Chick-fil-A's Smart Family Play

There are no shortage of QSR and fast food chains with an app to call their own, and strong will to earn a prime spot on potential diner's phones. Starbucks is quite literally the class of the league, with not only the most successful restaurant mobile app, but arguably one of the more successful mobile payments products to boot. But where there is success, there are bound to be followers and a quick list of quick bites offering even faster mobile enhanced chow on the go includes Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, White Castle, Domino's, Dunkin' Donuts and of course the widely beloved Taco Bell app.

Some are stripped down and simple, offering users an opportunity to get their food as fast as they can key in an order like White Castle's. Dunkin', on the other hand, has honed in on mobile as the center piece of its digital loyalty program, one of many to have taken a page from the Starbucks rewards playbook. Some offered free food. Taco Bell most notably gave anyone with the app and reasonably strong stomach a chance to answer the question "what would a taco wrapped in a Dorito taste like?"

And while different apps have enjoyed varying levels of review praise, consumer love and time in the spotlight of buzz generation, fast food apps in general don't have the sort of chart topping power that say social media, messaging or ride-sharing apps tend to.

Regardless of consumer buzz, fast food apps just don't tend to be at the top of the charts.

"Because, really, what fast-food ordering app would be?" posed The Atlantic.

Well the world got an answer to that last week. Chick-fil-A, with its newly released One app, has managed to climb to the top of the charts. Upon release, it was downloaded about a million times in three days and dominated the Apple app store, literally knocking Facebook, Snapchat and Spotify down a peg or two.

How did it do it?

A Solid Offering From A Comparably Small Player 

Now on some level that isn't too surprising. Chick-fil-A built a solid digital offering that allows consumers to order ahead, join a rewards program, customize order and pay, all while offering the very tangibly tasty reward of a free sandwich merely for downloading the app itself.

These features are certainly desirable, but they are none too unique. Lots of other fast food joints offer similar services via their mobile app. And Chick-fil-A is far from the biggest or most impressive player in the field. There are a little over 2,000 Chic-fil-As in the U.S., mostly clustered in the American south. McDonald's by comparison has almost 15,000 U.S. locations, and Taco Bell still more than triples Chick-fil-A up.

And apart from fewer stores to work with, Chick-fil-A works within fewer hours. While many fast food brands are increasingly competing to be the most flexible with largest number of food choices for the maximum number of hours per week, Chick-fil-A has decided to go more or less in the opposite direction. Stores close at 10, breakfast is served in the morning (though does prominently include chicken) and there are no Chick-fil-As open anywhere in the U.S. on a Sunday. The chain was founded by a deeply devout Baptist.

And that devotion, notably, has led to Chick-fil-A being a somewhat controversial firm that as recently as three years ago faced a massive boycott over comments by its CEO on LGBT issues (followed by a counter-protest in surge of support for the sandwich chain, followed by a compromise wherein Chick-fil-A agreed to re-aim its charitable efforts toward something other than the defense of traditional marriage).

Family Matters 

Chick-fil-A may have softened its focus on traditional marriage, but it has sharpened its marketing appeal to one particular consumer group on fast food consumers more sharply: young parents.

Particularly, young parents who are well served by the Chick-fil-A order ahead app, because young parents really, really hate standing in line waiting for food with hungry children.

Eighty-two percent of millennial parents say they would do almost anything to avoid long lines at fast food restaurants when they are with their children,” the company noted in the press release announcing the launch of the app.

“In fact, nearly half (48 percent) said they would rather not eat at all than stand in a line.”

We assume Chick-fil-A's numbers are accurate, with the possible caveat that it is possible that the 17 percent of young parents that answered no to the questions about hating lines were likely distracted by their offspring at the moment of the question and were possible saying "no" reflexively.

Chick-fil-A didn't bill its service as a technological marvel, nor did it pitch to the normal crowd when trying to get to the top of the app store. Instead of aiming at the young, hip, urban and mobile-enthused young millennial on the hunt for the next new thing, they have focused on the slightly older, less hip, increasingly suburban and mobile-enthused older millennial parent with young children who is always on the hunt for the latest in time-saving methods.

Chick-fil-A also pitches to that consumer's desire for quality time with their children by offering free ice cream to families that can get through an entire meal together with their smartphones locked safely away in a box while they eat. They've also updated their urban ordering systems to account for ultra popular venues like one in NYC where consumers are literally lining up for their Chick-fil-A sandwich around the block. Workers equipped with tablets work the line to take orders so that once a customer hits the register, their food is ready to go and still hot.

Chick-fil-A is small and strange by many regards, but it undeniably has ridden its unique path to undeniable success so far. Chick-fil-A does three times as many sales as KFC per year. Chick-fil-A's average sales per restaurant were over $3 million in 2015, outpacing McDonald's which sees an average of around $2.5 million.

Chick-fil-A's mobile app may look similar, but its approach to the QSR market is clearly working.

Which means it is well worth watching.



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