Sundays are not for chicken

day clockThere’s a lot of ink spilled over how politics and religion intersect, but I wish we could see more stories about religion and commerce. It’s somewhat rare to find any religion stories on the business pages.

Dana Knight of the Indianapolis Star examined the two in her piece “Religion at the Register“:

When customers walk into Chick-fil-A, they get a side with their chicken sandwich that’s rare in the world of monstrous fast-food chains: Christianity.

No bones about it, this company’s business philosophy is based largely on biblical principles — including the decision to remain closed on Sundays, when the company could be making big bucks at its 1,356 stores.

“It’s become so much a part of how people think about us that they almost think of that as quick as they think of our chicken sandwich,” said Dan Cathy, president of the Atlanta-based chain, who was visiting the Avon store last week.

It must be true. Every time I get a Chick-fil-A urge, I have to check my Day-of-the-Week clock to make sure it’s the right day for a chicken sandwich and waffle fries!

Anyway, the story lists a few other companies that shutter their doors on Sundays so that employees and customers can go to church and rest. Others are more tolerant of prayer groups or hire chaplains for counseling or to visit employees in hospitals.

But the story doesn’t really explain what, exactly, Christian principles are or where they come from. Even the explanation of why they matter is somewhat shallow. This is the best part in that regard, however.

chicken sandKnight cites Chick-fil-A’s 40 consecutive years of annual sales increases:

A study by McKinsey & Co. found that when companies engage in programs that use spiritual techniques for their employees, productivity improves and turnover is greatly reduced.

Chick-fil-A has some of the most committed employees in the industry, “given the strong principled, religious and value-driven corporate culture,” said Richard Feinberg, a professor of retailing at Purdue University. “Committed employees do better. One would think that closing Sundays would hurt business, and in a sense it does, but it improves employee business relationships and leads to the commitment that the others do not have.”

Carolina Cruz, the operator of the Lafayette Chick-fil-A, welcomes her team members over to her house each Sunday to watch “appropriate” movies and build morale.

“Our team members get to work in a great environment, and that builds loyalty,” said Cruz, who started out as a team member herself. “When I found that the company shared my values, little by little I got more in love with the company.”

Again, it’s a good idea for a story. But I wish business reporters weren’t afraid to delve into the religious concepts and bases for running a “value-driven” company. To that end, maybe a religious source or two wouldn’t hurt.

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  • steve

    The reporter should have talked to employees and from at least a couple different Chick-fil-A franchises. Some franchisees hold to the founder’s American religion ideals but some don’t and treat their emplyees accordingly.

  • Ananta Androscoggin

    It’s difficult enough for that large portion of America’s population who are not Christian to deal with hostility in the workplace on that simple prejudice alone. This story does not say whether the chain has discriminatory hiring processes against non-Christians, but the story sure sounds like it may be a de-facto practice.

    So on the face of it, this story hints that Chick-fil-A franchises respond to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution with a hearty, “Those who are not just like me need not apply.”

  • Andy

    Or alternately that Chick-fil-A exercises its rights guaranteed under the First Amendment

  • Karen Willcox

    Carolina Cruz, the operator of the Lafayette Chick-fil-A, welcomes her team members over to her house each Sunday to watch “appropriate” movies and build morale.

    Wait, you mean it’s a *good* thing that employees have to hang out with their bosses socially on their days off?

    I guess there’s welcoming and there’s a-welcome-you-can’t-refuse! I’m a Christian myself, and can say honestly that the most controlling, cheerless employer I ever had was a Christian nonprofit. Hope the Chick-fil-A people have it better!

  • Chris Bolinger

    Mollie, the link to the article is broken in your blog post. I believe that the article is here.

  • Irenaeus

    What I’d be interested in is whether Chick-fil-A’s business is actually better than it would be if they were open on Sunday, because I suspect many Christians patronize it Mon-Sat precisely because they’re closed on Sunday. It may be hard data to come by, but I know when I was in the South, I made a point of patronizing CfA because I appreciated one corporation refusing to worship the Dollar at all costs and helping, in one small way, to restore a sense of rhythm and rest in our culture.

  • Mollie

    Thanks, Chris — I fixed the link.

  • Chip

    I think Mollie is right on. From reading this article one could assume that being closed on Sunday is the sum total of a Christian philosophy of doing business, which would be woefully lacking. I think the commenters who have voiced concerns about subtle, or not so subtle, coersion of employees raise a valid point. However the article needs to give a portrait of a Christian approach to business so that the criticism are not aimed at strawmen.

  • Chris M.

    Wait, you mean it’s a *good* thing that employees have to hang out with their bosses socially on their days off?

    Agreed–this leaves me skeptical as well. Is team “morale-building” really that appropriate on an employee’s free time? A Forbes article on the company from last year elaborates on this.

    Somewhat related: Knight’s article also doesn’t address the question of how the company’s Christian principles intersect with free-market ideology. For example, Eric Schlosser documents in Fast Food Nation how In-n-Out provides “verses from the Bible on its soda cups,” but also pays its workers highly competitive wages and includes a benefits package. What does Chick-fil-a pay in comparison to its competitors? Does it provide decent benefits to non-managers?

  • Chris Bolinger

    This article is an inch deep. While the author did a good job of getting quotes from a variety of sources, the article does not explore any topic in any detail or challenge any quote, such as this one:

    “We don’t see that running a business from Christian principles causes customers to shy away,” said Sue Swayze, executive director of the Indiana Christian Chamber of Commerce. “Rather, we find that people — even those that don’t share that faith — are intrigued or even impressed that the business would choose to remain true to its foundational principles (rather) than capture more market share.”

    I’d like to know what “(rather)” replaced. If Swayze was quoted accurately, then she needs a few business classes. A “foundational principle” of every business, Christian or not, is to maximize shareholder value. A Christian business can capture more market share while remaining true to Christian principles.

    A business that is not capturing more market share probably is not growing. As they say in the business world, no one stands still, so if you’re not growing then you’re shrinking, and that ain’t so good.

  • Augustine

    Most reporters are religiously illiterate, so the neglect and shallowness isn’t surprising.

  • Brian LeStourgeon

    Capturing market share and maximizing shareholder value are not the same thing. This is one idea that Chick-fil-A illustrates.

    Maximizing shareholder value is not the same thing as making the most money possible if shareholders value things other than money. This is another idea Chick-fil-A illustrates.

  • Pastor K

    This article, and the comments following it, tells me that we have a long way to go to understand how religion (Christianity and others) and capitalism can healthily interact.

    I agree with Mollie’s point in her post – there aren’t enough stories in the business section that illustrate religious impact on business. For instance, I’d like to know what affect Ramadan has on restaurants during daylight vs night hours.

    We need more examples of business principles and religious principles coinciding to make great work environments. Telling news of hypocrisies in the workplace is too easy, where are the companies that show religion is good for business – without being shallow?