Food for thought: Diners prefer Chick-fil-A over the competition, or gay rights protesters

Boycotts typically fail. CNN reconfirmed that maxim this week with the news that Chick-fil-A -- hit hard with gay-rights protests a few years ago -- ranked first in customer satisfaction among fast-food restaurants.

"Not everyone likes Chick-fil-A's politics, but they sure seem to like the food," CNN Money says, in its article on the American Customer Satisfaction Index Restaurant Report 2015.

The CNN Money article didn't reheat those issues, focusing instead on the numbers. It said the once-embattled chain drew an 86 rating, higher than 17 other companies -- including well-known brands like Panera Bread, Pizza Hut and Dunkin Donuts.

The story adds:

The chicken restaurant was the subject of controversy and protests a few years ago after its CEO made remarks that offended the LGBT community.
But that hasn't stopped fans from flocking to its restaurants, and giving it high marks for customer experience.
"It is laser focused on a particular product," said Forrest Morgeson, director of research at ACSI. "It focuses on one thing and does it exceptionally well ... and that is chicken sandwiches."
This is Chick-fil-A's debut on the list and its score is the highest ever achieved in the category.

The restaurant chain was targeted in 2012 by gay protestors who took umbrage at CEO Dan Cathy's quotes about traditional families and biblical values: "We are very much supportive of the family -- the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that."

Gay activists pounced on that. They picketed some restaurants, held "kiss-ins" at others and vandalized one in California with the spray-painted words "TASTES LIKE HATE." Officials in Chicago and Philadelphia tried to make Chick-fil-A a restaurant non grata in their towns. In answer, Mike Huckabee called for "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," with approval of Rick Santorum.

CNN's coverage wasn't always great. One story gave live quotes to three gay protestors, but settled for canned statements from Cathy and a marketing director for the chain. The story also said that 14,400 people signed their support to a Facebook protest page, a number that was "dwarfed" by a pro-Chick-fil-A page. By how much? Didnt say.

Then again, stories on the flap in many media were as bad or worse. Our tmatt found fault with the Los Angeles Times' balance. And Bobby Ross Jr. criticized the way the Atlanta Journal-Constitution relayed accusations by protesters without fact-checking them.

It's also only fair to note that CNN ran a long piece on supporters and counter-demonstrators, devoting only two of the 30 paragraphs to the restaurant's opponents -- a decidedly rightward slant.

CNN was also measured in reporting gay backlash in 2013 after the Urban League of Greater Atlanta gave Cathy its Community Empowerment Award. So maybe the network's coverage was balanced, on balance.

Comparative numbers make Chick-fil-A's rise even more surprising, CNN says: "Customer satisfaction in the fast food industry took a step back last year." Ironically, that includes Starbucks, which has long supported gay marriage. Customer approval of the pricey coffee-shop chain fell 3 percent, CNN reports.

Boycotts may reap headlines, but tasty fare with good service wins repeat customers.

Photo: Chick-fil-A restaurant sign in Nashville. Copyright James R. Martin via

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