KFC in China and who the Hell is Chick fil A?

I was on the verge of writing another piece about something else when I recently walked into a Chick fil A restaurant.  And that is therefore today what I wish to write about.   Now, I profess to not know enough about this restaurant chain but only to write a quick entry.   And I apologize to my non-American readers(recently surpassing over 50% of my readership!).

Everyone knows of KFC.   It is all over China.  Yet I seriously doubt that many of my non-American readers know that KFC is now only the 2nd most popular chicken restaurant in the United States, based off a couple metrics: sales per store, and total revenue.

Why is this a story?

Chick fil A has only 1800 stores in America.  KFC has 4500 stores. 

Thus, Chick fil A is big news in America.   Why on Earth am I writing about this, and what does it have to do with China???(patience grasshopper)

True, the day will come(if not already), when KFC is bigger in China than it is in America.   KFC may even “give up” on its native market.   KFC has no competition in China for the foreseeable future, and in China, “the world is its oyster”. 

But KFC is as “American” as the rodeo and cowboy hat.    KFC itself, is a Southern Institution.  So KFC no longer being the top dog in the USA chicken market is quite frankly, humiliating.   And speaks volumes for the attitudes Americans have when choosing a place to eat.  

Chick fil A is a rather controversial restaurant chain that also began in the Southern United States, albeit in the 1940’s.  The success of this chicken restaurant itself also speaks volumes about American Society.   Mostly bad, I’m afraid.  If you want a quick 15 minute lesson on America today, finish this post. (or visit a Chick fil A and a KFC, and compare for yourself)

The first thing one must understand about Chick Fil A is that it is not “everywhere” in America.   It is mostly in the South.    The next thing to understand is that due to unique American Cultural Characteristics, it will probably not have as much growth overseas(anywhere) as it does in America.  I never thought I’d say this but 用美国特俗来看.

Chick fil A’s success is all the more impressive, in that not only does it have much fewer restaurants than KFC, but it is also closed on Sunday’s.  

A fastfood restaurant closed on Sunday’s?  Really?  (That’s as rare in America nowadays as management sharing the wealth with its workers!)

Chick fil A is a bonafide company managed by conservative Christian values.   It is anti gay, anti gay marriage, and to its credit, very much believes in the Sabbath.  Cool. 

But what does Chick fil A’s success and KFC’s failure say about America? 

Well, in a nutshell, it says a hell of a lot about RACE.  

As I’ve discussed before, Americans are not able, much less willing to have a no holds barred discussion on RACE.  The phrase “you can’t handle the truth” comes to mind.

Please don’t get me wrong:  race relations in the United States are many multitudes greater than when I was born in the 60’s.   Race relations between 1865 and 1965 in the United States was based more on “keeping the black man down”, and “containing” the Negro than on anything else.   And shameful though to say, it was often done LEGALLY.   When not judicially codified by law, intimidation and a “license to kill” were rampant throughout the South for an entire century after Lincoln. 

The American South was pretty much a “rancid” place to be during this timeframe if one was not WHITE.

(My father, only 16 and from Ohio, has spoken to me a few times of the “different world” he was in while stationed in the Air Force in Biloxi, MS in 1954.)

Today in the South interracial dating is common, and let’s not kid ourselves….things are infinitely better today than before I was born. 

Still, even today, the success of one and the failure of another in my mind perfectly reflects our social mores today.   And it’s a pity we cannot read about it in the papers, or hear about it on TV.
Still….why is KFC dying such a slow death, while Chick Fil a soars?

If one goes to a KFC in America, almost always one will find a restaurant that while not dirty, definitely unkempt.   Tables will go without being cleaned.  The floor will have the sheen of grease.   The bathrooms the look of not having been kept clean.     The windows are dirty.  The KFC’s are small.  And as the franchisee has to buy the land himself, the unit will quite often be on a cheap piece of land, i.e. in a not so desirable location. 

It looks very much like an “absentee owner” running the place.

