first. For about twenty years, Chick-fil-A was a solely mall-based operation.

In fact, Chick-fil-A was an integral part of the modernization of mall food courts. At the time, people were anxious about potential contamination.

However, Chick-fil-A maintained a standard of cleanliness, while also catering to the masses. This made them a southeastern suburban mainstay, before they established standalone restaurants.

Standalone Restaurants

Pedestrians walk past a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Midtown Manhattan, New York City

So, as you’ve probably noticed, Chick-fil-A’s in a lot more places than just malls nowadays. After the 1980s, the corporation started establishing standalone restaurants.

These locations aren’t that different from other fast food chains. Their successful transition from mall food courts to restaurants is unique, as well as their franchising process.

Anyone can own a Chick-fil-A — well, anyone with $10,000. If you have the money and survive the training, you have free rein over a Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A’s Marketing

Chick-fil-A sign outside of restaurant

Since the beginning, they’ve prided themselves on top-notch, quality customer service. They’re actually considered to have the best fast food customer service in the country.

The company also tries to connect with local communities. Its philanthropic endeavors, as well as its Instagram accounts, can be seen as different examples of this.

Each Chick-fil-A location has its own Instagram, with pictures of workers. They also have a strong brand identity — you’d recognize that red and white logo anywhere.

The Chick-fil-A Cow Campaign

Famous ' Eat Mor Chikin ' cows at parade leading up to the Chick-fil-A bowl game.

Speaking of marketing campaigns, Chick-fil-A’s most recognizable is the “Eat Mor Chikin” cow campaign. It’s a pretty obvious message, meant to make people laugh.

The campaign first launched in the 90s after the slogan appeared on a billboard. S. Truett Cathy actually published a book called “Eat More Chikin: Inspire More People.”

The book came out in 2002. Even today, that slogan maintains its relevancy, going to show just how inextricable it is from the brand.

Focus on Customer Service

A Chick-fil-A employee takes a customer’s order at the drive through during the lunch hour at the popular fast-food restaurant.

One of Chick-fil-A’s defining characteristics is their premium customer service. Franchise owners are required to work at the restaurant, establishing a sense of connection.

Basically, it’s an all-hands-on-deck type of situation. Employees are even encouraged to give away free food — kind of. It depends on the situation.

Obviously, not everything on the menu is free. Still, you may be able to get a free sandwich if you fill out a customer satisfaction survey.

Expansion Beyond the Southeastern U.S.

Chick-fil-A location in south San Francisco bay area

How did Chick-fil-A become popular outside of Georgia and the southeastern U.S.? While it originally focused on the suburbs, it now has locations in large metropolises.

Texas has the most Chick-fil-As in the country, being the largest continental state. Still, Chick-fil-A’s presence is largely felt in the southeast, with Georgia not far behind.

There’s at least one Chick-fil-A in most U.S. states and territories. The only states without one are Alaska and Vermont. Guam and American Samoa don’t have one either.

The Chick-fil-A Chicken Biscuit

Instagram post of Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit, by @chickfila

Of course, Chick-fil-A doesn’t rely solely on their original chicken sandwiches. The chicken biscuit is one of their breakfast options, putting a spin on southern food.

It’s simple — fried chicken, cooked in peanut oil, served on a buttermilk biscuit. Honestly, this is a perfect example of why Chick-fil-A became popular.

Chick-fil-A doesn’t take too many risks with its menu. Instead, it perfects what it’s already got, focusing on making its existing customer base happy.

Chick-fil-A’s Chicken Nuggets

Instagram post of chicken nuggets, by @cfagrandovervillage

Out of all the fried chicken dishes they offer, this classic is hard to beat. Pretty much every fast food chain offers some version of chicken nuggets.

So, what makes Chick-fil-A’s nuggets special? And how do they stand out from the competition? Well, their nuggets are a lot smaller than other places’.

Also, like all of their menu items, they’re hand-breaded and cooked at the location you buy them at. So, their taste will probably differ from location to location.

The Spicy Chicken Sandwich

Instagram post of Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich, by @cfaeasternandione

This is a special variation on the original chicken sandwich! Just because Chick-fil-A tends to stick with the classics doesn’t mean that they never shake it up.

This sandwich has inspired tons of copycat recipes. People are desperate to figure out just what they bread their fried chicken with, and we can’t blame them.

We do know that peppers are added to the mysterious breading. They also offer a deluxe version. It has pepper jack cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce.

College Football Sponsorships

Instagram post showing Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl 2023 milestones, by @cfapeachbowl

One interesting part of Chick-fil-A’s marketing strategy is their college football sponsorships. This goes along with their whole emphasis on helping local communities.

They famously sponsor the Peach Bowl, which is, unsurprisingly, played in the company’s home state of Georgia. They’ve been sponsoring the game since the late 1990s.

Of course, they’ve got a Chick-fil-A inside of the stadium. The fast food chain also sponsors the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

Chick-fil-A’s One App and Rewards Program

Grouping of popular restaurant mobile apps on an iPhone screen. Apps include fast food restaurants such as Starbucks, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Domino's, Dunkin Donuts and Jimmy Johns as well as Target, Home Depot and  meal delivery site Grubhub. Selective focus on middle row of apps and side angle view.

