Chick-fil-A has come under fire in the past for becoming entangled with policy issues relating to marriage and family. But family is clearly still an area the company is concerned about. The fast-food chain has begun implementing creative and concrete ways to make the dining experience easier and more enjoyable for families.
The first of these was the launch of “Mom’s Valet,” a service targeting moms, in particular millennial moms most likely to be eating with small children, whereby moms can order in the drive-through, park, and walk in to eat. The staff prepare a table in advance, with the needed amount of high chairs and boosters already in place, and then serve the pre-ordered food directly to the mom and kids, entirely eliminating the most difficult part of going to a place like Chick-fil-A: wrangling the kids in line.
Chick-fil-A’s vice president of menu strategy and development told Business Insider that the idea came about after staff noticed how hectic the ordering experience was for parents with small children. I experienced this myself not too long ago at a McDonald’s. I was helping a family member who was ill by taking her three-year-old off her hands, and took him and my two toddlers to the restaurant for ice cream cones. Waiting in line and ordering was a monumental task.
Just months after Chick-fil-A rolled out Mom’s Valet at some locations, it announced another family-oriented idea called “Cell Phone Coops” tied to what they termed the Chick-fil-A Family Challenge. Cell phone coops are foldable cardboard boxes akin to the McDonald’s Happy Meal box. Families can request one at participating restaurants, use it to store all electronic devices during the meal, and then inform a worker that they ate together without anyone looking at their phones and receive a free ice cream cone for everyone in the family.
That cell phones are a major intrusion into family life is no secret. The Washington Post reported that of the more than half of Americans that own smartphones, a third report using it during dinner. Another study found that the mere sight of smartphones altered people’s behavior and engagement with one another, making people feel more distracted and “more likely to miss subtle cues, facial expressions, and changes in the tone of their conversation partner’s voice, and have less eye contact.” Yet another study found that 90 percent of respondents reported feeling ignored by a family member for a smartphone at least weekly.
And in a study most relevant to Chick-fil-A’s latest initiative, 55 families were observed eating meals at fast-food restaurants by Boston Medical Center researchers. Professionals in developmental behavioral pediatrics observed parents in 40 of the 55 families were absorbed by their smartphones. In some cases, children ate in silence as their parents ignored them. In others, children acted out in a bid for their parents’ attention. The lead author of the study said of their observations: “The conclusion I wouldn’t draw from the study, is that we need to completely remove these devices when we are with our children. But it does raise the issue that we need to create boundaries for these devices when we are with our children.”
Cell phone coops to the rescue!
It’s hard to parent in a digital age where employers expect to reach employees at all hours and receive an immediate response. But thirty minutes of uninterrupted conversation over waffle fries and chicken sandwiches is invaluable family time. Chick-fil-A’s Family Challenge is a brilliant and non-judgmental tool to offer parents a manageable way to stake out some boundaries.
After the controversy following Chick-fil-A’s support of traditional marriage, the company released a statement saying that it would leave that “policy debate” to “the government and political arena.” But its recent innovative efforts show that marriage and family are not just private matters, nor ones confined to the realm of politics. Rather, they show that family life is very much enmeshed with the business world, and that for-profit companies, especially those that cater to families, can still do a lot to promote a culture where families can thrive.