The real reason Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays

Chick-fil-A is an American fast food restaurant specializing in chicken. Founded by Truett Cathy, the first Chick-fil-A restaurant opened in 1967 in Atlanta, Georgia. The chain has since expanded to nearly 2,000 locations.

Chick-fil-A was not Truett Cathy's first foray into the food service industry, because 21 years before he started Chick-fil-A, he opened a restaurant in Atlanta called the Dwarf Grill. That restaurant is still open and is still part of the Chick-fil-A empire. Cathy, who died in 2014 at the age of 93, was a devout Southern Baptist, and those beliefs have shaped the businesses he ran since Day One. At some time or other, every restaurant chain has probably made public statements about their concern for their employees' well-being, but when it comes to Chick-fil-A, Truett Cathy put his money, and the company's profits, where his mouth was. Since the start, all his restaurants have always been closed for business on Sundays. Here's why.

What's so weird about closing on Sunday?

Logic would suggest that closing on Sunday would cost Chick-fil-A approximately one-seventh of their potential business. According to the relatively simple maths worked out here, that adds up to just over $1 billion per year, which is certainly no small amount of change. And that would be the end of the story if you didn't know how much money they actually make. Despite having relatively few stores compared to other fast food chains, Chick-fil-A rakes in a huge amount of cash. And when you look at the average income per location, they leave everyone else in the dust. As of 2014, Chick-fil-A sat at No. 8 in the U.S. for sales, but when divided by location, they jump right to No. 1. That's because although their sales are a small fraction of a chain like McDonald's, they have even fewer locations, so their average income is higher—and that's even without opening on Sundays.

Where it came from

Cathy's Christian beliefs were formed during his upbringing in the South before World War II. His parents had struggled financially while he was young, but according to Cathy, his mother's dedication to her faith and her children's faith through the hard times made a powerful impression on him. As he grew up and drew closer to beginning his chicken-based food kingdom, he appears to have never wavered from his faith in the value of Christian principles. As soon as he started his business, he began applying them there as well. He even seems to have perceived the relationship between employer and employee as a kind of marriage, going so far as to tell new applicants, "If you don't intend to be here for life, you needn't apply." That seems like a lot to expect of a teenager looking for a summer job, but perhaps it helped discourage the slackers.

The policy

According to Chick-fil-A's published explanation, their closed-on-Sunday policy is both a reflection of the Christian foundations of the company and the belief that by giving every employee a day of rest to do with as they will, the company will attract quality people. A slightly longer explanation presented in a press release suggests that although the policy has an employee focus now, back when Cathy was just getting started it was based more on Christian doctrine: he was determined not to deal with money on the Lord's Day. Whatever the initial motivation, however, the closed-on-Sunday policy as an employee benefit has been pointed to as an explanation for the remarkable success of the company, with customers reportedly telling staff that the food even tastes better on Monday. Of course, that could also be because they changed the oil in the fryers over the weekend.

Another explanation sees the policy as contributing to the creation of a loyal, if conservative, customer base. When Chick-fil-A was embroiled in controversy in 2012 over comments the company president (Cathy's son) made condemning gay marriage, the fan base decided to show support for the company position. They did this by turning up, buying food, and holding up Chick-fil-A bags for photos. All this "support" didn't just demonstrate the political and social leanings of many Chick-fil-A customers: it also made the company a whole lot of cash and set a new company record for one-day sales. It is certainly a strange world when a chicken sandwich becomes a weapon in the fight over gay marriage.

The exception

Despite the universal closed-on-Sunday policy that is plastered across the company website and the public statements by the company's president declaring opposition to gay marriage, when a gunman opened fire in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a few Chick-fil-A employees went to work on a Sunday to make food for the emergency responders and the people who showed up to give blood. Many might consider Chick-fil-A's opposition to gay marriage to be outdated, but when push came to shove and people were really in need, they were in the right place with a chicken sandwich.