For 24 hours a group of about a 100 people camped out in the parking lot of the new Chick-Fil-A restaurant on Sunshine Strip in Harlingen, Texas.

What compelled them to spend 24 hours in a parking lot?

Chicken sandwiches of course!

Going back to the 1960s, the chicken sandwich has been one of America’s fast food favorites. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, is credited with inventing the chicken patty sandwich. As the owner of a restaurant called the Dwarf House, he was challenged by a poultry company to make a chicken patty that could fit on an airplane tray. In order to save his working customers’s time during their lunch hour, Cathy pioneered a fast method of cooking boneless chicken patties using a pressure cooker. The idea came from watching his mother place a heavy lid on top of her pan when she would cook chicken.

The name Chick-Fil-A was born when Cathy considered that the nicest cuts of beef were called fillets. Chicken Fillet was shortened and spelled with an A to represent the “A” quality service his restaurants would provide. Over 50 years later, Chick-Fil-A restaurants are still providing top notch service and their famous chicken sandwiches.

As a way to create publicity and reward some of their loyal customers with food, Chick-Fil-A puts on “First 100 Campouts” when they open new locations. The first 100 people to stay in the parking lot for 24 hours before the new restaurant opens receive a swipe card for 52 #1 Chicken Sandwich Meals. The #1 meal includes a juicy chicken patty on a buttered bun with pickles, waffle fries, and soda or tea. You can also choose your favorite sauce to dip your sandwich or fries in. The 52 meals must be used within a year or they expire. The choice of when to use the meals is up to the owner of the card. You can use 1 a week, all 52 at once, or anything in between.

At 6 a.m. the day before the store opens, Chick-Fil-A’s employees will count each adult with a valid piece of mail proving they live in one of the approved zip codes. Chick-Fil-A wants the participants to live in the same geographic region as the new store. If there are less than 100 qualified adults present, then those that are there each receive a numbered bracelet. The opportunity to join in late remains open throughout the day until the 100th person has joined. If there are over 100 qualified adults counted at 6 a.m., then the employees will do a raffle to decide who gets to stay.

Fortunately, at this First 100 event, there were only about 80 qualified adults, so everyone who showed up at 6:00 was able to participate. I don’t think the 100th person showed up until the afternoon. As Jesus taught that a manager is just to pay all his workers the same wage, which they agreed to work for, even if others begin later in the day (Matthew 20:1-16), so Chick-Fil-A has chosen to give the same reward to those who start their campout later in the day even if others started at 6:00. The names of those who want to participate after the first 100 adults have joined are put on a wait list. If anyone is disqualified by leaving the parking lot, the next person on the wait list is able to take their spot.

In addition to the digital swipe card loaded with the 52 meal vouchers, each successful First 100 contestant received a T-shirt and a plastic Chick-Fil-A cup. Everyone was fed a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a few options to choose from. Water and sweet tea containers were frequently replenished for the participants to stay hydrated. In order to give the employees some practice at what is a new job for many of them, the participants were lined up and directed through the drive-through lane as if they were customers on a normal day. While standing in the sun for about an hour in the drive-through lane was not fun for the contestants, it looked like great practice for the employees to complete orders using the normal drive-through system.

Shade was a precious commodity that day. Tents and canopies were up as soon as the sun came out. Others lined up chairs along the side of the building where there was a strip of shade at noon. They were a captive audience for a street preacher who stood up on a step stool and began preaching. He talked about Truett Cathy who lived his life according to biblical principles. Cathy’s life verse was Proverbs 22:1, which says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” Stating that he believed Cathy would approve, the preacher opened his Bible to Isaiah 1 and read some verses. After some explanation, the preacher pleaded with people to trust Christ. No employees tried to stop the proclamation. Neither did anyone heckle him. A few soft sounds of agreement were heard. 

Some participants hang out in the shade of their canopy

With temperatures in the high 90s, everyone looked for a way to cool off. The water balloon toss proved to be just the ticket. No one seemed disappointed as their balloon popped on impact, splashing them with cold water. At least one balloon was squeezed directly over head until popped to provide a nice shower. Some, wanting to get even wetter, dumped ice water on themselves from the big metal containers that Chick-Fil-A kept filling.

The blazing sun went down and the air cooled off to be a bit more pleasant. Ice cream was distributed, and a projector screen was set up to show a family flick. The long hours of being in the heat had taken their toll. Many were already in their tents trying to sleep. Some grunted a bit as the volume cut on, which made their sleep more difficult. One participant named Hector came without a tent and stayed awake through the night, sitting in his camping chair.

However little sleep they got, a sense of accomplishment seemed to wash over each participant’s face, as they walked into the store just before 6 a.m. the next morning. It was time to receive their long awaited reward. The store owner, Mr. Morales, was present to cheer them on as they filed in. The cow mascot was shaking hands and posing for pictures.

With their First 100 Card in hand, most of the participants loaded up their gear and drove off, saving their first meal swipe for another day. The drive-through window was already taking customers. Another Chick-Fil-A location is open for business.

If you would like to participate in a First 100 event in your area, you can look on Chick-Fil-A’s website where they post new location openings and the official rules.