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Santa Barbara Chick-fil-A Too Successful?

Santa Barbara’s Chick-fil-A restaurant has been so successful that cars back up onto the road in front of the restaurant for about 90 minutes a day, and up to 155 minutes a day on Saturdays.

The backups have become such a problem that the City is in process of declaring this Chick-fil-A a public nuisance.

Santa Barbara has an ordinance that bans the construction of new drive-thru restaurants, but this Chick-fil-A location was previously a Burger King restaurant with a drive-thru, and was therefore grandfathered in.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the LA Times article, Santa Barbara could declare Chick-fil-A drive-through a public nuisance, by Nathan Solis, March 14, 2022; the Wall Street Journal article, Chick-fil-A’s Crazy Long Drive-Through Lines Have Santa Barbara Residents Squawking, by Christine Mai-Duc, April 23, 2022; and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: Shutterstock / Rob Wilson

Discussion Questions:

1.  What can Chick-fil-A do to reduce the number of cars in the drive-thru line?

Guidance: This location has tried a variety of approaches to reduce traffic jams, but the restaurant’s success has worked against them. A beginning point is to speed up service. Queuing theory indicates that by reducing service time, the number of cars can be reduced. A combination of taking orders faster, along with filling orders faster can reduce the line length.

Additional workers and technology can help accomplish this outcome. One approach is to move more of the ordering onto their app. This would reduce ordering time, and free-up workers to fill orders. An extreme approach would be to force all orders into the app.

This restaurant does drive-thru, carry-out, and dine-in. Another potential approach would be to close the dining room and concentrate on drive-thru only. More than one line for the drive-thru could be used, especially if one of these lines concentrated on app orders.

Another approach would be to open a second location to take pressure off of this location. Or, move to a new larger location. One of the problems with these approaches is that city ordinances do not allow for drive-thru locations, unless the property is grandfathered in, which greatly reduces the number of potential locations.

Moving outside the city limits would eliminate the difficulties Chick-fil-A faces with the city ordinance. A second location just outside city limits is being considered.

2. Why do cities ban drive-thru lines?

Guidance: Many cities besides Santa Barbara have banned drive-thru restaurants, including Minneapolis, Minnesota; Creve Coeur, Missouri; Fair Haven, New Jersey; and Orchard Park, New York.

There are a variety of reason given for banning drive-thru restaurants. One is that drive-thrus create liter. Another is that idling cars create greenhouse gases. An additional reason is that drive-thrus are primarily used by fast-food restaurants that contribute to obesity in society.

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