Every fast food chain has it quirks and fun backstories. Chick-fil-A, of course, has a quirk that shows just how important customer service is to them: anytime you say, “Thank you,” to a Chick-fil-A employee, you’ll hear, “My pleasure,” in return. The good folks over at Taste of Home tracked down the backstory behind the go-to response. Truett Cathy, the restaurant chain’s founder, was staying at a Ritz Carlton.
He said, “Thank you,” to a hotel employee, and when that person responded with, “My pleasure,” Cathy was impressed with how that phrase sounded. To him, it set the hotel apart as a luxury establishment and he brought it back to his restaurants.
According to a store team leader who hosted an Ask Me Anything over on Reddit, saying “My pleasure” is trained and recommended, but not officially required. Most team members do say it, though, enough that several people on the thread commented that anytime they eat in another restaurant and hear and employee say “My pleasure,” they know that person was Chick-fil-A trained.
“My pleasure,” may seem like small words, but there’s a real reason behind using them. Customers react well to positive trigger words like pleasure or delight. But even more than that, it’s part of the Chick-fil-A experience.
Ask anyone who is a Chick-fil-A fan and they’ll tell you that the restaurant chain has the nicest employees. They smile, they give you extra Chick-fil-A sauce without question, they’ll make you something off the secret menu: That “going an extra mile” level of service is built into the hiring process and the employee training.
On another AMA thread, a Chick-fil-A team member who works in the restaurant chain’s kitchen noted that a store motto is “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
This focus on high-level customer service is also known as second mile service. First mile service covers the basics — greet the customer, take their order and payment, deliver their food, make sure the food is exactly what they ordered. Chick-fil-A highlights second mile service, which means they don’t just want to fulfill customers’ expectations, they want to exceed them. It means offering world-class care to every person who walks through the door, going beyond what normal restaurants do.
The phrase surprises some new customers, the team leader noted in the Reddit discussion, because they don’t expect it. It’s a detail that sets the chain apart from others, and in the competitive world of fast food, those kinds of details make all the difference in winning new customers and keeping them coming back again and again.
The chain is hyper-focused on customer interaction, which means being nice but also being efficient. Buzzfeed talked to David Farmer, who is Chick-fil-A’s vice president of restaurant experience. He said his mission is to create “[NASCAR] pit crew efficiency, but where you feel like you just got hugged in the process…”
The drive to innovate while keeping that second mile customer engagement even extends to how they manage their drive-thru. The stores are known for their fast drive-thru service, and the company wants to keep it that way. Jared Solid, who manages drive-thru innovation for the company, notes on the company’s blog that they have built full-scale store mockups at the Chick-fil-A Atlanta headquarters and driven real cars through them to find the right efficiencies that allow them to serve customers quickly but still with a personal touch.
The hard work and strong company culture is paying off. Chick-fil-A is on track to become the third-largest fast food restaurant in America in the next two years, coming in just behind McDonald’s and Starbucks. Right now, according to Buzzfeed an average store handles around $4 million in sales each year. Compare that to an average McDonald’s store that only brings in $2.5 million a year, and remember that Chick-fil-A stores are only open six days a week (company policy has the stores close on Sunday).