The lunch traffic while busy, will pretty much not reflect store traffic once finished.   My local KFC was empty, and with a parking lot full of potholes.   I say “was” because now it’s gone.  Closed.  Out of business.

So it’s here one talks about the “shopping experience”. 

KFC in America “fails” the shopping experience.

Am I generalizing?  I don’t think so.  After all, KFC has already over the past decade closed approximately 20% of its stores. 

Oh, and back to that “shopping experience”, I almost forgot to add that KFC staffs almost exclusively  black people.  Hardly any whites, except poor whites.   Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a KFC staffed with more than a few white people.   (Yeah, I’m sure maybe those do exist…in Utah? South Dakota?)

Their aprons are usually dirty.  The people working there quite often have tired looks on their faces(I wish I wasn’t here!”)  They lack energy.   They are not happy.  Quite frankly it’s a negative environment.   The workers are without question usually “poor”.

And maybe that’s the “problem”.  Nobody, regardless of the society, wants to be served by “poor” people.   Especially “unhappy” poor people.    Wearing a dirty apron.  With a greasy floor.
What I’ve just written one will never read in an American newspaper.    Or hear spoken about.  

Even to publicly talk about it would leave one open to accusations of racism.  (some accusations with a solid basis, and some without)  The reasons for KFC’s demise will be all about “financials”, and indeed be also about the “shopping experience”.   No question.  But that is just “code” for “poor black people” with “dirty aprons”.    

Is that fair?  Of course not….probably 99% of these workers are honest, hardworking people.  Mom’s with kids, busting their ass to make rent. 

It’s very similar to Walmart and Target.  No one wants to shop at a place populated with mostly “poor” customers.    The aisles are cramped.   The lighting is so-so.   Everywhere you look one sees massively overweight people.   White Americans are embarrassed to walk into a Walmart full of poor blacks and Hispanics, equally full of white people with missing teeth.   

Is this true? Surely not everyone at a Wal-Mart in America is this way?  Of course not.   The above is more a perception, than a reality. 

So they go to Target instead.   Wider aisles.  Much better lighting.  No poor people.  No missing teeth.

My wife fits into the Target category.  She hates Wal-Mart for every reason I’ve given above. 
I try and tell her the product from Target comes from the same damn factory as Wal-marts….and the food is the same!

She ain’t buyin’ it.  Granted, Target is more expensive as well.  My coffee costs fifty cents more.  But after awhile, I find myself being drawn to Target as well….the lighting…the slimmer crowds….blah blah…the better “shopping experience”. 

So now we come to Chick fil A.

I went to my first Chick fil A maybe a year or so ago.   I was blown away.
Every worker was a white person.  Every one!  (I’ve since been to a few where they do have a few blacks, and I did see an Asian as well)

The place was well lit, and twice the size of KFC.  It was a great location.  The drive thru was full of cars and the customers wouldn’t ya know it…..all white.  (I saw one black lady).   People were constantly cleaning tables and emptying the trash.

True, the workers were mostly high school kids.   Chick fil A is the first fast food chain I’ve ever been to with such a predominantly white staff.   True, this is the suburbs, but hey so is McDonald’s….and their staff is all black.

So what gives?   It’s pretty clear to me that Chick fil A is a place that attracts white applicants,  and well, are high school kids gonna be unhappy about anything?  (the Chinese kids are all at home studying..another reason why it’s hard for them to properly assimilate within American society, ie none of them have jobs!)

And customers want happy workers with a future still in front of them.  

And that’s why in the racially mixed society of America Chick fil A is just begging for a racial discrimination lawsuit.   Chick fil A not having near as many black workers as the other guys is simply too obvious to ignore.

And now we come to China.

One would think Chick fil A opening in China, now that it’s kicked KFC’s ass in America, would be a sure thing.  One would think that KFC would be running scared. 

Nope.  Not at all.


