Chick-fil-A's dreams of UK expansion aren't dead yet.
While the chain's location in Reading will close when its six-month lease is up, the American chicken chain quietly opened a location in Scotland in mid-October. And, while Chick-fil-A faced massive backlash from LGBTQ activists in Reading, the location in a hotel in Aviemore has reportedly been thriving.
"Chick-fil-A has already proved very popular with our guests and we are happy to be able to provide this quality food experience as an option," a representative for the Macdonald Highland Resort told the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald.
"Chick-fil-A is always evaluating potential new locations in the hope of serving customers great food and award winning service," a representative for Chick-fil-A told Business Insider. "The Aviemore Macdonald Hotel location gives us an opportunity to build our knowledge, continue to learn and gain a stronger understanding of local consumer tastes and preferences as part of our going exploration."
Chick-fil-A's expansion efforts seem to be far from over
Looking at Chick-fil-A's UK website, it seems that the Reading and Aviemore locations are unlikely to be the chain's last attempts to break into the UK market.
"Over the last few years, we have come to know fans across the UK through our four pop-up locations – including in Edinburgh and London – and it's been a great way to learn more about the foodie culture here and to test consumer interest in our brand," the website states. "The natural next step is to extend that approach with pilot license locations to begin to learn more about the UK."
These "pilot license locations" appear to be Chick-fil-A shops with super-limited menus that open in partnership with local organizations, such as the shopping center in Reading and the resort in Aviemore. This reduces the risk for Chick-fil-A, allowing the chain to get an understanding of the local market — and the potential for local backlash.
In Reading, for example, Chick-fil-A had only signed a six-month lease. A lack of renewal for the lease did not represent a major loss for Chick-fil-A, which has the next six months to gather information on customers' tastes, best practices, and how much local boycotts could actually impact sales.
Part of Chick-fil-A's success is tied to its web of franchisees, who go through an intensive hiring process and are encouraged to build strong ties with their local communities. These licensed locations are not run by Chick-fil-A franchisees, and Chick-fil-A is not currently offering franchise opportunities in the country.
Before Chick-fil-A opens an actual franchise location in the UK — or decides to abandon the idea — it seems likely that the chain will quietly open more pilot license locations.
On the chain's UK website, the question "Do you plan to open other locations in the UK?" is posed.
Chick-fil-A responds: "These pilot license locations will help us understand more about consumer interest in the Chick-fil-A brand and our signature menu items. For right now, we are focused on learning from these locations and the guests we will serve."