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I just watched Chick-fil-A's most innovative tech, and I'm suddenly hungry

It's so simple, but watching it work is so delightful.
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Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributor on
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A bastion of technology?

Karl Gehring / Getty

Corporations want to be efficient and clever. In technology, they see a vehicle of both.

An algorithm here, a robot there, and everything will run more smoothly, right?

Some companies, though, seem to do rather well without much technology altering their operations. Chick-fil-A, for example, is perennially regarded as having the best customer service of all fast-food chains. It's perennially voted as teens' favorite fast-food chain.

Yet you don't hear that Chick-fil-A is embracing robots like long-lost friends.

Instead, despite the twisted sociopolitical bent of its owners, it's renowned for good food, staff who say "my pleasure" -- and sound like they mean it -- and traffic jams at its drive-thrus.

Talking of those drive-thrus, they're often said to be the slowest around.

Yet I've just encountered a video of a simple technology that Chick-fil-A has been using for more than a decade, one that somehow expresses the very essence of the brand.

Posted to TikTok by Edgar Spam, the video shows how a Chick-fil-A transports its drive-thru meals once they're made. A simple conveyor belt sends the takeout bag skywards. It then travels along the ceiling, through a gap in the wall and out toward the drive-thru. There, it descends down a slide and straight into the hands of the checkout employee at the drive-thru.

The customer, of course, is likely oblivious. When you're hungry, you don't think about where the food comes from; you just want it now.

This particular rudimentary technology is apparently employed in about 1% of Chick-fil-A restaurants, where there's more than one drive-thru lane. It's been around since 2006.

I confess that when I watched the video, I admired the sheer ingenuity. I decided it had to be the finest use of technology ever by the chain.

Someone had employed completely practical thinking to solve what may have seemed like an intractable problem.

Instead of devolving to, say, an app, they considered the use of space, an existing technology, and how that technology could be implemented for the convenience of customers and employees, too.

It made me quite hungry and reminded me of Yoshiaki Shiraishi. It was his delightful mind that created conveyor belt sushi, thereby making it available to a far wider audience.

He was inspired by bottles moving along a conveyor belt on a production line. By presenting sushi in this manner, he cut the need for servers. Some might even consider his approach the marriage of sushi with fast food. And he opened his first conveyor belt restaurant in 1958.

Now Chick-fil-A, so many decades later, is still finding a use for a technology so apparently basic.

It's a reminder that sometimes it's the idea that matters first. Only then is it worth considering the technology to create it. This is so much more helpful that reaching for some type of technology and then deciding what to do with it.

The next time you think you need a robot to do something, perhaps consider that what you really need is something much simpler.

Yes, Chick-fil-A does use more modern forms of technology to speed up its operations.

But the company's senior director of service and hospitality, Khalilah Cooper, told Nation's Restaurant News: "Our technology is there to facilitate an interaction between people, and so if we can take tasks off of our team members to allow them to give that warm welcome or that genuine smile to a guest, those are the types of things that we're looking to continue to lean into."

You'd almost forgotten that fast food could be an interaction between people, hadn't you?

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