Chick-fil-A Operator: Amid coronavirus, I want to keep my team employed while balancing safety, serving others

Behind every business, there are people – the workers who make it all happen and the customers who partake in the fruit of the effort

The all-out battle against the coronavirus global pandemic is turning normal, everyday life upside down and inside out, most especially in the restaurant business.

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Across the world, countless eateries have been closed altogether, while others have reduced their services to takeout and delivery only.

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On the grand scheme of things, the sustainability of a business like mine that specializes in selling chicken sandwiches and waffle fries may seem frivolous when compared to our nation’s war against an invisible, virulent enemy like COVID-19.

Yet, behind every business, there are people – the workers who make it all happen and the customers who partake in the fruit of the effort. Small business is at the heart and soul of the American economy. Like a rising tide, the success of smaller proprietorships raises the fortunes of everyone else.

Mark Hufford and some of his Chick-fil-A team members in an undated photograph with CFA owner (seated with milkshake), Dan Cathy. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been trying to manage a very unique and inevitable tension, which is keeping the teams in my two Chick-fil stores employed – while keeping them and our customers safe.

At the risk of stating the obvious, people are stressed out. Anxiety is running high. I see it in the eyes and in the faces of our employees and the guests to our restaurants. In many ways, anxiety and fear of the unknown have spread through our country like a virus of its own.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve been trying to manage a very unique and inevitable tension, which is keeping the teams in my two Chick-fil stores employed – while keeping them and our customers safe.

Some have wondered why small business owners like myself won’t just close up shop and shut down operations until the crisis has passed.

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It’s a fair question. We’ve already taken significant steps to do our part in this fight against the spread of the virus. We’ve closed our dining rooms, our playroom areas and we’re reducing our hours of operation.

Through the leadership at Chick-fil-A, we have a shared vision -- “To be the world’s most caring company.”

It’s an inspiring and daunting vision. And it’s one that that will be put to the test during this pandemic.

One of CFA operator Mark Hufford's stores in Bentonville, Arkansas

As I’ve pondered and prayed about what I personally can do to play my part, I have settled on three positive and tangible areas of focus that provide value to our guests, team and community.

First, we are committed and I would even say obsessive about adhering to all CDC, state and local guidelines. Our employees and our stores have always been clean and well-managed, but we’ve redoubled our efforts.

Second, given that we’re in the hospitality business, we’re doing our best to encourage people with a spirit of kindness, warm their hearts with a sincere smile and make a personal connection from afar that provides comfort – because making the most of the moments we have still matters, regardless of how perilous a season this might be.

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Third, we’re attempting to provide people with a sense of normalcy. People are eager for the familiar.

A tasty meal can elicit good thoughts and a sense of security. In times of uncertainty, routines keep us anchored and grounded in the reality that life really is still going forward.

One of my hardest working team members shared with me this week that her husband just recently lost his job. Mary then shared with tears how their landlord refuses to work with them on the rent. This woman is in a crisis.

I’ve made a commitment to her to do all I can to keep her from losing any hours during this downturn. I have approximately 150-160 team members in my enterprise.

These days are full of shock and sober surprises, and the financial markets respond accordingly. But the fundamentals of what makes our economy the envy of the world remain as constant as the North Star.

For me, personally, I have a social and moral and Christian responsibility to do all I can to care for each of them to the very best of my ability.

What does that look like?

First and foremost, it means keeping them as safe as possible from the coronavirus. But it also means doing my best to preserve their jobs so they can buy groceries and keep a roof over their heads.

American business is resilient because the people behind the banners and the logos are resilient – and committed to keeping the engines of America running.

Our company’s founder, the late Truett Cathy, once remarked, “We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed.”

These days are full of shock and sober surprises, and the financial markets respond accordingly. But the fundamentals of what makes our economy the envy of the world remain as constant as the North Star.

Businesses like mine aren’t really about selling chicken – we’re about meeting and exceeding expectations and serving our fellow man in good times and in bad.

Mark Hufford is a multi-store Chick-fil-A franchise owner/operator in Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas.

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