In just a few weeks, Chick-fil-A will truly shock loyal customers

Technology is at the heart of this complete rethink of the chicken chain's offerings. Could it be a challenge to the likes of McDonald's?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

This is old, when compared to what's coming.

Screenshot by ZDNet

The COVID-19 pandemic and technology are like two mischievous beings rampantly altering human behavior.

Yet, I can find few more jarring, more disturbing and more fascinating developments than the one we're gathered here to contemplate today.

I thought I knew what Chick-fil-A stood for. No, I didn't like all of it. In fact, some of it is more retrograde than the idea of humans getting along.

However, the company's restaurants have always been known for their moreish, tasty fare and their excellent customer service.

But along came the pandemic, and now, in an act that, for some, will surely sound heretical, Chick-fil-A is launching itself headlong into a completely new offering.

I'm not sure you're ready for this, so please gird your extremities now.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleague Jason Perlow presciently explained that one of the seven biggest shifts in the world would be the centralization of retail and food distribution.

So here is Chick-fil-A launching an entirely new concept. It's called the Little Blue Menu. And it's anything but little.

Pork belly? From Chick-fil-A? What will the cows say?

It all sounds simple enough.

In the company's words, the Little Blue Menu is "delivering what everyone wants to eat bundled in one simple order."

But we're talking chicken sandwiches, right?

Perhaps, but not merely. This is the time to hold nothing but the sides of your seat.

"Picture a thick-cut pork belly BLT, garden-fresh salad, crispy Chick-fil-A Waffle Potato Fries, and bone-in wings," says Chick-fil-A.

I can do that. You can too. However: "Now imagine being able to get these entrees in one online delivery order."

That seems like a lot. How many of us are there? And wait, Chick-fil-A is now offering a pork belly BLT? Isn't this arrant sacrilege?

In a way, yes. We're talking about so-called ghost kitchens. These are places that make all sorts of food but never let you come in and sit down.

Chick-fil-A is making a serious effort to participate in this anonymous kumbaya, which it describes as a "delivery-dream-come-true."

I feel sure former CEO Travis Kalanick said the same about Uber once. (Did I mention he's one of the biggest investors in ghost kitchens?)

The sheer glory of the Little Blue Menu doesn't merely lie in its many and variegated offerings. It's in the promise that, once you technologically place your order, you'll get the food hot and perfectly ready to eat.

What sort of logistical algorithms can deliver that? Ones that only accept orders from within a 10-mile radius.

The whole thing begins in Nashville in a matter of weeks, and I confess it makes me want to relocate in order to try this service temporarily. Here, you see, isn't just one brand called the Little Blue Menu. Instead, bid hullo to Flock and Farm, Garden Day and Outfox Wings.

It's like ordering from a food court at the mall without leaving your house. Will the food be better than the mall food court fare? Will Chick-fil-A discover that one of these brands is so popular that it launches a whole new national chain?

Chick-fil-A says everyone who orders will get a text message with a customer satisfaction survey. On the basis of that, the offerings will evolve.

This is the future. The tech-driven, give me now future.

Please don't think the technological aspect is merely limited to online ordering and texting. Oh no.

Here are Chick-fil-A's intriguing words: "But delivery isn't just about speed -- drivers will deliver bundled meals with the help of hybrid electric vehicles, adding to the experience for when hunger strikes."

You see, hybrid electric vehicles add to the hunger satisfaction experience. You likely never knew that.

The whole thing sounds largely brilliant. If the food is good, that is.

There's another extreme oddity, however. Chick-fil-A has long been known for maintaining its quality by limiting the number of items on its menu. Now here it is seemingly tossing that principle to every corner of Tennessee and offering "hundreds" of menu items.

When I moved to Manhattan, I was astonished at how many menus would appear under my apartment door. And how quickly humans on bicycles could deliver the food. This seems like the neighborhood equivalent.

The Little Blue Menu -- if it truly lives up to promises of quality and trustworthiness -- sounds like a marvelous way to make mealtime more fascinating and convenient. And to challenge the strategies of McDonald's and other larger rivals.

Then again, there's Travis Kalanick.

I'm sorry to mention him again; one of the slight nuisances with ghost kitchens is that, at least in some places, they've become a neighborhood blight.

Ghost kitchens have occasionally moved into quiet neighborhoods and completely disrupted the local way of life and peace.

For example, in Oakland, California, a company called CloudKitchens seems to have moved into a residential neighborhood, placed 30 ghost kitchens into one building, and allegedly caused a noise and traffic menace. Similar problems have reportedly occurred in Chicago.

CloudKitchens' principal backer? The aforementioned Mr. Kalanick.

This from SFGate.com: "More than 300 employees left the company in the first three months of this year, citing a variety of complaints, and former employees have reported that the company's 'core values' such as 'Always be hustlin', are exactly the same catchphrases Kalanick used at Uber."

Do you feel a slight indigestion coming on?

I believe, however, that Chick-fil-A, if it ever ran a taxi service, would make it more humane than was (did someone say is?) Uber.

Therefore, I very much look forward to seeing how the Little Blue Menu delivers on its promises.

I have a feeling many Chick-fil-A loyalists truly can't wait. To offer their critical reviews, that is.

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