It’s no secret that fast food companies invest a lot of time into rewards programs. With Chick-fil-A’s customer-first attitude, it’s no surprise that they’d do the same thing.

“Chick-fil-A One” is the name of their app. It’s pretty standard, in that you can order quickly through the app and receive points from your orders.

What’s interesting is that their tiered rewards program is completely free, regardless of which tier you’re on. You advance according to how much you buy.

The Breakfast Menu

Instagram post showing Chick-fil-A breakfast food, by @cfabraselton

Every fast food place has to start serving breakfasts at some point. The chicken biscuit was the first breakfast item introduced, back in the 80s.

Chick-fil-A has added a few items to their breakfast menu since then, but nothing too fancy. Their locations usually serve breakfast until about 10:30am.

Chick-n-minis, which are mini chicken sandwiches that come with honey, are pretty popular. There’s also the chicken, egg, and cheese biscuit, and hash browns.

Limited-Time-Only Menu Offerings

Instagram post showing Autumn Spice Milkshake, by @cfahammonddr_

One of Chick-fil-A’s most well-known limited-time-only items is the autumn spice milkshake, released in the fall of 2022. Clearly, they were cashing in on that pumpkin spice craze.

It doesn’t seem like they’re coming back any time soon, though it varies from location to location. Thankfully, there’s other cool limited-time-only items you can check out.

There’s the honey pepper pimento chicken sandwich, topped with pickled jalapeños and pimento cheese. Chick-fil-A also released a new fall milkshake in 2023, called the caramel crumble.

Charitable Initiatives and Philanthropy

Instagram post showcasing Chick-fil-A's philanthropy, by @cfahazlet

Chick-fil-A is pretty big on philanthropy, as we’ve mentioned previously. Each franchise donates money to local organizations, which are usually picked out by the employees.

Franchises also donate surplus food to shelters and such. The company as a whole emphasizes philanthropy, though they don’t have much influence on what exactly they support.

However, Chick-fil-A does have a company-wide scholarship program that they extend to restaurant employees at every location. The company also offers grants to nonprofit organizations.

America’s Favorite Fast Food Chain

Chick-fil-A store with American flag

You’d think it would be McDonald’s, but no dice. In terms of customer satisfaction, it seems like everyone and their mother is raving about Chick-fil-A.

We knew they were popular, but not this popular. Still with their commitment to customer service and community involvement, it’s no wonder why Chick-fil-A became popular.

McDonald’s actually ranks pretty low when it comes to customer service. However, they still make more money, partly due to their global influence and partly because they’re McDonald’s.

Global Reception

front of a Chick-fil-A chicken restaurant.

Chick-fil-A still has some catching up to do when it comes to expanding overseas. They’ve managed to go international, with successful locations in Canada and Puerto Rico.

However, they want to go bigger. They plan on expanding into Asia by 2026, though it won’t be easy. In Asia, KFC reigns supreme.

Chick-fil-A has tried expanding overseas in the past, unsuccessfully. Their U.K. location shut down after protests, and their South African location only lasted a few years.

How Chick-fil-A Compares to Competitors

collage of various fast food products

As far as chicken restaurants in the U.S. go, Chick-fil-A is number one. They trail behind McDonald’s and Starbucks in terms of sales, but that’s to be expected.

While McDonald’s is similar to Chick-fil-A, their whole thing is burgers. Chick-fil-A is basically at the top of their niche, above KFC and Popeye’s.

Speaking of Popeye’s, remember the Chicken Sandwich Wars of 2019? Chick-fil-A and Popeye’s duked it out over whose chicken sandwich came first. Chick-fil-A won.

S. Truett Cathy Brand Restaurants

@thehapevilledwarfhouse Instagram page

S. Truett Cathy found his claim to fame through Chick-fil-A, but that’s not all he did. There are restaurants affiliated with Chick-fil-A, but separate from the chain.

They’re usually referred to as Chick-fil-A specialty restaurants, or S. Truett Cathy brand restaurants. A standout is “Truett’s Luau,” a Hawaiian-themed restaurant in Georgia.

Most closely tied with Chick-fil-A is the Dwarf House, which was the first restaurant Cathy opened. There are five locations, each offering a sit-down version of Chick-fil-A.

Chick-fil-A’s Approach to Food Safety

Chick-fil-A employee wears mask and glove packing food for customers at the service window during covid 19

During the Covid-19 pandemic, people were calling the safety of their food into question. Most locations had their employees wear masks and gloves while working drive-throughs.

Currently, many employees are not required to be vaccinated. As for the food itself, Chick-fil-A says that their chickens are raised on barns, not in cages.

In the 2010s, however, they were in hot water when workers at a chicken supplier were filmed harming the chickens. Chick-fil-A no longer uses that supplier.

Response to Controversies

A Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Chick-fil-A has donated millions of dollars to anti-same sex marriage organizations in the past. As of 2019, they apparently stopped donating money to such organizations.

However, former CEO Dan Cathy still personally donated money — which he made from Chick-fil-A. People have boycotted them because of this, and still continue to do so.

