When the staff at my nearest Chick-fil-A started calling me by name, I knew I’d probably crossed the line from “frequent guest” into “tea addict” or “chicken stalker” status.
Since I work from home, slaving away all day over a hot keyboard, I often use Chick-fil-A like my own personal kitchen – one that’s around the corner and down the street. It’s much better than my real kitchen because I’ve never once had to cook food in the Chick-fil-A kitchen, nor do they expect me to clean it up. You can see why it was so easy to fall in love, right?
When Chick-fil-A launched a new smartphone app last June, my relationship with the restaurant went to a whole new level. The app remembers what I like to eat, including special instructions like “extra ice” or “more sweet than unsweet” tea. It already knows I want ranch dressing with my salad. It feels like this app just “gets me.” Even my own husband doesn’t know my favorite order the way Chick-fil-A does.
Using the app allows me to bypass the line both inside and outside the restaurant. Although the drive-through option was nice, the line at my Chick-fil-A typically stretches all the way around the building – sometimes meandering into the adjacent parking lot (which means I’m not the only one with a committed relationship to waffle fries.) But with the app, I submit an order via smartphone and request to pick it up “curbside.”
Then I park in the designated spot and wait for a well-mannered employee to magically appear at my driver’s side window with order in hand. Not only do they walk it out to my car, they also reward me for using the app by giving me free “treats” that occasionally appear on the app screen like a gift in my smartphone stocking.
Sometimes I fear that all this extreme convenience may have eliminated the last good reason I had to put on real pants. With curbside service, you can wear pajama pants, your rattiest t-shirt and zero makeup, and the lovely Chick-fil-A people will still act like it’s their pleasure to serve you. The only person who has seen me looking worse is Tom, who was present when I gave birth.
My co-dependent relationship with Chick-fil-A was going so well until a few months ago when something shocking happened. The restaurant replaced my beloved barbecue dipping sauce with a new version called “Smokehouse Barbecue.” The package was the same, but the taste was different. The next time I was there, I asked for the regular barbecue sauce, but they said it was gone.
“Gone?” I asked. “Forever?”
“Yes, I think so,” she replied.
I felt blindsided. I hadn’t even had time to say goodbye to the original barbecue sauce or stockpile extra packets of it before they put it out to dipping sauce pasture. I asked if they thought it might come back one day, as if it was just gone on an extended safari to Africa. But they shook their heads no. It was the first time a Chick-fil-A employee had replied with anything other than “my pleasure.” I’m not going to lie. It stung.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that barbecue-flavored betrayal. After a national outcry on social media, the restaurant did what good spouses do when they realize they’ve made a mistake reminiscent of the New Coke debacle. They listened and then they made it right. Last week, my local Chick-fil-A staff confirmed that they are bringing back the old barbecue sauce this November.
It might be a little thing, but it feels like a big deal when someone listens and takes care of you, even on the little things. When the original sauce returns in a few weeks, I’ll be there waiting anxiously at curbside, proof that absence does indeed make the stomach grow hungrier.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.