Because Chick fil A’s crushing success could only happen in America.   In a society with the racial baggage of America.  End of story.   This post doesn’t have a title yet…should I call it Why CFA will never beat KFC in China”?)

 I’ve never been to Australia.  Hope to go someday.  But are Australia’s KFC’s full of aborigine workers?    With unhappy faces and dirty aprons?  I doubt it.   You get my point.

And China is the same.  Chick fil A opening up in China will be interesting.   Will they be allowed to close on Sunday’s?  (I think so. ) Will they be allowed to explain why?  (I don’t think so) 

One only wonders how the Chinese, the gold medalists of Mercantile Vision, would react to such a story?  (all that money going by the wayside…!)  My answer is they would be most bewildered by such a place.  Yet they would be rather admiring, all the same.   I think it may even start a serious debate in China about the (gulp) overzealous habit of chasing a buck.

And that’s why I don’t think Chick fil A would be welcome with open arms in China.  China simply doesn’t need any more debate and discussion at the moment.   Now would Chick fil A be banned from China?  I don’t think so. But I’m rather sure KFC would work with the government to slow market entry.

(What about the owners of Chick fil A?  Would they even want to enter such a “Godless nation”?)

KFC’s success in China is due to 3 things:  the officials are more involved in decision making, KFC is still pretty much the only game in town, and China is still very much a Han Nation.   To its credit, it’s therefore within this context less classless than America.   There isn’t as much racial baggage.   And that is one advantage China will always have over America.


  1. It's not racism to not want to be around poor dirty and stupid people. It doesn't matter what race they are as you admit yourself. The trailer park whites are just as bad as the trailer park blacks. Do you think the quality of employee might have something to do with the divergence between KFC and cfa? I'm sure you've never worked fast food before but those floors and tables don't clean themselves. Do those sad unmotivated KFC employees wash their hands? Do they make sure your food is fresh?

    You can shoehorn any problem into the racism narrative but the simpler answer is that KFC in America is catering to a different consumer base than cfa, one that prefers lower prices vs higher quality.

  2. Actually, I have worked in fast food. My first job was in an ice cream store when I was 14. Then I worked at McDonald's when I was 15, followed by Wendy's when I was 16 and 17.

    Now that I've established my street cred, in my simple mind, chicken is chicken. But wait...isn't underwear just underwear? SO why do some folks prefer Target over Wal-mart? It's all built in the same damn factory. Just different shifts.

    I think the quality of the employee does have something to do wit hit actually. Customers have a better shopping experience at CFA then KFC. No one wants to be served chicken from a fat lady. They'd love to have it served to them by a 16 year old, skinny white girl with blue eyes and a smile on her face.

    In China, KFC is so popular because the Chinese are a homogeneous society. That is my point. Thus right off the bat, CFA loses it's competitive advantage should it go to China. Thus it won't be as popular in China as it is currently in America.

    Thx for the post! Keep commenting.

  3. You're wrong and I'm not sure you have the capacity to change your initial belief but here goes nothing.

    CFA isn't racist. They will higher people that can do the job the best. For reasons beyond CFA's control, that disproportionately is white Americans partly because they make up a lot more of the American population among other factors. Judging based on race is the definition of racist and it's what you've been doing when comparing CFA to KFC.

    If CFA does open a store in China, it will most definitely employ Chinese workers, as would KFC. Given that the race will no longer be a factor, (even though I believe it to be minimal in the first place) the two food chains will have to be judged on the quality, service and price. It's already undeniable that CFA wins in two of those areas and if the Chinese people are able and willing to pay the difference, I believe they are, then CFA will definitely beat KCF in those markets. Both will do well enough because China markets tends to like American brands but one unless KFC's food or service get to CFA's levels, it just won't beat it.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I think your second paragraph is sound. Chick Fil A meanwhile is in larger upper middle class suburbs. Not sure white customers want all black workers. It would effect their shopping experience. Remember, "shopping experience" is code for shopping without running into Mexicans with 12 kids, etc. Rather it means seeing someone that looks "like you".


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