Will the magic of Chick-Fil-A’s hospitality work in Canada?

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

chick-fil-aChick-Fil-A announced they were launching their first restaurant outside the US, and they have chosen Toronto. Will it work? If Chick-Fil-A can make their story 100% about chicken and great service, they will thrive in Toronto. However, if the story shifts toward’s Chick-Fil-A’s “family values” then it will fall flat.

Toronto the good

I know Toronto very well.  Out of all the cities in the world where Chick-Fil-A could launch, Toronto might be one of the worst possible choices they could make. I predict the loud voices of Toronto will run Chick-Fil-A out of Canada.

Toronto is a very values-driven city. “Toronto the good” is a long-standing nickname for the city. But the values and the good, are different from what Chick-Fil-A might think.

We all know Canada is a very liberal country, with Justin Trudeau as the Prime Minister. Take it a step further, Toronto is the most liberal part of Canada. The people of Toronto didn’t vote for Trudeau; they voted left of Trudeau. He’s considered a liberal-moderate in Toronto.

Toronto is a very proud city. They are proud of their leading-edge stance on pushing for LGBT rights and marriage equality, with Canada being one of the first countries to recognize gay marriage. The Toronto LGBT community will be ready and waiting for the arrival of Chick-Fil-A. They’ve already staged protests.

Toronto is one of the most diverse cities around, with large populations of South Asian, Chinese, Black,  Italian, Korean and South American.

Here’s how the numbers break down for Toronto:

  • South Asian: 12.59 per cent
  • Chinese: 11.13 per cent
  • Black: 8.91 per cent
  • Filipino: 5.67 per cent
  • Latin American: 2.87 per cent
  • Arab: 1.34 per cent
  • Southeast Asian: 1.55 per cent
  • West Asian: 2.24 per cent
  • Korean: 1.55 per cent
  • Japanese: 0.5 per cent

Not only is there a strong acceptance of diversity, but there is a growing pride in how diverse Toronto is. Imagine how this diversity impacts the flavour choices of the people of Toronto. You can get any type of food, with any type of flavours. A plain piece of chicken might get lost in the sea of choices in Toronto.

In a world where everyone is turning their backs on refugees, Toronto is proud of their acceptance of refugees. Many I see are crowdfunding their support for refugee families.

Toronto lives by a form of “family values” but not likely what conservatives call “family values”

Toronto is all about gun control. A recent poll shows that 70% of Torontonians support a 100% city-wide=ban on all guns. In a city slightly bigger than Chicago, Toronto’s crime rate is one of the lowest in all of North America. When gun violence happens, the city is on high alert.

In Toronto, religion is not an open topic. I can’t say I remember a politician ever evoking the word “god” on a stage, let alone ever saying “god bless Canada.” I’ve never seen a politician going to church, and I am not sure I’ve ever heard one openly speak about their own religious views. My only point here is that if politics and religion don’t mix in Canada, imagine the odd mix of business and religion.


Based on comments by the CEO on the marriage debate, many in Canada see them as using their chicken to promote their ideas. In 2012, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy confirmed that the company does not support same-sex marriage because it goes against the organization’s religious values.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. And, we are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. At Chick-Fil-A, we operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.”

Chick-fil-A’s corporate purpose begins with the words “to glorify God,”

Will Chick-Fil-A work in Toronto?

Chick-fil-AChick-Fil-A launched in New York City last year to a similar sort of protest. Yet New Yorkers, like everyone else, have taken to the brand. One of the Manhattan locations estimates that it sells a sandwich every six seconds, and the company has announced plans to open as many as a dozen more storefronts in the city. And yet the brand’s arrival here feels like an infiltration, in no small part because of its pervasive Christian traditionalism.

If you can make it in New York….

Chick-Fil-A says they have studied the Toronto market for years. They mention how Toronto’s foodie community will love the Chick-Fil-A chicken. It will be interesting to see if they can thread the needle in being successful in a community whose values are polar opposite to the ones they project.

Values and brands have a strange relationship. When they are fake, the employees know, and they never catch on. When they are real, they manage to permeate the culture and impact the overall brand.

There is no doubt Chick-Fil-A’s values are real. But what does that mean for the consumer.Chick-Fil-A is the gold standard on service when it comes to drive thru. They believe that employees are the company’s “secret recipe,” and the drive-thru strategy is designed around people as much as it is technology and systems. “It’s all about speed and accuracy, but we know our customers appreciate that we can be nice while being fast and correct. Eye contact and smiling go a long way in the drive-thru experience.”

In a fast food restaurant study last year, Chick-Fil-A’s service levels blew away competitors.

  • The % of Chick-Fil-A employees who smiled was 91%, almost 30 pointes higher than McDonald’s at 62%. Out of 15 other brands, only Panera Bread reached the high 70s.
  • The % of Chick-Fil-A employees who said “thank you” was at an astonishing 95%, compared to McDonald’s at 78%.
  • How does Chick-Fil-A get employees to deliver great service. Easy: happy employees. On the Glassdoor website, where employees can anonymously rate their employer, Chick-Fil-A employees ratings were 25% higher than the average fast food restaurant.

How do you feel about Chick-Fil-A coming to Toronto? What will you do? Is it just chicken or more than that?


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Graham Robertson

Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.


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