Georgia fast food chain Chick-fil-A has been expanding into the Midwest over the past few years, bringing its particular brand of southern hospitality to the north. With five locations now open in the Milwaukee area, the Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich might just stand a chance against the ever-popular Culvers’ ButterBurger. The restaurant chain now occupies two locations in Brookfield, one in Oak Creek, one in Greendale and another in West Allis.
On March 23, the latest Milwaukee-area location opened to the public on Moorland Road, near the Brookfield Square Mall. The newest spot is conveniently located on the edge of the mall parking lot, a prime spot for attracting the eyes (and noses) of hungry evening commuters traveling down the heavily-trafficked thoroughfare.
As is customary for a Chick-fil-A grand opening, the restaurant hosted a 24-hour camp-out for 100 guests that included free food, a DJ, games, trivia, a lip-sync battle and Chick-fil-A themed prizes. The company uses these camp-outs as trial runs for their employees. In exchange for camping out, guests are awarded 52 free chicken sandwich meals to use anytime in the next 356 days—a year’s supply of Chick-fil-A.
So what’s it like to be one of the first 100? Well in Milwaukee, the endeavor to free chicken is no easy feat, especially in March. A thick skin is a pre-requisite (literally) as no amount of winter gear can shield you from the frigid air that will inevitably find its way past your layers of clothing. Guests who arrived promptly at 6 a.m. ensured their spot among the one-hundred, then set up camp and huddled in their tents until breakfast. As the day went on, the rest of the city woke up and the real fun began. DJ “Elevate” came alive sometime in the late morning, using music and games to keep guests’ mind off the cold. The sun soon came out as well, warming each cold tent in the lot. With vehicles backed up bumper-to-bumper by 5 p.m. on Moorland Road, guests started doing laps around the restaurant, using the drive thru as an outdoor track. The chicken-filled guests then finished the night with more entertainment from DJ Elevate and a cookie and cocoa before bed.
Given the cult-level fanaticism this fast food chain attracts, it’s safe to say there will be more 24-hour camp-outs in Milwaukee’s future. Here’s what to expect if you find yourself among the lucky one-hundred:
1) Over-the-top customer service: This is only logical if the day is actually used as it says it is—employee training day. But boy, if I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase, “Can I get you anything else today?” I could afford a year’s worth of Chick-fil-A (good thing I got that, too).
2) The Chick-fil-A cow: The dairy state was quick to welcome the restaurant’s cow with open arms. As the company’s mascot, put in place to promote the preservation of cows, it’s mandatory he (or she) makes at least one appearance once during the event.
3) Die-hards: Let’s just say not everyone was new to the CFA First 100 experience. The most committed veterans bring stuffed cow displays to set up in wagons outside their tents. While in line for a chocolate chip cookie, I even heard talk of a Florida man who had been to 78 Grand Openings!
4) Tents on tents on tents: Just imagine 100 guests camping out, maybe two to three people per tent, in a single, confined parking lot. But remember, it’s March in Milwaukee, so add to the packing list blankets, sleeping bags, heaters, air mattresses, gloves, boots, jackets, hats and anything else needed to keep one warm in below-freezing temperatures.
5) So much honking: I suppose guests had Moorland Road to thank for this one. It just seemed a little unnecessary to continue the honking all through the night. A bunch of tents in a Chick-fil-A parking lot—it’s strange. We get it. Now let us sleep.
6) The southern folk: Considering Chick-fil-A’s roots are in the south, most, if not all corporate managers coming to assist with the grand opening duties were born and raised with deep southern accents in the hot, muggy sun. Wisconsin winters aren’t exactly within their zones of comfort.
7) Families (or maybe just the dads): Getting free chicken sandwiches for a full year could save any given family a whole lot of money. So don’t be shocked when you see your brother-in-law at the next CFA First 100. Who knows, maybe he’ll even bring all eight kids.
8) Rules, guidelines and regulations: If not properly prepared, one may find themselves experiencing a sense of whiplash in the rules department. No leaving the premises once registered. Eat your meals. Line up when you’re asked. No going inside, unless using the restroom. Quiet hours after 10 p.m.. Have your wristbands ready at all times.
9) Organization: Chick-fil-A should probably consider hosting classes for the organizationally impaired. There is great potential for that business venture purely because the CFA First 100 event was arranged, assembled and kept together perfectly. Of course, the only way this organization can be produced is through a set of strict guidelines, so I suppose number eight is necessary in the end.
10) New friends: I believe there are two types of people who attend events such as the CFA First 100: social butterflies and tent dwellers. Finding myself in the latter group, it seems almost too easy for some individuals to make friends with perfect strangers. A tent provided the perfect getaway to enjoy the comforts of the friends I chose to spend 24 straight hours with.
11) Cowbells: We may be from Wisconsin, but that doesn’t mean we love the sound of cowbells clanging at the crack of dawn. As the final hour of the full 24-hour period arrived, guests were asked to line up to be counted. Each guest still remaining at the end (because trust me, we lost some along the way) was given a “golden ticket” to freedom, or as some would call it, a small, white piece of cardstock that read “Official Winner.” After waiting in line for what felt like another whole day, the Chick-fil-A staff escorted the line through the restaurant where each guests were given an actual golden ticket: a swipeable card with 52 pre-loaded meals good for the next 365 days. To obtain this red plastic card, guests were forced to walk through a tunnel of hoots and hollers as Chick-fil-A staff thrashed pots and pans together and recklessly struck even more cowbells. It’s a riveting experience for some; for others, a bit too much to handle before the 6 o’clock hour.
12) Free food: By seven o’clock in the evening, with three free chicken-filled meals in each of our bellies, my friends and I contemplated the next year of our lives. How would we stay fit and trim—as if we even started that way—with 52 chicken sandwich meals ahead of us? Guess we’ll find out.