February 07, 2007

Chick-Fil-A and the Straw-Coke Thing

It’s not all that deep, nor is it terribly interesting, yet it’s important enough that I’m taking ten minutes to write about it, this straw-Coke thing.

In the South, we USians are fortunate to have a fast-ish food joint called Chick-Fil-A. My understanding is that it’s run by a conservative evangelical type, but I don’t know enough about the company to say if that’s true, and it’s not the point of the straw-Coke thing.

Well maybe it is, but I’m claiming it’s not.

I don’t go to Chick-Fil-A often, but as quick food goes, their chicken breast sandwiches are not all that unhealthy, plus they taste good.

What little tendency I have toward ADD seems to love the Chick-Fil-A brand. It took more than a year after first arriving in Atlanta for someone to stop and inquire, “What are you saying?” when I asked if they wanted me to bring them anything back from the drive through.

“Chick-A-Fil,” I announced. “I’m going to grab a sandwich.”

“You’re kidding, right? ‘Chick-A-Fil’?”

The entire front desk staff doubled over when it became clear that I indeed thought the name was Chick-A-Fil – as in ‘fill you up with chicken.’

Old Habits Are Hard to Break

Even after I learned the real name, it was hard to break the old habit. It became an office joke—I’d write post-it-notes saying, “at chickafill, be rt bk!” and stick them on my monitor. Countless lunch discussions focused around which brand would really be better for the company: A-Fil or Fil-A. You could call it a meme. Or not.

But this isn’t even about that.

It’s about this week and the straw-Coke thing.

There has been, no secret if you read here or there, a ruckus going on at Tara’s blog, which emerged from what some -- present company included -- saw as her dogmatic, even careless, approach to discussing a loaded topic with her commentors, an approach I happen to think she takes too often, nice though she may be.

I have been knocking the whole thing around in my head for a day or more, trying to figure out what part of the interaction was bugging me the most.

As it happened, clarity was waiting at the Chick-Fil-A drive-through window.

It Really Is That Simple

As I was paying for my chicken breakfast bagel this morning, the cashier handed me my drink with my change. As usual, I sat staring at my drink wishing she’d given me the straw that goes with it.

But they never do.

At Chick-Fil-A, they always give you the drink, and you have to fish your straw out of the bag later, once you start driving.

I was thirsty, so I asked for my straw.

She went and got one with a smile. And I decided to ask:

“Why do you guys always wait to hand out the straw? It's pretty stupid. I mean, why not hand it over with the drink? Drink-Straw, Straw-Drink.”

She explained to me that usually they try to “expedite” orders so that there is just a little time between the drink and the bag of food with the straw in it. But usually that doesn’t work. Especially at breakfast.

So I said, “You don’t even have the straws nearby do you?” She shook her head, “They’re with the assembler—he puts them in the bag after he wraps the food.”

I decided to talk to her a little more. “But I’m thirsty when I get my drink. Doesn’t it make sense to have a straw with the soda?” She shook her head yes. “You wouldn’t believe how many people ask me for the straw after I hand them the drink.”

I told her maybe I would let Chick-Fil-A know that the straw-in-the-bag thing isn’t working.

She smiled and said she’d like that because she spends a lot of time getting straws.

The Generosity of Saying, "That's Stupid."

Beyond remembering that flawed processes tend to get passed along in franchise businesses – and downstream to the customer in all businesses – the interaction at the drive through window brought me some clarity on what’s been bugging me the last couple of days.

There is a generosity in telling someone they’re wrong, and there is generosity in hearing it.

When you take the time to explore with me where I’m off track—that’s an act of generosity from you, no matter how much I think I’m right.

“Enlightened” is not shutting you down for telling me what I don’t know, and making sure everything resolves to the easy key-of-C “My Truth and Your Truth.”

Enlightened is owning up, is learning and reapproaching, is stepping down into the muck, not stepping away from common filth onto the pedestal. Enlightened is willing, is stupid and messy, but is so much more beautiful than pretty.

It’s saying, “The fucking straw does belong with the Coke. How’d I miss that all this time?”

And maybe even saying, "Thanks."