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Free sandwiches score big

We hollered, cheered and clapped in excitement as Alabama won over Virginia Tech in a much anticipated battle of national powers. It was first meaningful football game of the new season and was billed as the second annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome last Saturday.

Then, just as instructed during the ABC telecast, we ate as guests of the sponsor on Labor Day, joining a hungry line of other fans in the Northpark Mall food court.

From where son Grant and I sat, watched and chewed, everybody seemed to be a winner. Smiling faces everywhere gave it away.

Wearing our school-logo identifying shirts, again as instructed, we were greeted at the busy counter by a grinning young employee who gave each of us a free original chicken sandwich simply for showing up and taking part in the nationwide Labor Day Giveaway promotion.

That he also bagged the optional waffle fries, water and peach milk shake we ordered was part of the, uh, plan, too, but even so, we dined on a meal that would have normally cost $11 for less than $5.

We weren’t alone.

Patrons wearing shirts, shorts and caps with logos and insignias for Ole Miss, State, Southern, Jackson State, Belhaven and Millsaps joined us. So did fans of Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Georgetown and Arkansas, high school supporters of St. Andrews, Ridgeland and Murrah and elementary backers of Madison Avenue, Boyd and Madison-Ridgeland Academy.

Chances are, unsuspecting fans not even aware of the promotion, even benefited  

While there were no bands or cheerleaders to prompt organized yells, songs or even outbursts, there was no doubting the festiveness of the occasion, even as competitors successfully hawked their own tasty treats.

Free is one of those still acceptable four-letter words.

And Michael Hancock liked it better than most.

“We gave away 350 sandwiches,” the corporate-appointed interim manager for the ownerless store, beamed. “That’s pretty good on a Monday in a (mall) store like this.” Pressed, he admitted the day’s volume nearly doubled normal sales and probably increased smiles as well.

“Chick-fil-A,” he continued, “had a good day.”

He said one Houston store gave away 2,000 sandwiches, adding there are 1,433 stores in 38 states and 21 in Mississippi before leaving a questioner alone to do the math. Figuring conservatively each location matched the Northpark Mall performance, you’re talking a half million sandwiches.

The Giveaway was introduced last year when chicken strips were offered as a priceless bargain by the Atlanta-based company that was founded as “The Dwarf Grill” in 1946 by Truett Cathy.

Hancock, suggesting the obvious, expects the concept to continue.

“It’s a fun day,” he said. “For the customer, it’s something different. They seemed grateful and while I am surprised by the number of people who haven’t tried our sandwich, you can tell they’ll be coming back. Our employees like the day, too. If they want, they can wear their own team colors and some of them really get into the spirit of things. I heard a lot of good-natured rivalry talk and some real excitement.”

The promotion probably did little to increase the number of fans who watched the game, but, then, that wasn’t the idea. Instead, Chick-fil-A wanted to blend brands, introduce products and sell units. That happened, further entrenching the company’s clever link to college football’s ever-growing popularity to its reputation for quality food, excellent service and Sunday closings, not to mention renegade cows that encourage folks to “Eat Mor Chickin.’”  

Now, it isn’t likely you’ll see those zany animals grazing on the lush, manicured fairways of Augusta National Golf Club just down the road from the company’s headquarters anytime soon, but less sacred and hallowed ground may not be as far off as you might expect.

While special recipes may be stored in closely guarded vaults, it’s no secret big time sporting events, food and drink simply go together as a smart business combination. The jingle of financial success they register on economic scoreboards is unmistakable.

 

Contact MBJ editor and publisher Ed Darling at ed.darling@msbusiness.com or by calling (601) 364-1021.

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