Nearly 100 people proved that they weren’t too chicken to camp outside for 24 hours in the cold. It was a year ago when Chick-Fil-A replaced Lee’s Sandwiches across the University Town Center, and the surrounding residents of Irvine have waited anxiously for the eatery to finally open its doors. In honor of the big day, Chick-Fil-A offered extra incentive for the customers that had them scrambling to snag a place in line.
Just last Wednesday, hundreds of people showed up to camp outside for its “First 100” celebration. This event continues to be the chain’s signature grand opening event that transforms the parking lot into a community friendly party as the crowd awaits for the opening Thursday morning. In return, those who were willing to brave the chilling weather received a year supply of free Chick-Fil-A meals.
“I’ve taken 941 pictures today,” said Jery Lee. For Lee, taking pictures is just one of the many things people are doing occupy their time.
Dozens of tents of different colors and sizes were lined up and dominated the drive thru area. Participants showed that there was too much activity going on to sleep any time soon.
Music filled the air, creating a fun and lighthearted atmosphere as some participants engaged in games that offered prizes. A pumpkin decorating contest took place, which was a great way to keep participants awake. This helped participants stay active before sleeping, if any got the chance to do so.
“If you don’t have a chair, grab anything that can be marked as your spot, something to mark your territory. That can be your piece of clothing, a hat, that can be marked as your spot if you don’t have a chair,” the DJ said.
Much of what participants can do is within the property of Chick-Fil-A. In order to qualify for the free meal, participants must stay on the property.
Chick-Fil-A has had a long history of offering the first 100 participants a year supply equivalent of free food for those who camp out for 24 hours. If more than 100 people are onsite by 6 a.m. on Wednesday morning, then a raffle is offered. For this year, no raffle was needed as there was less than 100 people onsite. In addition, a select few alternatives are chosen in the case that people leave the property.
“Our goal is to have as much fun as possible, then to get free stuff,” said Tawny Nichols, a Yorba Linda resident.
Nichols attended the event with her friend who has been a participant for the fourth time.
“It’s really helpful having someone who knows what’s going on. I can see how it can be overwhelming to wait around and not know exactly what was going to happen next. So it’s nice to know that it is doable.”
As a team, they participated in a hula contest, danced for an hour and walked laps to try and exercise.
“There’s something odd when you’re told you can’t do something, how all of a sudden you really want to leave,” said Nichols. “We’re just camping out in this spot, talking to people we don’t know, make friends, try to enjoy the moment, enjoy the food.”
Others, like Dennis Malone, have a long history of being devoted to Chick-Fil-A.
“This is the 32nd Chick-Fil-A opening that I’ve been to,” Malone said. “In fact, I’m still using paper ones from 2007.”
In contrast to previous years, paper cards were awarded to participants, which gave them more leeway to give the cards for anyone to use.
“The days when they had the paper ones, I was giving them to friends and family,” Malone said. “I got family in Kansas, I got friends in Tennessee and Texas, and when I would send it to them they would use it.”
This year, the first 100 participants are rewarded a digital offer card that is loaded with 52 meals, equivalent to a year supply of free Chick-Fil-A. Craig Takata, Restaurant Operator, says that the cards are considered to be more convenient for customers. Instead of carrying around individual cards, customers can have one card that is pre-registered.
The cards offer participants one choice to receive the classic number one combo on the menu. The combo consists of a chick-fil-a sandwich, which is a boneless breast of chicken, hand breaded and served on a toasted bun with dill pickles.
Yet it is not only the meals that attract customers. This location in Irvine is said to be the largest in Orange County. Featuring rows of booths, and a long ordering counter, with a spacious walkway inside, it is hard not to stop and take a look at this grand opening.
To prepare participants for the opening, Chick-Fil-A offered three meals a day to those who stayed for the entire 24 hours. In addition, snacks were offered in between meals that consisted of chocolate chip cookies.
“In the morning, for breakfast, we go around to the drive in window, and they give us the breakfast and we go to our tents or tables and eat. Usually they do that for lunch too, but for this store, we got to eat inside the store which is a first time ever,” Malone said.
In order to oversee how many people remained for the night, line checks were offered. These line checks grouped the first 50 participants together, then the last half of the participants.
Jon Guo, who heard about this event from Facebook, says that it was a good learning experience for him.
“When it comes to your habits, it kind of forces you to socialize with people,” Guo said. “A lot of people want to get to know each other.”
“I was one of the first people to be in Chick-Fil-A here, so I can say that I was one of the first. I plan to treat my friends who plan to visit me.”
Chick-Fil-A currently offers 11 menu options, from breakfast items, classic sandwiches, salads and wraps, to chicken strips and desserts of chocolate chip cookies.
Even during exam week, it is the first experience for students like Ryan Dobis, who happened to be the first in line and spent his time studying for his biology exam.
“I’ve never been the first in a line or anything like that so it’s cool because I’ve never been in that situation,” Dobis said.
Yet all around the property, people occupy their time by making small talk, playing chess and having lunch with the person next in line of them. This event has allowed individuals to come together and form a community. They have all made bonds that, even if it was for a day, showed them how to make the best of their experiences.
“Slow down, enjoy the moment, stop being so anxious thinking about the next moment, the next thing, and just understand that this is where we are now and you got to make the best of it,” Nichols said.
The next Chick-Fil-A grand opening takes place Nov. 20 in Los Angeles.
“Do it once in your lifetime. It’s a lot of fun,” Lee said.