Hey everyone! I hope all of this talk of food, especially Chick-fil-A, doesn’t make you too hungry.
Nevertheless, growing up, Saturdays were always filled with new experiences, but one thing was always the same: eating at Chick-fil-A. My family would always sit in the same booth, two from the back closest to the bathrooms—that window always had the best view. As I grew older, the public’s perception of Chick-fil-A began to change. However, when it came time to apply for my first job, with much parental “guidance,” I chose to work at Chick-fil-A. With the growing social and cultural controversies arising with corporate Chick-fil-A, my current employment.
Chick-fil-A was founded in 1946 in Hapeville, Georgia by Truett Cathy with the corporate purpose of Chick-fil-A being “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us… [and] to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A” (Chick-fil-A…). By handpicking franchise owners from thousands of inquiries per year, Chick-fil-A has carried out this mission, and around fifty years later, Chick-fil-A on Roxboro Road was founded by Tony Fernandez. From this mission, many top leaders have faced heightened social and cultural controversy. In 2012, Dan Cathy, the current CEO of Chick-fil-A, spoke out in opposition to same-sex marriage, and his comments set off national cultural backlash (Strom, 2013, para. 9-10). As Americans chose sides, both conservative supporters rallied in support of the chain as LGBTQ allies staged stark protests, including staged “kiss-ins” (Rowe, 2013, pp. 89). Although this controversy has implications for customers, this drawn-out controversy has also shed light on the identities and priorities of Chick-fil-A employees.
Sitting among a dining room filled with Chick-fil-A employees in the early afternoon, not even ten minutes after first starting my observation, a tea urn nozzle broke in the “cockpit,” the drive-thru area of the business, and laughter spread throughout the store. The situation was immediately called over the headset, as radio communication is essential. Over the radio, as updates were stated, the receiving employee was mandated to always acknowledge, calling “heard.” Hearing those terms before, “the cockpit” and “heard,” I never understood its meaning or history at Chick-fil-A. According to the owner, the terms were first used at a corporate conference for newly employed owners, and after hearing it enough times, he could not help but adopt them. Taking a step back, these terms immediately point to driving a plane and speaks to the priority of Chick-fil-A. The drive-thru is both the “driver” of the business and the priority. With using a radio headset, the term is eerily similar to a “herd,” a form of conformity. Naturally, these words are also synonymous with the military, speaking to the conservative nature of corporate Chick-fil-A. As many restaurants focus on the efficient serving of customers instead of a pleasant dining experience, Chick-fil-A adds a second dimension with the conservative, military connotations stemming from its language.
Switching from a “fly-on-the-wall” style of observing, I transitioned to speaking directly with employees of Chick-fil-A Roxboro Road. By talking with Kylie, a middle manager, and Josue, a team member, I was able to gain perspectives into their opinions on corporate controversy and its relation to their identity. Although I posed the same question regarding the impact of Chick-fil-A’s controversy to both employees, only Kylie chose to answer the line of questions. Although we switched topics to discuss identity within Chick-fil-A, many of Josue’s answers paralleled Kylie’s responses. Not only did Kylie proudly state she supported their opposing views on same-sex marriage, but she also reasoned that because Chick-fil-A was transparent with their viewpoints, society should accept their perspectives. Because Chick-fil-A has made those viewpoints available to all future employees, she noted that most employees working at Chick-fil-A should identify with these values. Relating to that conclusion, as Josue is pursuing leadership, he further elaborated that to pursue a leadership position, he was required to sacrifice his identity— a sacrifice he is attempting to regain. Talking with both Josue and Kylie, they have felt a newfound connection with Christianity at Chick-fil-A— an obvious tie to the corporate purpose. Although they are adamant about separating their professional and personal identity, remnants of corporate Chick-fil-A can be easily found in their own identity.
From these two observations, not only have corporate ideals trickled down into individual franchises but also those ideals are expected in other employees. Corporate Chick-fil-A has been transparent in its conservative opinions; however, it was unexpected to easily observe these ideals in merely the language used of the team. Although Chick-fil-A does fit the fast-food stereotype of focusing on the efficient serving of customers, Chick-fil-A diverts from the norm in its military-like, conservative language. Stepping slightly from my research question, I was surprised to observe the heightened conformity present at a Chick-fil-A franchise. Individual team members, especially those pursuing leadership, are almost required to sacrifice their identity. As team members become more invested in the business, many are inevitably pulled into the corporate ideals of Chick-fil-A—especially as it relates to Christianity. My main limitation in this study was time, and if given more time, I would report all of the overwhelming data I observed, and I would specifically look at the directionality of employees looking to work at a Chick-fil-A— do employees choose to work at Chick-fil-A specifically for their conservative, family values?
Although this line of study was ambitious, broadly, this study suggests the natural tendency to sacrifice personal identities for a career— even existing inside a company with controversial beliefs such as Chick-fil-A.
Chick-fil-A – Home of the original chicken sandwich. (n.d.). https://www.chick-fil-a.com/
Rowe, B. D. (2013). It is about chicken: Chick-fil-A, posthumanist intersectionality, and gastro- aesthetic pedagogy. Journal of Thought, 48(2), 89-111,129. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest–com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1621201248?accountid=14244
Strom, S. (2015). Chick-fil-A brings its sandwich, and its values, to New York. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/business/chick-fil-a-brings-its-sandwich-and-its-values-to-new-york.html
Featured Image Citation
Abbasi, R. (2018). Chick-fil-A pulls funding for Christian groups criticized for LGBT stance. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/nov/18/chick-fil-a-funding-christian-organisations-lgbt#img-1