Chick-Fil-A's new CEO, Andrew T. Cathy, knew the company he inherited from his father has a unique problem when he took the job. The fast-food chain's restaurants remain so popular that many of them are too busy, leading some potential customers to not eat there. It's one of the reasons why customers will see Chick-Fil-A locations so close together, as the company hopes to spread out its consumer base. The company estimates that as many as 30% of potential customers decide not to stop by because a location is too busy.
Some Chick-Fil-A locations get so busy that traffic spills out onto a street, causing traffic. Despite all the high-tech changes Chick-Fil-A has made - like having employees take orders with tablets or allowing customers to put in their orders on the app - this issue still doesn't have an easy fix. Even opening another location close to a busy one doesn't immediately solve the problem, Cathy's father, Dan Cathy, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle in September.
"We found that doesn't solve the problem," Dan Cathy, who remained chairman after Cathy became CEO on Nov. 1, said. "It is a huge well, which makes us realize how much growth potential we still have here in the U.S. There's a big drive-off factor: We estimate about 30% of the people are driving off, driving away, because the lines are so long. So there's a lot of growth here in the U.S."
Perhaps Chick-Fil-A could dissuade customers from showing up to their locations by beefing up its delivery service? That's one idea Cathy has in mind, calling the delivery business a "big game-changer" for the company. He pointed to a Philadelphia restaurant that was making half of its volume from just DoorDash orders. "So we see that's going to be a major game-changer for us, so much so that we are having to move some of that production off-site into what we call ghost kitchens or dark kitchens," Cathy told the Business Chronicle. "That's another big growth opportunity."
Cathy also hopes simplifying kitchens will help Chick-Fil-A restaurants serve customers quicker. In Ventura County, California, the company built "the world's largest lemon juicing operation," he said. "It's got 17 robots juicing 1.2 million pounds of lemons a day out there supplying lemons to all of our stores. And it dramatically simplifies things in our kitchen," he said. They use a high-pressure pasteurized system that kills microbes to give the juice a two-week self-life.
As for the "just open a new Chick-Fil-A" plan, even Cathy admits that's not going to work forever. "I think another challenge that we've got is going to be how fast we can deploy our capital and our resources to how fast the market is changing," he said. "And it's easy to just open up 50 more Chick-fil-A restaurants versus taking that same capital and swallowing hard and taking the risk of investing it into here we think the puck is headed. Where the risk may be greater, the opportunity may be greater, but you don't know that yet." Cathy didn't say anything about opening on Sundays, so it looks like that idea will never be considered.