.- Supporters of traditional marriage and religious freedom turned out in droves Aug. 1 for a nationwide “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” organized to counter criticism of the Christian-run restaurant chain.
Evangelical pastor Rick Warren reported on Twitter that customers “set a world record” with the event. It was organized by radio host Mike Huckabee, after Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy was condemned by activists for supporting “the biblical definition of the family unit” in a July 2012 interview.
“We are very grateful and humbled by the incredible turnout of loyal Chick-fil-A customers on August 1 at Chick-fil-A restaurants around the country,” the company's executive vice president for marketing Steve Robinson said in an Aug. 2 statement.
“While we don¹t release exact sales numbers, we can confirm reports that it was a record-setting day,” Robinson said.
Approximately 600,000 Facebook users had expressed their intention to join in the show of support, organized by Huckabee in response to what he described as “vitriolic assaults” and “vicious hate speech” against the company and its president.
The strong turnout meant crowded parking lots, backed-up drive-through windows, and long wait times at many of the chain's 1,600-plus locations. Lines stretched outdoors at some stores, as employees set up tents and distributed water to waiting supporters.
Many of Wednesday's participants wanted to show agreement with Cathy's views on family and marriage. Other attendees said they were concerned about the company president's right to express his religious beliefs, after officials in some U.S. cities suggested Chick-fil-A would not be welcome there.
Cathy has refrained from commenting further on the controversy sparked by his remarks. But the president and chief operating officer made a public appearance during Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, greeting customers as they waited in line at a location in Fayettville, Georgia.
While thanking those who made the day a success, Robinson stressed that the event was “not a company promotion.”
He also responded to charges of bigotry against the sandwich chain, saying Chick-fil-A's tradition “is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect – regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender.”
A group of activists, meanwhile, plans to respond on Aug. 3 with a “National Same-Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A.” While over 95,000 people have been invited to the event through Facebook, only around 12,000 said they would be participating as of Aug. 2.
The company's executive vice president for marketing alluded to the planned same-sex kissing event, in his statement following the day of appreciation.
“We understand from news reports that Friday may present yet another opportunity for us to serve with genuine hospitality, superior service and great food,” Robinson said.