Chick-fil-A is one of the most profitable fast-food chains in the US — here’s why they’re so successful

  • Chick-fil-A is celebrated for its peerless customer service that the company maintains thanks to dedicated support of its employees
  • The privately held company has reported sales growth in every single year since its founding back in 1946.
  • After a spat of controversy surrounding anti-same-sex marriage issues in 2012, Chick-fil-A has revitalized itself with a focus on quality food instead of on politics or religion.

The success story of Chick-fil-A, the most profitable fast-food chain in America on a per-location basis, began with a diner opened in the right place at the right time.

In 1946, the late Chick-fil-A founder and longtime chair and CEO Samuel Truett Cathy opened a diner named the Dwarf Grill. It was located in Hapeville, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

In December of the following year, the Ford Motor Company opened an assembly plant adjacent to Cathy’s restaurant, which provided a steady stream of customers and revenue.

The next piece of the success puzzle: A pressure fryer that allowed cooks to churn out fried chicken sandwiches as quickly as fast food chains like McDonald’s or Burger King could make hamburgers.

A few years later, in 1967, the first Chick-fil-A restaurant was opened. According to Franchise Times, Chick-fil-A is one of the fastest growing fast-food franchises, with over 2,000 stores across the US.

But while steady, the expansion has not been rapid, and therein lies the key to this company’s success: Caution and control from the top down.

Management is hands-on

Getting the chance to run a Chick-fil-A franchise is extremely difficult – which is part of the reason the company is so successful. Let’s take a look at some of the language from the company’s own “Become an Operator” webpage:

“Chick-fil-A Operators must successfully complete an extensive, multi-week training program prior to taking over operation of a franchised Chick-fil-A restaurant business. With additional development courses and franchise support available, Chick-fil-A Operators are equipped to handle decisions and reap the rewards of a challenging business.”

Only a select few people get the privilege of operating a Chick-fil-A franchise.

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Only a select few people get the privilege of operating a Chick-fil-A franchise.
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Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

The page goes on to detail qualities the company looks for in its operators, such as “a proven track record in business leadership,” demonstrably successful management of your own money, and a commitment to “have no other active business venture.”

They also lay out reasons “this is not the right opportunity for you,” which include interest in “passive investment in a business,” requests to build a Chick-fil-A “at a specified location,” and if you are “seeking a multi-unit franchise.”

So in other words, they are saying that if you want to operate a Chick-fil-A, you do it where they tell you, you operate only one restaurant, and you do it yourself, managing hands-on and giving it your all.

At first blush, those stipulations might seem off-putting, but in fact the company receives as many as 20,000 franchise applications annually but only approves about 80. Maybe the fact that accepted applicants need lay out only $10,000 helps explain the allure, helped by the average yearly per-unit revenue greater than $4 million dollars.

Chick-fil-A cares about its employees

Only a select few people get the privilege of running a Chick-fil-A, and each of these operators are in turn encouraged to run their location with a dedication to caring and compassion for their employees.

Franchisees have been known to cover costs for a worker’s education or support them during a personal emergency, or to encourage employees to follow their dreams, even if doing so will ultimately lead the worker to leave the chain.

This culture of caring seems to have directly translated to how Chick-fil-A employees treat customers. In 2018, for the third year in a row, the company was rated Americans’ most beloved fast-food restaurant in the American Customer Satisfaction Index’s annual survey.

Chick-fil-A is committed to quality food

Chick-fil-A thrives because customers value the pleasant dining experience they have come to count on from the restaurant, an experience that likely results from the top-down corporate culture of the company.

The fact that their food consistently receives high marks for taste doesn’t hurt, though. Nor does a growing commitment to a healthier menu.

Over the course of the last ten years, Chick-fil-A proactively removed all trans fats from its foods, committed to antibiotic-free meats by 2019, and established an Innovation Center where food scientists, dietitians, and chefs work in tandem to develop recipes.

Taken as a whole, the company’s commitment to service and quality has led to a success story like few others in the food industry.