Food court lessons


Here’s the scene:  food court in a mall, choir director with 25 hungry high school kids on a field trip.  Everyone has choices about where and what to eat.  Represented at my table were Taco Bell, Sbarro, Saku Japan (my pick), Chick-Fli-A, and few others.

We’re wrapping up the meal when an employee from Chick-Fil-A approaches the student with the Chick-Fil-A meal and offers her a refill on her drink.  As she is leaving with the cup, I make a comment to the kids about going beyond people’s expectations in service and product, and how important it is to get people’s attention by doing what no one else will do (namely, not hiding behind your counter, waiting to be asked for a refill).

Get this:  the Chick-Fil-A lady overhears me, stops, and comes back to our table to ask the rest of us if she can refill our drinks as well.  

My kids are stunned.  I’m giddy.

After the refills were distributed, we talked at length about what just happened, and drew out these lessons:

  1. Forgiveness is a powerful tool in customer relations.  In a real sense, the employee forgave us for not picking her store in the first place, treating us as if we had picked her, as if we were already her customers.  She did not exercise her “right” to deny us the service.
  2. Can you say “leverage?”  Giving away a refill that costs maybe 10¢ in product in a way that will likely produce hundreds of dollars in future sales is “leverage,” class.  That’s L-E-V-E-R-A-G-E, and yes, you’ll be tested on your grasp of this concept for the rest of your life.
  3. Doing flows from being.  Chick-Fil-A is not in the chicken business.  This employee understands that Chick-Fil-A is in the customer-acquisition-and-retention business.  The predicate in Chick-fil-A’s mission statement is a verb of being: “To be America’s best quick-service restaurant at winning and keeping customers.”  This woman wasn’t sleeping through her Chick-Fil-A training classes.
  4. Doing the right thing is more important than getting credit (or a grade) for doing the right thing.  I pointed out to the kids that they were now drinking free Chick-Fil-A product from cups that advertised for Chick-Fil-A’s competition.  Chick-Fil-A had every “right” to get credit for outstanding service, but this employee was more interested in actually providing the service than in getting the credit.  
  5. Advertising (or advocacy) is good, but doing the right thing by people is much more effective at changing minds.

It’s not exactly easy to impress high schoolers, but this Chick-Fil-A associate had the undivided attention of some saucer-eyed kids with a lifetime of purchasing power ahead of them.  

(If Chick-Fil-A’s paying attention, look up the manager at the Hamilton Place Mall’s food court during Friday’s lunch hour.  It’s promotion time for the blonde who gets it.)

Also, if you’re a CFA fan, you’ll love this.


4 Responses to “Food court lessons”

  1. 1 Dean April 28, 2009 at 1:55 am

    I’m so glad you are blogging again. This is a great post. I’ve already emailed the link to it to a dozen people.

  2. 2 Krystal April 30, 2009 at 12:22 am

    I just wanted to say thank you for paying attention. I am the manager of the Chick-fil-A in Hamilton Place Mall. Your encouraging words were music to my ears. As I read your blog I was shouting with excitment and could not read it fast enough to all of my staff. I am honored that you took the time to express how it impacted you and those around you. We are here to serve, plan and simple. Our moto is Ephesians 6:7-8 “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is a slave or free.”

  3. 3 Aaron April 30, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    Now that – AWESOME! Not enough that the employee did above and beyond but then the employee’s supversior sees your blog and comments on it.

    Man I love CFA and for all the right reasons!!

  4. 4 J. K. Jones May 4, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Great post Byron.

    Randy Pausch gives a similar story in his book “The Last Lecture.” There it was a broken gift returned to a shop at Disney World after a child dropped and broke it. Service is a powerful thing.

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