This is why their only U.K. location got shut down. Still, Chick-fil-A claims to support employees regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who owns Chick-fil-A now?

Photo of Andrew Cathy and Chick-fil-A employee in front of Chick-fil-A restaurant, posted on Instagram by @cfawoburn

Since the 1960s, Chick-fil-A has kept their business in the Cathy family. It doesn’t seem like they plan on changing that any time soon.

The Cathys are among the richest families in the U.S. Andrew Cathy, S. Truett Cathy’s grandson, took over the family business from his father, Dan Cathy, in 2021.

Andrew Cathy is the one with big plans to take the franchise overseas. We don’t know if he donates money to the same organizations as his dad, though.

What two states have no Chick-fil-A?

Chick-Fil-A fast food chain store in Humble, TX.

Vermont and Alaska are the only states without Chick-fil-A. Hawaii used to be on that list, but Chick-fil-A recently expanded there, opening up in an Oahu mall.

The 2010s “Eat More Kale” controversy might be why Vermont doesn’t have Chick-fil-A. Robert Muller-Moore, a guy from Vermont, made t-shirts with the slogan “Eat More Kale.”

He wanted to get people to eat kale — unfortunately for him, it sounds pretty close to Chick-fil-A’s “Eat Mor Chikin.” Naturally, they sued him. And lost. Whoops.

Does Chick-fil-A outsell McDonald’s?

McDonald's restaurant and marquee neon sign on the Strip in Las Vegas.

No. Well, not yet, anyway. Still, regardless of Chick-fil-A’s popularity within the U.S., they have a long way to go before they outsell McDonald’s.

The solution seems to be overseas expansion. International McDonald’s menu items are known for their specificity; Chick-fil-A will need to match or outdo that.

Chick-fil-A has a successful menu formula, and they stick to it, but that won’t work forever. They might have to take a page out of their competition’s book.

Is there a secret menu at Chick-fil-A?

Chick-fil-A and Starbucks next to each other. People inside Chick-fil-A are eating or waiting in line to order food.

Chick-fil-A kind of has a secret menu. Still, Chick-fil-A employees aren’t hiding menus behind the counter that can only be accessed via secret code and three special keys.

You can order off the menu, though, with the magic of customization. People rave on social media about all the cool customization options, dubbing these “secret menu items.”

Take the buffalo chicken sandwich, for instance. Order a chicken sandwich with buffalo sauce, pour the sauce onto the meat, and boom! You’ve made a secret menu item.

Why is Chick-fil-A closed on Sundays?

Chick-fil-A storefront and sign

S. Truett Cathy was a devout Baptist, and his successors have followed in his footsteps. In fact, part of Chick-fil-A’s vision statement is to glorify God.

Clearly, religion and business are closely entwined when it comes to Chick-fil-A. Giving its employees off on Sundays is in line with that vision.

However, this policy might change. In 2023, a New York bill proposed that Chick-fil-A thruway locations remain open on Sundays. The Cathys don’t seem keen on it.

What is Chick-fil-A’s best selling item?

Waffle Fries in Basket

This might surprise you, but it’s not the chicken sandwich. In fact, it’s not even chicken-related. Waffle fries are Chick-fil-A’s number one item.

Hey, we get it. Sometimes you’re just in the mood for ordering some fries, and you don’t want anything else. Plus, waffle fries are hard to resist.

With that in mind, it makes sense that waffle fries would sneak their way to the top. Chicken sandwiches are towards the top, though.

For Those With A Sweet Tooth

Carmel - October 1, 2023: Chick-fil-A chicken restaurant. Despite ongoing controversy, Chick-fil-A is wildly popular.

Chick-fil-A has a beautiful selection of desserts. So even if you aren’t craving chicken, you can get a milkshake, cookie, or brownie and be in dessert-heaven.

There is a fad out there were people will take the brownie and crumble it into a vanilla shake. This creates a fudge brownie shake…That’s right.

Another popular move is the following: waffle fries dipped in a milkshake. No matter what the flavor, this combo is incredibly popular surprisingly.

What are the “3 C’s” of Chick-fil-A?

Photo of Chick Fil A at Tower Shops outdoor mall Davie Florida

Chick-fil-A’s 3 Cs stand for character, chemistry, and competence. These are traits that Chick-fil-A searches for when interviewing potential employees, particularly would-be franchisees.

See? We told you the process was rigorous. They want to make sure that people can handle running their own store, since they’re given lots of independence.

So, if you want to open your own Chick-fil-A, you know what they’re looking for. It seems like they want the work to be meaningful to their franchisees.

Chick-fil-A’s Enduring Popularity

Sign of Chick-fil-A restaurant in the night in Toronto, Canada.

For better or for worse, Chick-fil-A has become wildly popular. Their customer service, marketing campaigns, and timeless menu items have made them a fast food classic.

They’ve been pretty successful over the years. Sure, they started out small, but their success seems to have been parallel with the company’s size.

The Chicken Wars of 2019 and their college football sponsorships have also largely bolstered their success. We’re curious to see how they develop and expand.

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