November 2, 2012 at 11:00 am EDT | by Mark Lee
Fruits of folly: Chick-fil-A thrives on LGBT misfire

The results are in – business is booming at Chick-fil-A.

Any lingering notions that LGBT advocacy originating with calls for government prohibition of business operation based solely on the political beliefs of corporate management would end well proved mistaken last week.

An industry-wide quarterly survey of more than 30,000 U.S. consumers of quick-service and fast-casual national restaurant chains by leading foodservice market research firm Sandelman & Associates indicated that past-month patronage at Chick-fil-A was up 2.2 percent in the third quarter when compared to the same period last year. A big burst of business trending above a total prior year same-store increase of seven percent.

The chicken chain scored impressive gains in markets where it has locations. This marketplace improvement occurred at the height of controversy comingled with calls for both a business ban and a buyer boycott.

Despite pervasive negative publicity in recent months, Chick-fil-A is thriving.

The fast food chain’s market share increased 0.6 percent, reaping significant growth in a short period. Brand awareness shot up by an astounding 6.5 percent and unprompted top-of-head brand mention improved 2.8 percent. Substantially benefiting the company was a noticeable uptick in frequency of visits by regular customers accompanied by broadening its customer cohort in 28 of 35 media markets.

The Atlanta-based franchise business operates just over 1,600 restaurants in 39 states and grosses slightly more than $4 billion in annual sales. It is tenth among quick service chains when measuring total revenues, behind competitors with a larger number of outlets – McDonald’s, Subway, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut and KFC, in that order. Chick-fil-A ranks 21st in total locations, but enjoys the nation’s highest sales volume per unit.

Company outlets, consisting of varying as well as smaller sizes, tend to be big – and now they are even busier.

This sudden development has perplexed many public relations professionals and brand management experts. Jeff Davis, president of Sandelman, observed that it was commonly thought that the controversy over the company’s position on same-sex civil marriage and LGBT equal rights “would hurt Chick-fil-A, but it actually helped the brand.”

A flurry of news reports announced the unexpected results beginning Oct. 25, illustrating the common confounded reaction of marketers with a statement by Chris Goddard, president of public relations firm CGPR. Goddard reviewed how “Chick-fil-A did everything wrong in the book. Their president shot from the hip, and his PR team was not equipped or prepared to respond. It was a PR disaster and a clear case of what not to do in a crisis.”

In reality, however, it was we who were off the mark.

When pandering politicians posed as pied-piper proponents of illegal bandwagon business bans in a number of jurisdictions we should have had the common sense not to follow their off-key tune. Some misguided LGBT organizations and far too many community members and allies made the mistake of abandoning a commitment to fairness for others when seeking our own equitable treatment.

This confused ambivalent supporters and angered hardened opponents of our equality. A cavalier disregard for the fair treatment of businesses and the rights of individuals to express differing views fueled a backlash supporting freedom of speech, including among the LGBT community – and galvanized a massive public outpouring of participation for an unofficial “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.”

A seeming thirst for the sweet taste of punishment and revenge – absent any actual business discrimination against either employees or customers but, rather, corporate and private management contributions to anti-gay organizations and groups opposing marriage equality – was unseemly and counterproductive.

Muddling the message and surrendering the high ground, some foolishly traded frustration for the illusion of a hoped-for expedient path to advancing equality on a quick fast food time clock. Careening down philosophically indefensible pathways without even noticing a turn in the road bred public perception of a willingness to rip a chicken sandwich from a person’s mouth in order to shove our freedom down their throat.

Losing sight of the power of persuasion and the diligent slog required in touching hearts and changing minds was the unfortunate result.

If for no other reason than that is how we will ultimately succeed.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at

  • Our activists and allies have been snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in this fashion for over two decades. When will people finally learn?

  • As University after University votes to ban Chick-fil-A outlets on their campuses, it sounds like we are winning the hearts and minds that actually can be touched and the ones that will right the wrongs of the old white guys paying their tuition. Cathay is watching a huge part of his long-term expansion strategy evaporate before his eyes. The short-term gains in sales will be outstripped by the loss of just one campus outlet. That burst of business will eventually be a huge bust.

  • @ Im Just Sayin: Your claim of “University after University votes to ban Chick-fil-A outlets on their campuses” is fantasy. Don’t think any have done so since this controversy despite there being a handful of campus groups pushing for bans merely for political contributions of company owners. If they have it’s because they changed campus food service rules eliminating all fast food chains for health reasons or for it to be constitutional. Besides, the small kiosks of fast food chains at campus food courts (like the only Chick-fil-A in D.C.) hardly account for a significant volume of sales. Stupidity on the part of some in our community means we got punked.

  • You miss the point Tom. Go back and read my first sentence. Whether they are successful in driving Chick-fil-A off campus, the fact that we have ignited their passion for gay rights is the victory. The fight is for their minds not their bellies. Oh, and when you have your name on a major college bowl game and students at SEC campuses are voting to ban your company, when football players are refusing to have your logo on their uniforms, you can bet that Bubba Cathay is wishing he kept his mouth shut.

    • I have been reading numerous campus newspapers and blogs all across the country for the past 3 months and it is clear that an overwhelming number of students support CFA and their presence on campus. There has been the “loud few” who support the LGBT agenda, but nothing like the numbers supporting CFA. I was surprised to find this to be true on even some of the more liberal campuses.

  • These things take time, a clear message was sent to Mr. Cathy Tuesday night; he is clearly not in the majority.

  • This is a very slippery slope. What happens when South Carolina orders all gay bars closed? What happens when, instead of a boycott, local residents in Alabama encircle a gay bar in Montgomery and demand their right to protest? This has to stop. Now. So what if Chick-fil-a supports anti-gay causes? Like that’s a surprise? Move along, these aren’t the droids you are looking for…

  • What is the friggin’ misfire in gay people, their families and their friends not wanting to give money to a company that they know will hand some portion of it over to hate groups? Look…nobody doubted that a fast food chain that ostentatiously closes on Sundays was probably Very Popular among religious fundamentalists or that their CEOs loud mouthed contempt for gay people would win over all the bigots in this country. So much so obvious. The goal here isn’t changing one company, let alone changing the mind of a rich bigot.

    Cathy will never stop using his customer’s money to spread hate, nor will he ever find himself lacking in customers willing to give him money Specifically to spread that hate. So what? When you know that some portion of your money goes into the hands of the likes of Tony Perkins or worse, you do the right thing. It’s worthwhile, despite Chick-fil-a’s sales figures, to keep informing people that their chicken money is being used to spread the kind of lies about gay people that get gay people killed…maybe even a gay person they know and love.

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