Imagine it’s the middle of July. It’s close to 95 degrees and the humidity is close to 80%. You have been standing outside in the Florida sun for 30 minutes. Sweat is dripping down your back. You have a smile on your face as you squint your eyes in the bright sun. Sound miserable? Chick-fil-A team members endure these conditions all summer long in an effort to provide outstanding service to drive-thru customers. Chick-fil-A prides itself on serving great food at great speeds with top notch customer interactions. Chick-fil-A also takes pride in the high level of care they give to their team members. In the summer heat, team members understandably try to avoid with the utmost gusto taking drive-thru shifts. Nobody wants to be outside in a sauna-like environment with a smile and an iPad taking orders. To combat that mentality, Chick-fil-A franchisees seek all methods available to cool their team members. During my time working at Chick-fil-A, here are a few we used…
|Drive-Thru Cooling Solutions|
|2. Canopy Tent||💲💲💲|
|4. Water Cooler||💲|
|5. Modified Uniforms||💲💲|
|6. Modified Shift Rotations||💲💲|
|7. IcePlate Safety Vest||💲💲|
At our restaurant, we had a large umbrella at the cashier location. The umbrella was quite large in size so when the sun was positioned up in the sky, the team member was in the shade. When the sun was at an angle, the team member would shift around into the shade while still processing payments and issuing receipts. While umbrellas were effective in some fashion, they come with some drawbacks: they are large, they require a lot of room, they need to be set up each morning and taken down each night and stored, and not all drive-thrus are equipped to handle them. Luckily, our storage room was adjacent to our drive-thru area.
In addition to the large umbrella where the cash cart was located, we also provided a mid-sized canopy tent along the path of the drive-thru traffic pattern. This tent offered shade to team members out taking orders. This tent was close enough for the team members to stand beneath for a few moments to get out of the direct sunlight. We also kept a large water cooler underneath the tent.
Fans are an option for some stores, but not ours. We had insufficient electric outlets in our drive-thru area. We tried running extension cords, but that didn’t last long. The Florida weather annihilates anything metal, and the fans had a short life span. I’ve seen stores with fans mounted up high for the team members, which is great as long as the team member is right in front of the fan. But our staff walks alongside the cars to take orders, so fans really aren’t that helpful in our drive-thru environment.
In Florida, or anywhere hot, you learn quickly to hydrate all. the. time. Perspiration is your worst enemy and can lead to dehydration which can take you down the path of health concerns. The water cooler was similar to the ones you’d find at kids’ soccer fields. It did the trick, and could hold a lot of water. We also provided cups for the team members which presented some issues such as waste (not everyone used the same cup the whole shift) and litter (not everyone put their trash into the can). Inevitably, the cooler would run out (because nobody was monitoring the water level) and then mass pandemonium arose in order to find someone to refill the cooler. But water is essential, and we did the best we could.
Our location has incredibly caring owners/operators who are Florida natives and worked at Chick-fil-A when they were young. They know first-hand how hot it is here. They purchased special moisture-wicking t-shirts for our team members. The shirts were printed with our store name/location beneath the Chick-fil-A logo, so it also served as a type of branding/marketing. Only team members who worked outside received the t-shirts. Kitchen and Hospitality staff didn’t need the shirts; they were indoors all day long. The t-shirts were certainly lighter than the corporate polo shirt, and the team loved wearing them. One note: evaporative cooling (the principal on which moisture-wicking tech is built), only works when humidity is below a certain level. This will limit their effectiveness depending on your geographic location. The owners also purchased shorts and large brimmed hats for our outside team. We even bought sunglasses to protect their eyes! We had them fully decked out to combat the Florida heat with every weapon at our disposal.
In order to minimize discomfort and health issues, we implemented a short rotation of shifts. During the peak sun blazing hours, drive-thru team members were permitted shifts no longer than 20 minutes. I’ve seen the team members come inside with beet red cheeks and knew they were exposed to heat and it was affecting them. Having team members rotate shifts more frequently results in lost efficiency. While it may seem like a cost-effective way to protect your team, it truly costs money in lost efficiency.
The discovery of the IcePlate Safety Vest has literally saved the day. Wearing these frozen plates provided direct internal physical relief from the hot sun. Team members could stay out longer, up to 45 minutes, and then when they would swap shifts, they would pass on their IcePlate to the next team member (or get a new one). We kept enough IcePlates in the walk in freezer to accommodate our team wearing them from 10am until 5pm (sometimes longer). Our store was one of the early adopters, and in those early days the IcePlates were worn with a harness. When the IcePlate would melt, condensation would get the team members’ shirts wet and then when they came back inside, they would be too cold. (Can you even imagine being too cold in summertime?) Qore Performance recognized this phenomenon and designed a sleeve that not only protected from condensation, it also was safety yellow which replaced the yellow safety belts our team members wore (on top of the IcePlate harness) when outside in drive-thru. It was a win-win.
When combating Mother Nature, there is not just one solution. Keeping safe requires an arsenal of tools. We still used the umbrellas, tents, water cooler, and modified uniforms, but those alone did not protect our team members from overheating. Wearing frozen ice on your body does that trick. You have to experience it to believe it. Qore Performance built one more tool for our toolbox.
Interested in how the IcePlate Safety Vest was created as a result of a unique collaboration between Qore Performance and Chick-fil-A? Check out this video:Looking to keep your outdoor employees warm in cold weather? Read this article for tips and strategies.