In a word: Service
Mr. brekkie_fan has told me that, "it takes a lot for a restaurant to make bad food, but good service is hit or miss". The below statements have been collected after numerous lunchtime (and a few breakfast) visits in the last 12 months.
Statement #1 - Refills are more than refills. They are an opportunity for CFA employees to check-in on tables and provide that extra attention you wouldn't otherwise get at a fast-food establishment. While they could just put out a soda fountain, that is not the case here. Props for having the diner hold on to the lid/straw for sanitary reasons.
Statement #2 - Saying no to free samples is next to impossible. Brownie bites, anyone? Toothpicked like hors d'ouvres, there is actually a person bestowing a tray. I've been told that men have an easier time declining such an offer, but a woman with a sweet tooth can be a dangerous thing. Just a morsel of flavor satisfies and balances out the salty meal.
Statement #3 - Free stuff/incentives rule! - Growing up, I'd be happy with a Monopoly game piece. These guys take it a step further and just GIVE things away. How about them grand openings? Free chicken for a year for the first 100 in line. Consecutive Fridays in a month may feature a free breakfast item, no purchase required. I enjoy getting my meal on a particular day, and then finding out if I hold onto my receipt I can get the exact same thing the following month.
Statement #4 - A well-stocked condiment bar. - I just started realizing that ALL of their dipping sauces are accessible. Who doesn't want to conduct a taste test when the mood strikes? One less thing to remember/forget when ordering that chicken.
If another chain goes to such lengths to maintain customer loyalty, that's news to me.
9.21.09 Update - one more reason to love Chick Fil-A
Statement #5 - A very kid-friendly environment. - A toddler ambles up to the taller-than-her counter and says five words no employee can resist, "Can I have a balloon?" Done. A mother walks up and returns the unused wrapped 'toy' portion of a kid's meal (their child is too young to appreciate). I overhear that when one is returned, CFA policy offers free ice cream in exchange. Oh yeah, and they also eat free on Tuesdays.