Spokane Chick-fil-A Heartbreak

At the start of the year, Myrtle Beach was set to receive a measureable blanket of snow. For a community that NEVER gets snow, this was an event that was highly anticipated by many, especially our area’s children. You could imagine the tears that were shed when our neighborhood didn’t even see a flake.

I never thought I would have to write about a community plagued by so much disappointment ever again. However, unfortunately, only eight months later, I have something that might top the Myrtle Beach snowstorm bust.

We all know those national and regional restaurants that attract cult followings and take on mythical qualities, especially for the people who don’t live near one: In-N-Out, Sonic, Cheesecake Factory, Panda Express, etc. 

Over the weekend, near insanity erupted in my old hometown when an announcement was made…

Chick-Fil-A was coming to Spokane.

Local media went nuts, my family members started blowing up our text message group, and diehards started lining up where the location was to be built.

We have an active and fun group text messaging thread that includes my siblings and our significant others. There was absolute glee when the news broke that a Chick-Fil-A was opening in Spokane.

Although that last part about people camping out might be a little embellished, the Chick-fil-A announcement was literally breaking news in Spokane, a city that currently has the worst air quality in the nation.

In a part of the country that has ZERO Chick-fil-As, the news that a restaurant would open felt like Christmas. In Spokane, you have two groups: Those who have tried the magical taste of Chick-fil-A once or twice and know of its greatness AND those who have been deprived of it their whole lives and salivate at the thought of sinking their teeth into a spicy chicken sandwich based on word of mouth alone.

I am a big Chick-Fil-A fan so I was excited that a restaurant was supposed to open in Spokane.

As social media and local newspapers spread the news that a Chick-fil-A would open on the campus of Gonzaga University, the two groups went into a collective frenzy. The long wait was just about over; the brutal, unfair fact that eastern Washington did not have a Chick-fil-A would soon change.

My parents at a Myrtle Beach Chick-Fil-A on April 9, 2018. I know they were looking forward to eating those chicken sandwiches in Spokane.

Only it didn’t. As citizens of Spokane started to daydream about waffle fries and Chick-fil-A sauce, the plug was pulled.

False alarm. The Chick-fil-A website had made an error. The internet announcement on its corporate site that a restaurant would open in Spokane was a MISTAKE. Stop the press. Hold off on clearing your calendar for the grand opening.

My brother, who loves Chick-fil-A was bitterly saddened and disappointed by the announcement.

The city pretty much went into a state of mourning. The smoky air predominant in Spokane seemed to thicken with the development. The day was ruined for my brother and sister.

It was a bad morning for my Spokane family.

Probably the worst part was breaking the reality to my dad. Not of the social media age, he gets news a little later than us. When he found out that Chick-fil-A was coming to Spokane via the Sunday paper, I tried to let him down easy.

Well, maybe on second thought, I guess I wasn’t as subtle as I thought I was when telling my dad that the news report was inaccurate.

Stay positive, Spokane. I don’t think you will be without a Chick-fil-A forever. I mean honestly, how could the Chick-fil-A website make such a random mistake? Something must be in the works. Truth be told, I have heard rumors that a Chick-fil-A is slated for Spokane in a different part of the city. But who knows? I know things are hard right now at least you can still order a McChicken at McDonald’s. Sorry, that was mean. Don’t Blink.

Thoughts on the Recent Chick-fil-A Promotion

In this morning’s newspaper I read a very interesting article about Chick-fil-A. In short, the wildly popular restaurant has started a campaign to discourage folks from using their phones while dining in their eateries.

Many Chick-fil-A locations now have paper boxes for groups to place their phones in when they sit down at a booth. Marketed as “cell phone coops,” the boxes are supposed to help provide a peaceful dining experience. The thought is that families dining at Chick-fil-A restaurants will engage with each other as opposed to engaging with their devices.

Obviously it is a nice and wholesome idea to begin with. But customers who crave a digital distraction free meal will be delighted to know that there is more. If a group surrenders their phones into the coop and manages not to grab for them during their meal, a sweet incentive is given. Totally on their honor, successful families/friends/teams/etc. can go up to the front counter and say they passed the challenge. Everyone in the group is then rewarded with a free ice cream cone. Yes, it is a great concept.

This is what the cell phone coop looks like.

This is what the cell phone coop looks like.

However, as a marketer, I am not the biggest fan.

Most companies are tickled to death when customers show themselves using or consuming a product. For fast food restaurants, this equivalent is people taking any sort of media of their food. In this day and age, it is almost second nature for younger generations to take a photo of their lunch, add an image to their Snapchat story with the restaurant’s geofilter, or record a Vine that shows them eating their sandwich in six seconds. Not only is this FREE marketing, but in my opinion, it is also the best marketing! There is nothing more valuable than user generated content and social media testimonials. The booths and tables of fast food restaurants across the nation are where a company’s brand strength is really established.

With Chick-fil-A this sentiment is magnified even more. I don’t know of any other fast food joint that has such a passionate, cult-like customer base. When I look at my social media channels no other comparable restaurant comes close to Chick-fil-A in regards to name and hashtag mentions. I constantly see people who visit the place on a weekly basis tweet about how they can’t live without it. On top of that, I also see the social media reaction from people who must live without it. I have many friends residing in Washington and Montana who freak out by posting snaps, Instagram images, and Facebook photos whenever they travel out of state to a location where they get to eat at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

This enthusiasm that is expressed on social media is marketing gold. It is brand awareness that money can’t buy. It is the type of exposure that marketers dream of. Why would any company want to sabotage such a prime outlet by asking customers to go device free at the social hub known as the restaurant booth?

Well, to put it simply, it is because your company happens to be Chick-fil-A.

When I read the article I actually wasn’t that surprised with the seemingly blatant slap in the face to marketing potential. You see, Chick-fil-A is just different. This fast food giant prides itself on doing things their way. It doesn’t matter if that means closing on Sundays, taking positions on social/religious issues, or encouraging customers to put their phones down while eating. Whatever they seem to do, it just works.

So while I cringe at Chick-fil-A giving customers an incentive to literally not spread the company name at dinner, I also respect it. Going against Marketing 101 best practices is a hallmark of this unique chain and last time I checked they seem to be doing pretty well. Don’t Blink.