In the latest sign that all press is good press, Leon Stafford of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Chick-fil-A's sales soared 12 percent, to $4.6 billion, in 2012. The good fortune follows several years of impressive expansion and strong sales, which have pushed the privately-held company's valuation north of $4.5 billion, making billionaires out of its founders.
Chick-fil-A caught a great deal of flak throughout the year after its president Dan Cathy came out against gay marriage and in support of the "biblical definition of the family unit." Gay rights activists staged protests at locations around the country, and some even called for a boycott of the brand.
But if the uproar dampened enthusiasm for the brand among pro-gay rights consumers, it also inspired vigorous backlash from some conservative (and politically apathetic but poultry-loving) customers. Soon after the height of the controversy, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee dubbed (via a Facebook posting) August 1 Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, leading to record sales throughout the chain.
These latest sales data are just further proof that all that negative coverage didn't hurt demand for chicken sandwiches among Chick-fil-A's core consumers.
Strong sales look likely to continue for some time. The company opened 96 new outposts in 2012, after opening 92 in 2011, so more and more of the country now has access to the food. Plus, Chick-fil-A has backed down from its opposition to gay marriage -- Cathy has even apparently become friendly with a top LGBT rights activist. So it may only be a matter of time before pro-gay consumers become as enthusiastic as the rest of the country.
CORRECTION:: This article has been amended to reflect that Huckabee, not Chick-fil-A, instigated the Appreciation Day event.
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Denny's may be known for its gut bomb menu items such as the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/01/dennys-mac-n-cheese-patty-melt_n_945390.html" target="_hplink">mac n cheese patty melt</a>, but survey participants were not so enthused with the offerings.
A stack of big fluffy pancakes is not enough to persuade people to vote IHOP #1. Instead, participants voted it number 16.
15. Ruby Tuesday
Ruby Tuesday's was called out for having the healthiest menu choices, but that wasn't enough to make it a favorite chain.
14. TGI Friday's
With a somewhat similar menu to Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday's also did not stack up so high.
0.7% thought Chili's fajitas, quesadillas and other offerings were worthy of the number one spot.
Noticing a pattern here? Applebee's only fared a tad better than its competitors.
11. Golden Corral
Just edging into the top 10 is Golden Corral, perhaps not the best known chain, but definitely a player. Based on this survey, it seems as if buffets are still popular, and Golden Corral was considered the best value.
10. Longhorn Steakhouse
Longhorn Steakhouse may not be the next Peter Luger's, but it makes enough diners happy enough.
9. Red Robin
We can't help wondering if the catchy Red Robin jingle contributes to the chain's success.
8. Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel has almost a cult following of fans craving Southern-inspired fare.
7. Outback Steakhouse
Those bloomin' onions apparently keep bringing diners back. Oh, and the steaks.
6. Red Lobster
Endless shrimp and cheap lobster make one happy casual diner.
Massive portions of Italian food are enough to give this chain the number 5 spot.
4. PF Chang's
PF Chang's was the only Chinese food chain to break the Top 17.
3. Olive Garden
Never-ending breadsticks and pasta bowls are perhaps enough to warrant a bronze medal.
2. Texas Roadhouse
The surprising silver medalist, Texas Roadhouse, is known for its Americana fare.
1. Cheesecake Factory
The Cheesecake Factory captured 7.3% of the vote share, which was more than double the second place finisher, Texas Roadhouse. Perhaps people are digging the new <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/01/cheesecake-factory-debuts_n_915201.html" target="_hplink">Skinnylicious menu</a>. This is the second year in a row that the Cheesecake Factory has nabbed the number one spot.