I’ve seen a lot of social media comments over the past day or so about the Chick-fil-A campout that, let’s just say, aren’t the kindest. I won’t get into what people have said, because it’s not important. But the general question has been something along the lines of, “Why in the world would people camp in a parking lot to get a free meal at Chick-fil-A?” And as someone who just did exactly that, let me explain my personal reasons.
Chick-fil-A has been a “want” for Claremore citizens for several years. In fact, the Facebook page “Bring a Chick-fil-A to Claremore, Oklahoma” was formed in 2009. A couple years ago, CIEDA ran a voting campaign, asking folks what they want to see in town, and the popular chicken restaurant won by a landslide. And now, as of 6:30a on August 24, the dream has become a reality.
At each location opening, there is the First 100 Campout. Customers can start lining up 24 hours before the restaurant’s grand opening for a chance to win “Chick-fil-A for a year.” Attendees don’t have to be there exactly 24 hours in advance, but it increases the chances of success. Each person who shows up is given a wristband and a number, and people are welcome to check in until the magic number of 100 is reached. Additionally, 10 alternates are chosen, to accommodate those who fail to complete the challenge.
When Travis and I first heard about the campout, we were excited. We thought it would be something fun to do, and we saw it as an opportunity to showcase moreClaremore and spread our message, as well. A bit selfish, perhaps, but necessary. We were fortunate in our positions, as we were able to meet owner-operators Jane and Brian Treat in advance. We were invited several weeks ago for a behind-the-scenes tour before the restaurant opened. We shot a live Facebook video at that time, which was viewed by more than 50k people. We scored invitations to the VIP soft opening night, and were immediately impressed by the friendliness and the professionalism of every Chick-fil-A employee that we met. The day before the campout, we had lunch delivered by one of the marketing crew.
There is a huge team of people in charge of opening new locations. This year alone, 117 new Chick-fil-As will open across the country, and these team members will be there with their smiles and “my pleasures”. It’s clear that these folks know what they’re doing, and they do it well.
Travis and I arrived at the restaurant 24 hours in advance, around 5:30a on Wednesday. We were given numbers 16 and 17. After some brief paperwork, we were instructed to set up our camp site, and move our cars, and then…stay. By mid-morning, there were only about 40 people in attendance, and that gave us the chance to visit with several new friends. Our host for the event was a gentleman named Ricky, who hails from South Carolina, and he did a phenomenal job. Think ‘cruise director’, only in an Oklahoma parking lot. He was in charge of the music, organizing a bunch of games, and generally just keeping the mood upbeat and fun. All of the game winners were awarded CFA prizes, and they had all the swag: tumblers, sunglasses, coffee mugs, cowbells, stuffed cows, handheld misters, and gift cards.
Arrangements were made in advance to pack meals for the needy; we divided up into teams and in less than two hours, packed more than 10,000 meals, which were donated to the food pantries at Good Samaritan Ministries and First United Methodist Church, both here in town.
Campers were provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as an endless supply of water, coffee, and tea. We even capped off the evening with an ice cream party before bed. Kona Ice of Green Country came for two hours in the middle of the afternoon and provided bottomless sno-cones. Cedar Point Church showed up with ice cream sandwiches and cans of soda.
As the day went on, more campers began to arrive, with several showing up after finishing work for the day. Was it a bummer that we were there for 24 hours while numbers 90 and above were only there for 10 or so? No, because we had a blast! The weather was amazing, and stayed below 100 degrees, for once.
Our campsite had electricity, so we brought a TV and our computers and enjoyed several episodes of Friends. Travis and I watched Grease at 3a. But honestly, there wasn’t that much down time, because Ricky was fantastic at drawing everyone out and getting people involved. The evening featured a lip sync battle and an hour of dance instruction, all of which was captured by campers with drones.
At 5a, Ed, the marketing man in charge, brought out his trumpet and played Reveille to get everyone up and moving. We lined up and received t-shirts and high fives from the Chick-fil-A cow. At promptly 6a, we were filed through the restaurant to a chorus of cowbells and each received our gift card from Brian and Jane, good for 52 combo meals. “Chick-fil-A for a year” is loosely translated, as we can use the meals any time we wish, and we aren’t limited to one per week, or even one per day. We can also use the meals for our friends, so be nice.
Overall, it was a really fun experience. It’s definitely a bucket list item, as we’ll never have the opportunity to camp at the Claremore Chick-fil-A again! We made some new pals, and my Facebook friends list is a little bit longer today. I’m glad we took time to get to know some of the marketing team members, as it’s fascinating to hear their stories. And agree or not, my personal opinion is that the culture of Chick-fil-A is entirely different from other eating establishments. While it’s speedy, it’s definitely not ‘fast food.’ The lemonade is hand squeezed daily. All of the produce is hand cut in the restaurant each day. All of the chicken is breaded by hand. Every single patty and each nugget and strip. Each restaurant has a pepper mill, which allows team members to walk through the dining room to offer fresh ground pepper to customers enjoying salads. You won’t find that at any other restaurant with a drive-thru.
So if you get a chance, stop by and grab yourself a chicken sandwich and some waffle fries. We’ve been waiting a long time for them to be here. I’ll be eating there frequently, and not just because I have 52 free meals. I really enjoy the food and the atmosphere, and it would be my pleasure to support Chick-fil-A Claremore any day of the week…except Sunday.
*Drone photography courtesy of Levi Green and Matt Wood.