But two decades ago, Chick-fil-A borrowed a tactic from The Ritz-Carlton that would become a central element of its brand culture: Employees replying to customers who thank them by saying “my pleasure,” instead of “you’re welcome” or “no problem.”
Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy told the group a story about visiting a Ritz-Carlton. Whenever Cathy thanked a hotel employee, the worker would smile and respond, “my pleasure.”
At the time, Chick-fil-A, which Cathy started in 1946 in Hapeville, Georgia, was trying to expand beyond the South and distinguish the brand nationally from fast food chains with a reputation for subpar customer service.
So he asked Chick-fil-A managers and staff to start saying “my pleasure” when customers thanked them, but many were initially hesitant, according to Robinson.
It wasn’t until 2003 — when Cathy’s son Dan, who later became CEO, started saying “my pleasure” himself and pushing others to follow suit — that it became an unwritten rule at the company, as it remains today.
“It dawned on me that this could be a service signature for us, almost like two pickles on a sandwich,” Dan Cathy said. Chick-fil-A leaders tapped a marketing executive to overhaul its entire service strategy, which grew to include training workers to greet customers with a smile, make eye contact and speak in an enthusiastic voice.
‘My pleasure and Chick-fil-A go hand in hand’
“My pleasure” is printed on Chick-fil-A souvenir t-shirts and is the name of a fan podcast. Rumors often swirl on social media that you’ll get free food if you say “my pleasure” to an employee. (You won’t.)
The chain’s “calling cards of being closed on Sunday and saying ‘my pleasure’ are nearly as important to the brand identity as the food,” said Adam Chandler.
Of course, workers simply saying “my pleasure” isn’t why the company tops customer service rankings. But “my pleasure and Chick-fil-A go hand in hand,” said Emily Gilmore, a manager at a Chick-fil-A in Concord, North Carolina.
It sometimes takes new employees a while to get used to the phrase, she said, but it eventually becomes second nature — even when they’re not on the job.
“I say it at home too. It drives my husband absolutely crazy,” Gilmore said. “He says ‘Can’t you just say, you’re welcome?’ And I’m like ‘No. I can’t.’ It just comes naturally to me now.”