What Business Leaders Can Learn From McDonald’s Vs. Chik-fil-A

mcdonald'sEarlier this month, Bloomberg reported that McDonald’s is “taking aim” at Chick-fil-A by improving their chicken offerings. It’s no wonder as the trend toward consumption of chicken and away from beef is clear and compelling. The Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans consume 92 pounds of chicken per year and 57 pounds of beef.

Reportedly, the project at McDonald’s, dubbed “Better Chicken” has several key elements, including a buttermilk breading and use of anti-biotic free chicken. Emulating the formula for the product so beloved by Chick-fil-A customers may provide some lift to McDonald’s results. In 2016, Chick-fil-A generated $4.41 million per location. That compares with just $2.55 million for McDonald’s.

In full disclosure, I live in Atlanta and am an unabashed fan of Chick-fil-A. I have the Chick-fil-A app and know the lingo of “split tea” (that is ½ sweet and ½ unsweet for us transplants). Given the number of times I’ve been in a Chick-fil-A (hundreds) and my expertise in the use of observational research, I have a well-founded point of view.

“People who bring a holistic mindset to their work lead the most successful companies.”

McDonald’s, if you are going to take aim at Chick-fil-A, you would be well served to bring a more holistic mindset to your quest. If you are looking for a few more dollars, a small bump in performance, you can probably achieve that by copying them in terms of supply chain, recipes and condiments. These improvements will garner praise, raise the share price and make your current customers happy. That is not to be sneezed at.

There is a lot more money on the table that won’t be captured by the changes specified above. These will not improve the atmosphere in your stores, which varies wildly. I admit that a craving for an Egg McMuffin or your French fries (admittedly quite delicious) may lure some to ignore other aspects of the McDonalds experience that are less than stellar. How many of us drive past one of your stores to get to a Chick-fil-A, even if it is much further?

Selling more to current customers will increase revenue. What if you sold more to existing customers and on top of it, attracted new customers? Pick a conservative number. A new, or returning customer, who visits again and tells friends – what is that worth? I’ll answer… a fortune.

Chick-fil-A recipes are not just about the food. The recipe that is most important is the ethos of the company that shows up in tangible ways, in both the behavior of employees and the artifacts of their actions. Here are a few:

  1. The restaurants are clean. They look clean and no effort is spared to keep them so.
  2. The restrooms are clean and supplied with the necessities including soap and paper towels that literally and unconsciously tell the guest, “this place is clean.”
  3. The order takers are polite. They look you in the eye. They say, “you are welcome” and “my pleasure” and “it is my pleasure to serve you.” They do it with sincerity, not as a meaningless obligation.

This adds up to an ethic of care. Care for the myriad details that add up to an ethos of pride in the food and the experience in every aspect.  Alongside this is care for employees and franchisees. Care so deep that it leads to investment of money, time and, dare I say it – love.

People who bring a holistic mindset to their work lead the most successful companies. This implies an understanding of different geographies, but also the myriad elements of their business. Favoring any tactic over another may lead to a bump in performance; but without an enduring systemic view, these are temporary. The relentless pursuit of this mindset is what made Peter Drucker a remarkable expert on business, Warren Buffet an enduring icon of investment and Mary Barra courageous enough to take on the systemic issues at GM.

McDonald’s may do very well with a new chicken line-up but they can do even better by emulating the ethos of Chick-fil-A. Whether you are leading a restaurant company or one in a different industry, the lessons obtain.