Residents of Oklahoma City, OK, Easton, MD and Aurora, CO should start lining up now if they want to get a free Chick-fil-A meal each week for a year when the fun-loving fast-food chicken restaurant opens in their cities Thursday.

Every time Chick-fil-A opens a restaurant, the first 100 customers get a free meal each week -- 52 weeks of a chicken sandwich, potato fries and a drink.

People camp out overnight to get the 52 free food coupons, which adds up to about $250 in savings for the year, according to a recent "This American Life" podcast on people who are up in the middle of the night. All of the Chick-fil-A fanatics may already know about this, but it came as news to me.

The event has grown so popular over the past five years that the company has a new policy for the large crowds that number beyond the "First 100," as they're known.



If there are more than 100 people in line by 6 a.m. Wednesday -- the day before a new store opens -- then all 100 spots will be distributed via a raffle. Each person on site at 6 a.m. Wednesday will get a raffle ticket, and the winners must stay in their designated spot until the grand opening of the store on Thursday morning. Participants are asked not to arrive before 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.

If there aren't 100 people outside at 6 a.m. Wednesday, then a raffle won't be held and all participants will be registered one at a time, according to the Chick-fil-A Web site. But other than short restroom breaks, they must still stay in their designated spots until 6 a.m. the next day.

While that sounds like a lot of work to get a free chicken meal every week of the year, there are a lot of Chick-fil-A fans who are willing to bring tents and sleeping bags and spend the night. A recent store opening in Colorado Springs, CO, was full of campers.

The national chain is expanding, a rarity among fast-food chains in a recession. It's newest restaurant in Oklahoma City is adding 80 jobs, and its four new restaurants in the state have added 260 jobs. Chick-fil-A opened 65 standalone locations this year.

Along with the chicken sandwiches, one of the things I like best about Chick-fil-A is its excellent public relations and customer service. It has fun contests to get customers enthused about going out for a fast-food meal. How often can you say that about a fast-food restaurant chain?

I don't live near a Chick-fil-A, but if I lived in Pompano Beach, FL or Riverdale City, UT, I'd be getting ready for Dec. 10 when those restaurants open. The three opening this Thursday probably already have 100 people lined up outside for a free year's worth of meals.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be found at www.AaronCrowe.net









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