By Adam Perkinson
It’s lunchtime. You woke up at 7:15 and you live 20 minutes away from school, so you didn’t get breakfast. The stomach rumblings started halfway through first period, and by the time C lunch rolls around, you’re practically about to pass out from hunger. You don’t even bother to check where your friends are going because you already know. They’ve gone to the same place for the past 3 weeks since it opened — *the* Heritage Chick-Fil-A. The C-lunch bell rings, and before you know it, you’re in your car, driving 35 miles an hour through the parking lot for a frigging chicken sandwich.
You get there and the line is 13 cars deep, but you wait, because that chicken sandwich is the best one this side of the Mississippi. Each second is like an hour, and each minute is like a day, but you patiently wait as you slowly creep closer and closer to the kind young man wearing a hi-vis vest, red polo, and khaki pants. After what feels like a year has passed — in reality, it was 3 and a half minutes — you pull up next to him and are immediately greeted with a liberal wafting of chicken, french fries, and a hint of dill pickle emanating from the exhaust vents from the kitchen. You order your go-to: a number one combo meal with diet lemonade. You get 1 Polynesian and 1 chick-fil-a sauce, throw some money at the cashier and pull away so fast your tires screech, covering up a faint “my pleasure” only to slam on the brakes a mere 10 feet later. A few moments later, you get your food. You punch the throttle and race back to campus; for the less than a mile drive, all you can think about is making sure you don’t eat all of your fries before you get your sandwich.
You pull back into your parking spot and throw your car into park. You pull out your sandwich and put the chick-fil-a sauce — you had the Polynesian sauce yesterday — on the top bun. By now, the smell is overwhelming, and if you don’t eat, you’re sure you’ll throw up. And so finally, you bite the slightly-toasted brioche bun, sinking your teeth into the juicy, tender, chick-sauce-infused chicken breast. Each bite is like a miliscopic transcendence to heaven and back; not to mention how the salt from the french fries you eat in between every other bite of sandwich counteracts the sweetness of the Chick-Fil-A sauce. It’s a genuinely mind-blowing event.
And so that is Chick-Fil-A. Home of *the* Chicken Sandwich, synonymous with quality and customer service. It’s these three things alone that have put the fast-food chicken restaurant on a pedestal, putting to shame places like Bojangles and Zaxby’s. So high a pedestal, in fact, that dozens of people camped out for 12 hours in 30-degree weather for — only 52 — free chicken sandwiches when the Rogers Road location opened last month. But is this pedestal too high? How good can processed chicken really be?
Let’s start with the prices. Arguably the biggest selling point of any for-profit business, a chicken sandwich meal with fries and a medium drink (anything smaller than a medium is just a waste of money and should not even be considered) will set you back $5.95, or just at $7 including taxes. That’s not too bad, but compared to Bojangles’ 4 Piece Supreme Dinner, which comes with 4 boneless tenders, biscuit, a side, and a “free” iced tea for basically 50c more, it’s hard to see why you’d want to pay more for less food. Even a chicken biscuit with fries and a drink is just $6 from Bojangles’.
But let’s say you don’t want a sandwich or greasy tenders. The Cobb Salad (chopped fried or grilled nuggets, cheddar, and Monterey jack cheese, roasted corn, egg, tomato, and bacon) and a drink will cost you around $11.50 from Chick-Fil-A. From Zaxby’s, the Cobb “Zalad” with a drink will cost you right at $9.50 for essentially the same exact thing. Basically, almost everything from Chick-Fil-A is going to cost you around $1.50-$2.50 more than if you went somewhere else. You might not think it’s much, but even a dollar extra a meal adds up quickly.
But ignore the prices for a moment and focus on the quality of the food alone. To keep this discussion concise, I’m going to focus solely on what’s made Chick-Fil-A famous — the chicken sandwich. While Chick-Fil-A’s claim that they invented the chicken sandwich is largely unsubstantiated, it’s more widely accepted that they were the first fast-food restaurant to have one when they introduced it in March 1964. They’re not the only ones to have a chicken sandwich, and perhaps their biggest rival is the Louisiana-based Popeyes’. When they introduced their sandwich in late August 2019, people were going as far as stabbing one another over it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see anyone getting stabbed over a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. But since I haven’t had the chance to have a Popeyes’ sandwich myself, I asked my friends who had eaten both what they thought. However, something Heritage senior Izzy Fowlkes said grabbed my attention. “I’ve only had Popeyes’ once, so I’d say Chick-Fil-A, mainly because it always tastes the same and is never disappointing,” she said. “Popeyes’ was good only because it was something different.”
Her comment about it only being good simply because it wasn’t Chick-Fil-A made me realize something — whether we’ve realized it or not, Chick-Fil-A has slowly become the gold standard for what fast food should be like. They put other fast food joints like Zaxby’s and Popeye’s to shame (I’d also say Bojangles, but I’m a bit too partial for that). Chick-Fil-A is one of the most consistent restaurants in terms of not only the quality of food, but also in their astounding customer service. In my experience, I’ve never been to a “bad” Chick-Fil-A. Compare that to Bojangles, wherein the Wake Forest area alone, there’s a definitive “good” one and a “bad” one. And don’t even get me started on Popeye’s customer service — it should speak for itself. Chick-Fil-A has set the bar high for everyone else, and it’s unclear whether or not anyone will ever be able to reach it.