Whether you bought a Chick-fil-A sandwich yesterday or decided to boycott the chain, you might find Darren Grem’s post at Religion in American History to be informative. Grem, who teaches southern U.S. history at the University of Mississippi, is writing a book on evangelical corporate America that features Chick-fil-A and the Cathy family. His very thorough post is the best thing I have read on this whole controversy. It even includes a Chick-fil-A “cashflow map.”
Here is a taste:
Operators at Chick-fil-A are like independent small business owners, giving a certain cut to the front office in Atlanta but generally recycling whatever they earn each quarter back into their own restaurant. Few operators own or operate more than one CFA location. Hence, they retain a certain independence in hiring and firing decisions and even in whether they parrot or object to upper management’s take on business decisions or the current controversy. (Case in point: The CFA location in Decatur, a relatively diverse community in east Atlanta, tried to come out in front of the story and defuse any public perception that they were discriminatory, at least in terms of in-store service or public service. It stopped short of gay rights advocacy, though they certainly went farther than Cathy in noting “sexual orientation.”) Most operators are married men. None, I would guess, are gay. Most restaurants shoot for the “kid-friendly” vibe common in other national fast-food chains (play ports, kids’ meals, etc.) without being exclusively a “family” branded place and space like, say, ChuckECheese. They want teenagers, single adults, and, yes, people of any sexual orientation to come through their doors and buy the chicken. The bottom line is a bottom line, of sorts.
…a decision to boycott a local CFA will most likely directly affect that location first and the larger company last, although as YouGov recently reported, just the threat of boycott and public discussion of Cathy’s comments have had an effect. More specifically, boycotts would generally lead to the cutting down of hours or firing for floor workers first, operational costs second, the larger company third, and the Cathy family last. This is because CFA places most of the risk and cost for running a CFA to the independent owner. This insulates the broader company from systemic risk; hence, the point of a franchise model they’ve adopted. The opposite is also true for any “buy-cotts” that Mike Huckabee or other conservative organizations may have planned. It would probably go first to the operator and floor workers, operations second, and so on.