Author’s Note: Nearly a year ago now, October 16, 2013 I camped out in a Chick Fil-A parking lot. I did this as part of their First 100 Event for new store openings.

I was out of work at the time, due to the government shutdown. I didn’t know how long it would last (15 days) or if I would be paid for any of it (I wasn’t).
But Chick Fil-A and their offering of 52 free meals for the next year and something to do for 24 hours, including three free meals during the event, was too good to pass up. I could stay home and not get paid, or I could go and try to be one of the first 100 people and have something to do for the next 24 hours.

This is not about Chick Fil-A’s policies. I wrote about that already this is a chance for an out-of-work guy to get some free food while the government tried to figure itself out.

For 24 hours, 100 people are camped out in the parking lot of a Chick Fil-A restaurant. They are all camping out for 24 hours to receive a year’s worth of weekly free meals to the restaurant. Is 24 hours of your life worth 52 free meals? For these 100 people, the answer is yes.

I am one of these 100 people. I am #94.

Chick Fil-A cup

I am camped out to receive my year of free meals. Why am I camped out in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant with 99 of my new best friends? For the free food. Also because it is a good story and I’ve met some interesting people. Including a duo of other furloughed NIH people. This morning we talked about how we were handling the furlough. How well, or not we were doing.

It was interesting to see how it affected each of us differently. I am OK for now with savings, but not if this stretches on another week or two. The older guy with a family and kids who lives in Pennsylvania and commutes to work here in Rockville is struggling. The younger, single woman is doing OK too since she’s got some money and it’s just her. They’ll both be getting paid once the furlough ends since they’re government employees.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen with my pay check come the 15th for sure. No one seems to have an answer because I’m not sure anyone knows…

This evening, we were treated to dinner inside the restaurant. With this being their grand opening and our camping out, the staff is getting their final training today as well. They were all on hand to help with dinner and the service was excellent. We are 100 strong and we’re cold and wet from the rain but we’re all in good spirits.

We are being fed for free inside a nice warm restaurant. We are all here by our own choice. We are here to get the free food offered to the first 100 people to show up and camp out for 24 hours. We are the rabid fans if there were ever such a thing.

This is my first grand opening event. But there are some who have done this many more times. This is grand opening number 13 for a couple I met this morning. Another person I talked to has been to three in total. The big winner is a friend of the first couple, who has attended 102 events. They are not here today because there’s another Chick Fil-A opening 40 miles from here and that one was closer for them.

But I digress.

Dinner service was very fast. It helps to have a limited menu. But it was still very fast. Especially considering I was near the end of the line, being #94 out of 100. I received my meal and every few minutes an employee would stop, introduce themselves and ask me if I needed anything else. Do I need my drink refilled? Any more sauce? Is there anything they could do for me?

It was clear they were directed to make us feel well taken care of and I did. It was better service than I’ve received in many fancy restaurants. Now, I know this is not the normal procedure for a fast food restaurant. Nor are there usually 40 people running around the place. But it set a great first impression of the store and the staff.

When I eat here in the future, I will remember the smiling faces I met today. It was a great first impression for the restaurant. Clearly, I am already predisposed to liking the franchise since I’m literally camped out in their parking lot, but it was still great customer service. I am here, I am being fed, you have me in a good mood. It wouldn’t take much to sour the experience for me with sub-par service or rude staff.

But instead, everyone I’ve met and talked to has been very excited and happy to be working here, even at 5:30 this morning and at 2am the following morning. Different, smiling people, but still smiling and friendly.

**Customer Service could have made or broken this event. ** It’s cold, the high was 62 with a low in the 40s. It rained from about 5pm through the night. People are cold and maybe rethinking their decision to be here. But they’re still here and the staff really made us feel welcomed.

This entire event is a huge opportunity to squander the good will you have built up among the loyal 100 people, as well as those who have wandered by to ask what was going on. But they’ve done a great job in meeting my high expectations and from the Chick Fil-A opening veterans, they consistently hit those high marks for customer service and the experience is always positive no matter where the store is opening or the weather decides to do.