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Chick-fil-A gives it away

Fans camped out for free food

POSTED: November 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Paula Trimble, of Conyers, heads for a coffee refill at the new Chick-fil-A on Spout Springs Road Wednesday morning. She and her husband Charles were camping out in the store's parking lot while participating in the company's "First 100 Fans" promotion for the grand opening of the store.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — Teresa Henderson brought her Chick-fil-A gear featuring the restaurant’s cow mascot. Another group of people brought a TV and a propane heater.

All the campers brought heavy winter clothing and plenty of patience, as they waited all day Wednesday for the newest Chick-fil-A to open.

They weren’t just waiting for biscuits and coffee — although that also might have been on their minds as the store on Spout Springs Road, at the entrance to the Stonebridge Village shopping center, was to open its doors at 6:30 a.m. today.

These customers also were preparing to line up in the chilly darkness to get coupons for free, weekly Chick-fil-A meals for a year, as part of the restaurant chain’s "First 100 Fans" promotion.

But then, "it’s not even the coupons any more," said Buford’s Teresa Henderson, who has attended more than a few of the events. "It’s the people. ... I just love the people and the party."

The chain began its promotion of handing out the prizes to its first 100 customers at new stores in 2003.

The response was phenomenal, with people showing up hours beforehand to stand in line. As the promotions continued, company officials noticed that the same people kept showing up at the promotions.

So, today, "First 100 Fans," involves more than employees handing out the prizes.

Restaurant workers now begin registering people 24 hours before the giveaways and treating them to free food, movies, games and ice cream throughout the event.

"This is my favorite event of the whole week," said Lauren Thigpen, a marketing official based at the chain’s Hamilton Mill Road store in Buford.

"You get to meet a lot of people and people make friends," she said. "It’s a really fun event — people love it. They drive from all over. ... People make a hobby of it."

About 60 people were in line when Thigpen began signing in people at 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Braving bone-chilling temperatures, dozens of people had set up tents across the restaurant’s parking lot.

"Some people said they got here at 2 this morning, 3 this morning ... and slept in their cars," Thigpen said.

Maximilian Soubannarath of Bethlehem, south of Winder, arrived at 11 p.m. Tuesday with a couple of friends.

"Nobody was here, so we stayed for an hour and went to Wal-Mart to burn some time," he said. "Then we came back and stayed."

Soubannarath, who owns a kitchen design business with his father, ended up being first in line. He had made that a goal, as he hadn’t been first before in previous trips to "First 100" events.

So why bear the cold weather and the long hours?

"Free Chick-fil-A," he said, with a laugh and while leading fellow campers on a walk around the restaurant to pick up breakfast. "It’s fun. You don’t get to do it very often."

There are some rules to the event. First of all, contestants must be 18 or older. Secondly, they can’t leave the property once they register.

As they sign in, campers receive a wristband and are assigned a number based on the order in which they arrived.

Employees conduct random checks through the event to see if the contestants are still hanging around, by rounding them up and forming a line.

If anyone is missing, everybody behind that person moves up in numerical order. And because the restaurant will let up to 125 people sign up for the event, that could mean person No. 101 could become No. 100 and suddenly be eligible to win the year’s worth of meals.

The 25 people not eligible for the prizes still have an incentive to stay for the giveaways.

Thigpen said the restaurant raffles off a year’s worth of meals to five of those people, with each of them getting one raffle ticket for each hour they are on the property.

"A lot of these people are newbies," Thigpen said of the Flowery Branch group, "but (many others) have done them before and they know the rules."

No novice to the promotion, Henderson came to the event decked out in Chick-fil-A accessories, including a cowbell necklace and black and white spotted visor.

She also had some cow items in her tent.

"This is the place to be," said Henderson, a banquet server at Lake Lanier Islands.



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