Chick-fil-A’s crazy long driving lines have Santa Barbara locals screaming

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Business has boomed for Chick-fil-A franchisee Travis Collins during the pandemic, thanks to a growing appetite for chicken sandwiches from his drive-thru window.

Now he sets out to control the lines of cars that pour into the surrounding streets. The city council of this affluent coastal town has proposed declaring its drive-in a public nuisance.

not so fast

Neighbors and city officials say customers hungry enough to brave the crowded lot for Chick-n-Strips or the signature sandwich of chicken with pickles on a buttered bun have caused so many traffic jams, bus delays and dangers on the main street of the city that something must be finished.

“It’s against the law, they know it’s against the law, but their chicken burgers are more important to them,” said nearby resident Rick Closson. The retired pharmacist once spent a week outside Chick-fil-A counting the line of cars at 15-minute intervals and notifying drivers who were blocking space on the sidewalk that they were violating the law. Drivers mostly blew it, he said, and kept their eyes on the line.

Mr Collins, the franchisee, said he had doubled the number of staff to move lines faster, added overflow parking spaces and hired guards to direct traffic.

“We regret that the traffic problem has gotten to the point where it has,” he said. “We have worked with the city and the community to resolve the issue once and for all.”

Cars lined the street to enter the Chick-fil-A drive-in in Santa Barbara in November.


Photo:

Larry Bickford

Many fast food outlets have encountered oversized drive-thru lines after the pandemic shuttered dining rooms and left customers wary of indoor spaces. The demand for fried comfort foods has also increased.

Businesses in Toledo, Ohio and Beaumont, Texas have filed lawsuits against Chick-fil-A franchises over growing lineups. In Union Township, NJ, a judge ordered another Chick-fil-A location to temporarily shut down its drive-thru, after a nearby competing restaurant said its customers couldn’t get around the line.

The food battle is particularly hot in Southern California’s automotive sprawl, which some fast-food historians believe is the birthplace of the modern drive-in experience.

In-N-Out, a cult-status burger brand, originated in Los Angeles County and is credited with popularizing the use of a two-way radio that allowed diners to order without leaving their cars. Today, at its Venice Boulevard location in Los Angeles, it is common to see a line 30 vehicles deep, stretching through a nearby mall parking lot and down a residential street.

Some 95 miles north of Santa Barbara, a foodie destination nicknamed the American Riviera, the city council spent nearly five hours in March grilling on the local Chick-fil-A drive-thru. One resident said the traffic around him made the beach community “basically unlivable”, adding: “It’s almost like we’re in Los Angeles now.”

The mayor and another member of council revealed that a resident threatened them with a recall effort if they did not move to declare the drive-thru a nuisance.

Local Chick-fil-A supporters, including employees, working mothers and a recent college graduate, have portrayed the kerfuffle as nothing, describing the restaurant as a supportive workplace and a cheap and cheap meal option. easy.

Rick Closson said he had run out of patience with saved cars.


Photo:

Christine Mai-Duc/The Wall Street Journal

Josh Romero, a 25-year-old video producer and Santa Barbara resident, testified before the board that he was a “Chick-fil-A expert,” having dined there twice a week for the past five years.

“I think it’s kind of funny that people are so upset about it,” Mr. Romero said on a recent Friday, shortly after placing his usual order of four chicken strips, large fries, d a Dr Pepper and assorted sauces from his car.

In a 14-page memorandum titled “Traffic Conditions Associated with the Chick-fil-A Queue” sent to city officials in January, Santa Barbara Chief Transportation Engineer Derrick Bailey wrote that the drive-thru had driven traffic for an average of 70 minutes on weekdays and 92 minutes on Saturdays. The backup on the busiest day of the study period was 2.5 hours.

Councilman Eric Friedman said he had no idea when he was elected in 2017 that he would handle so many traffic complaints in Chick-fil-A. He said he receives about a dozen comments a month on the issue and is often approached by constituents at Trader Joe’s, where he works part-time.

At the March hearing, a coterie of lawyers and Chick-fil-A business executives flanked Mr. Collins, the local franchisee, in a virtual appearance. He pleaded with city officials to hold off on any drive-thru decisions until labor shortages ease and customers feel more comfortable with dining out. interior.

After hours of debate, the city council ordered staff to draft a nuisance statement, but stopped short of issuing one until at least June. In a subsequent progress report to city officials, attorneys for Chick-fil-A said its changes mostly eliminated the queue on State Street.

During the dinner rush on a recent Friday, a uniformed guard sorted the vehicles into two neat lines. A line receding into the road quickly cleared. But customers trying to navigate the maze to find parking were still stranded, and an SUV honked angry horns as it snuck through the exit to avoid traffic.

Mr Collins has offered to expand his drive-thru to accommodate more customers, although some residents fear this will attract more chowhounds.

The drive-thru doesn’t bother Mike Hamilton, an engineer who lives nearby.

“A lot of people here are retired and don’t have much else to do,” Mr Hamilton said, while making two pepperoni pies from nearby Rusty’s Pizza. “It’s a small town, so people tend to get irritated by little things.”

People lined up in their cars for hours at a newly opened In-N-Out in Aurora, Colorado November 2020.


Photo:

drone base/Reuters

Write to Christine Mai-Duc at christine.maiduc@wsj.com

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