Chick-fil-A hit $4 billion in annual sales last year.
When QSRweb.com first posted this figure, we received a lot of feedback from readers wondering how the company did it considering it is only open six days a week.
Our view is because the chain has become a standard in good food at a good price, and because of its famously friendly service. Customers will be loyal to any business that treats them well during every single visit.
Still, a portion of consumers are starting to believe that Chick-fil-A's service-with-a-smile philosophy is actually just lip service. And they're protesting in ways that could eventually affect the company's bottom line.
Reports surfaced earlier this year that the Atlanta-based chain, known for its Christian heritage (hence, the Sunday shutdown), donated more than $2 million in 2009 to organizations that work specifically against gay marriage initiatives. These include Focus on the Family, The Family Resource Council and Exodus International (which has claimed to be able to "cure" homosexuality through prayer).
One of our readers even suggested the company rename itself to "Chick-fil-Anti-Gay."
The gay and lesbian population might not be a majority, but it's vocal and its base of allies are growing fast. Support for legal gay marriage among those aged 18 to 34 is at 70 percent, compared to 39 percent support among those 55 and older.
As a privately-owned company, Chick-fil-A has a lot of wiggle room in its charitable giving. But that doesn't mean people aren't going to pay attention or protest with their wallets, which is exactly what has happened in the past few months.
A handful of colleges – from Northeastern University in Boston to Bowling Green State University in Ohio – have rejected proposals to bring the chain to their campuses.
Chick-fil-A executives seemed surprised by these votes, calling the Northeastern decision "hasty." In a statement to Boston.com this week, Dan T. Cathy, president and COO of Chick-fil-A Inc., said: "At Chick-fil-A, we have a genuine commitment to hospitality for all of our guests. We are not 'anti anybody' and have no agenda, policy or position against anyone as some continue to confuse with misleading reports ... Again, we have no political agenda, policy or position against anyone, especially the LGBT community."
There seems to be a slight disconnect here. If I donated a lot of money to an organization that lobbies hard against the manufacturing of chicken sandwiches, it might seem odd if I continued to order and eat chicken sandwiches.
Anyway, the good news for the company is that these campus exclusions probably won't have much of an effect on Chick-fil-A's success. The chain is still expanding to pomp and circumstance and gaining new loyal patrons throughout the country.
The bad news is that for many – hundreds of thousands of college students, gays, lesbians, allies, etc. – some reputational damage has been done. There is a big chunk of former and – more importantly – potential customers who will choose to go elsewhere.
Perhaps instead of just releasing statements about being inclusive every time another unit is rejected, Chick-fil-A should donate to an organization that is a bit more inclusive -- maybe one devoted to ending teenage bullying.
Otherwise, just as Chick-fil-A made a statement (inadvertent or not) with its money in making those donations, so too will a growing number of customers with their money, by spending elsewhere.