DC’s first standalone Chick-fil-A restaurant opened Wednesday morning in Columbia Heights, and as it has done with each new store opening over the past 12 years, the chain offered the first 100 customers one free combo—a #1 chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and a drink—per week for a year, totaling 52 meals. All you have to do to get that bounty? Wait in a line that forms the day before the grand opening, and stay there until the 6 AM grand opening.
Jeffrey Cousins from Brookland was too restless to sleep early Tuesday morning. So he asked his wife’s permission, packed his camping chair, pillow and sleeping bag, and rode his bike to Columbia Heights.
When he arrived at 12:45 AM, he was first. In areas with more Chick-fil-As, maximum capacity is often already reached when the line officially opens at 6 a.m., said Chick-fil-A spokesperson Tiffany Simmons. But in Columbia Heights, the line grew slowly enough for people to join after work. The last person to qualify for free food signed up at 7:30 PM Tuesday, Simmons said, and 10 alternates signed up afterward.
Boris Lee, a resident physician from Columbia Heights, decided to grab a spot on his way home from the hospital. Lee, who logs up to 80 hours a week, says his camping chair and neighbors are all he needs tonight.
“I work too much,” said Lee, while snacking on fried chicken strips provided by the restaurant. “I don’t need entertainment, I just need to chill.”
Lee’s line-mate, Del Britt, a legal research analyst from Silver Spring, said he discovered the promotion on his way to buy hair clippers at Target. He plans to stay cozy despite his metal folding chair: “I have improv bubble wrap cushion for my tuchus,” he told Washingtonian.
The First 100 are given wristbands upon arrival and a set boundary for their movement, which includes trips inside the Chick-fil-A to use the bathroom or charge their phones. Random checks are performed, and if someone isn’t found within the designated area, they’re immediately disqualified.
Employees provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as sporadic entertainment. The 70-seat restaurant isn’t large enough to fit the First 100 overnight, but staff will come outside to play games. Prizes like a gallon of lemonade or cookies are rewarded for rolling an Oreo from your forehead into your mouth, or sticking the most corn balls on someone wearing a whip cream-covered shower cap.
In previous years, Chick-fil-A campers would travel across the country for Chick-fil-A openings, but the chain recently changed its system. In an effort to make the event “a community friendly party” only customers within local zip codes were eligible for the giveaway.
“A lot of people are starting to meet their neighbors,” said Simmons.