Technology time out: are you chikin’?

Published 10:15 am Wednesday, March 9, 2016

My family’s favorite fast food restaurant has done it again. In addition to all their other distinctives – the fresh-cut flowers on each table, the brownie samples, the servers outside with iPads in the double drive-through – they now have a plan to help diners disconnect in order to reconnect.

Chick-fil-A’s latest initiative, the “Cell Phone Coop Challenge,” invites customers to silence their mobile phones and put them in a small white box (chicken coop) at their table so they can eat without being tempted to check their devices. If customers are able to finish their entire meal without looking at their phones, they are rewarded with a free ice cream cone. More than 300 locations are participating in the offer.

The idea was the brainchild of Brad Williams, owner of two Chick-fil-A restaurants in Georgia. He told news outlets that he wanted his business to be place where family and friends spend quality time together, but electronics were getting in the way. Williams had, in fact, just watched a mother with two kids in tow spend her entire time at the table on her phone. “This got me thinking about what we could do to reduce this distraction during meals,” he remembered.

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That example got me thinking, too, so the next time my gang is gathered for a meal, they may be asked to put their phones in a designated drawer (our coop is already in use). Williams’ idea won’t make it to any Chick-fil-A tables in Vermont, though. That’s because there aren’t any. Recently I was at a meeting attended by a Vermont resident whose main goal while in the South, she said, was to eat at Chick-fil-A. “My area won’t let them in because of the stances they’ve taken,” she pointed out, referring to a 2011 homosexual marriage issue. The company culture hasn’t hurt its popularity elsewhere, though.  Chick-fil-A has been ranked by Business Insider as the best fast-food chain in America, with nearly $6 billion in annual sales.

There are other defining company culture characteristics as well. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday, something its founder, Truett Cathy, instituted early on, explaining that the decision was a “way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business.”  Interestingly enough, Chick-fil-A has an unparalleled record of 40 consecutive years of sales increases, with its restaurants achieving higher sales per unit in six days than most major chains in the industry.

But right now the focus is on the device-containing chicken coops, and rightly so.

“I wasn’t intentionally trying to start a movement. We just wanted to do something to get people to talk to each other again, to have a technology timeout, as we like to call it,” Williams told one reporter.

Good idea, Brad Williams. And while you’re fleshing out a corporate purpose statement that includes having a “positive influence on all who come into contact with Chick-fil-A”, the rest of us might do well to take another cue from your company. I think saying those famous three syllables, “my pleasure,” would go over nicely at my house, too. I’ll try it the next time I top off my husband’s sweet tea.


Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at