This week I got to participate in one of my very favorite events ever: The Chick-fil-A First 100 campout! Chick-fil-A has finally opened a restaurant in the Bloomingdale area of my town, so my husband and I made sure to be a part of its Grand Opening, and by the end of it we each earned a card loaded with fifty-two #1 Combos. That's over $300 worth of chicken each, and this was my third time doing it! As an extrovert, former employee, and admirer of all things Chick-fil-A, I of course relish being part of the First 100 and I would do it even if there wasn't free chicken at the end. So I welcome you to join my enthusiasm and make plans to attend the next Grand Opening near you! :)
The basic premise of the event is this: Arrive at your new Chick-fil-A the day before it opens, usually at 6 am on a Wednesday. If there are more than 100 people present, there will be a raffle determining which adults get to be participants. Participants, their guests over age 5, and alternates (who get to move up in the line if someone is disqualified or receive a consolation prize) then camp out in the parking lot of Chick-fil-A and stay overnight. The next morning, everyone is awakened before the restaurant opens and they are awarded their prizes. Here's the grand prize in all its glory:
Every Grand Opening is different---and the Operators of my restaurant are particularly awesome and planned some extra-special activities and even service projects---but I figured I would share a photo-essay (terrible iPhone pics) of my experience and explain my biggest takeaway from the event...yep, it was even bigger than a year's worth of chicken. It's such a privilege to be part of the #CFAfirst100!
6 am - We arrived. Thankfully there were only 80-something people there so we were able to skip the raffle and start on the paperwork. (By the way, I'm pretty sure there will still openings into the afternoon!) This disclosure-reading and waiver-signing is definitely the most boring part of the event. It's not like we're going to read anything appalling that's going to make us leave, anyway. We're committed to the cow.
8 am - We were permitted to visit our cars one final time to set up camp in the parking lot. Passersby are always quite confused by the spectacle of it all, and that's one of the best parts about this thing. There's also a strong sense of community, solidarity, and love for chicken. And I was beginning to catch a whiff of peanut oil because...
9 am - They fed us! Apparently the restaurant is not required to feed the campers, but I'd assume that most do. So we relished our chicken biscuits and played some Tenzi with our friends. (Tenzi is a really fun and simple game, by the way.)
10 am - I always bring books and notebooks to these things so I can do something productive. Doesn't happen! Chick-fil-A has too many fun things planned! They bring in an awesome emcee/DJ/game guy/announcer and there's stuff to do almost every hour...and it usually involves giveaways. This is my friend Andrew nae-naeing for some extra swag during Name That Tune.
I also won a coloring book and pencils. I just loved Chick-fil-A more and more every minute of this thing.
And there was a quite intense Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship. #TeamKathleen
1 pm - We ordered lunch and walked through the drive-thru. Peter pretended to be inside a car and roll down his window. I really like that about him. Also, lunch renewed my appreciation for the Strips; I really think they're the meatiest option on the menu.
Afternoon - As I said earlier, this Grand Opening did some really special stuff. One of the highlights was that they invited us to volunteer to help package food for Meals on Wheels and prepare 10,000 servings of dried soup packets through Feeding Children Everywhere. There was some awesome teamwork involved with people who were formerly complete strangers. My crew was the Dream Team as far as ingredient-pouring goes, by the way.
They also brought in an 85-year-old Zumba instructor from our local YMCA. She was amazing, we were sweating like crazy, and my evil husband recorded some of it on Facebook Live. Here is a screenshot.
They also brought in a drum circle instructor! Peter beasted it on the djembe. (The couple in the background is the Operator and his wife, Paul and Tammy! They're awesome!)
6 pm - After a day full of fun and serving others, we were fed dinner and it was delicious. At this point in the day I tend to get extremely sad that this event is almost over.
7 pm - There were more games! We had a Lip Synch battle (with none other than the Cow as our background dancer) and I performed a mediocre rendition of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. One of my favorites was a lady who was dressed as a cow lip-synching "Call Me Maybe" with the Cow. The night just gets weirder and---you guessed it---more awesome. And seriously, what other fast food restaurant has a lovable mascot? (Ronald McDonald is way past his prime.)
9 pm - Again, Chick-fil-A doesn't have to give anyone a night-night snack but 3/3 of the Grand Openings I've attended have provided this. At this special Grand Opening, however, we received both a cookie and ice cream. I'm not sure why all this sugar was given to us right before we were supposed to sleep, but it was glorious nonetheless. Those cookies have no equal.
10 pm - And then it was nighttime. Or at least it was supposed to be, but some people thought bedtime was the best opportunity to play cornhole louder than ever. I never knew I could hate the sound of a tossed bean-bag so much, and I almost cried or screamed or spoke some stern words to these young men...but then some kind stranger silenced them for me. And I fell asleep.
4 am - I heard people talking, so I woke up. My poor, stubborn husband insisted that air mattresses are better than cots, but alas, I felt well-rested, and he was sleeping on the cold hard ground because his bed deflated almost immediately.
After taking a moment to feel sorry for him, I wandered out into the tent village to try to find cameramen who would consider featuring me on their news segment. It didn't work. So I just tried to be in the background whenever they were filming. Let me know if you saw me.
5 am - In my experience, Chick-fil-A wants to wake you up in annoying-and-loud fashion. Historically that has meant going around to our tents and banging pots and pans, but for this event they brought in a trumpet player from Newsome High School to play the Reveille. So we packed up our tents and waited in line to get our armbands checked and...
5:30 am - Voila! Once receiving our oddly-fitting shirts and dorky hats, we paraded through the restaurant and exchanged this card for the one displayed at the beginning. And alas, yet again the fifty-two free #1 combos were ours. It was all so worth it, and as I stated previously, I would do this even without those fifty-two free #1 combos.
So what was the most incredible part of this adventure? What was my biggest takeaway?
Well, $300+ worth of chicken was definitely a big takeaway.
But I received something even better: a lesson.
The joy of servanthood.
This event (and the others I have attended) have been simply shocking in some ways. The marketing team---and all the staff, really---makes it clear that they are here to serve us. To serve us! We are taking $34,000 worth of free chicken---plus however much it cost to run this event!---but we are not treated as free-loaders. We are treated as honored guests.
This reminded me of when I trained as a Chick-fil-A employee and learned that corporate policy is "Going the Second Mile," borrowing directly from Jesus's words in which He said that if someone makes you go a mile with them, go two. Jesus called us to consider ourselves "last of all and servant of all." And Chick-fil-A, though certainly not staffed exclusively by Christians who treasure Jesus, takes this seriously, and that's part of what contributes to the joy and light-heartedness of events like this.
In conclusion, I had an amazing time, I learned from the example of the amazing staff that hosted this event that putting others before myself can actually make me happier, and...I've got some Chick-fil-A sandwich credits burning in my pockets.
I hope you can do one of these in your lifetime as well!
Check the website frequently and make sure your zipcode qualifies. Eat Mor Chikin.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 26, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 6, 4, 3, and squishy-baby. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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