Shake Shack vs Chick-fil-A — Social Fans Edition — Part II

Apr 4, 2016 | Insights

(Be sure to check out part-one of this three-part series here)


In commercial America, marketers view our great land as a collection of marketing regions. This is far from a secret, and one needn’t be an insider to be aware of this (no more than one have to be an “insider” to need and/or understand StatSocial). We hope we’ve shattered no one’s innocence.

Among the many graphic aids provided in StatSocial’s reporting is a map reflecting all of the country’s DMAs, or, “designated marketing areas.” These are the regions examined by the Nielsen Corporation and others, when analyzing the performance of TV and radio shows, and the advertisements that pay for them.

Our DMA map allows you to scrutinize various statistics regarding whatever audience you’re analyzing within these regions.

These marketing regions were originally devised — successfully or not — as broadcast radiuses, in an attempt to divvy up the limited airwave space available fairly.

Whatever the original cause or intention, DMAs are now basically how every marketer with a national ambition sees a map of the United States. They’re not arbitrary, they correspond more or less with the greater metropolitan areas of our nation’s cities.

Many marketers, we’re certain, visualize something like the below when they go to bed at night. Their color schemes will be of their own choosing of course, but the regions where their goods and/or services are most popular are probably clearly highlighted in their mind’s eye, and the remainder — the lighter sections in this instance — represent land yet to be conquered.

U.S.A.? U.S. Chick-fil-A, more like it!

Well, at least if you live in the southeast and Texas.

The darkened areas represent where Chick-fil-A is most popular. We suspect no one is surprised by what they’re seeing (although do take special care not to neglect the very tip of Florida).

We’re going to review a few different regions and see what more we can learn about these two legitimately, radically different audiences, by observing and analyzing their prominence — or lack thereof — in various, specific DMAs.

While all the action seems to be concentrated on the east, we thought we might momentarily head west to kick things off with a twist.


In some parts of this great land, all parts of this great land converge. Walt Disney World, for example. All Americans wind up there at some point, and it’s never not a melting pot of the finest and lowliest of our nation’s citizens. The great city of Las Vegas, Nevada is also such a place. Everyone goes there, even all but the most temperate holy rollers are bound to vacation there at least once in their lives.

As we demonstrate a little further down, good eats seem to trump principle even in the mightiest of self-righteous strongholds such as StatSocial’s hometown (although we’d love to see Chick-fil-A take Portland, Oregon). Our single Chick-fil-A location is never wanting for customers. At the height of its controversy, we can promise you New York was never wanting for Chick-fil-A detractors.

It has been promised that Sin City is getting its very own Chick-fil-A this year. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, and soon enough a whole lot of chicken-eating may be staying in Vegas for some time to come.


Shake Shack is already there, two locations even, but it’s a little too soon to gauge their success or failure. Our numbers show them as having yet to make a mark. But our research indicates that its reputation did indeed precede it, and there have been long lines since day one.

Chick-fil-As don’t enter regions quietly, and are frequently given a hero’s welcome as well when they set up shop in a new town.

At this moment in time, just as Moe Greene — a great man, a man of vision and guts, until someone put a bullet through his eye (and there isn’t even a plaque, or a signpost or, a statue of him in that town) — had envisioned it, Las Vegas is a land of opportunity.

Moe Greene, a great man, explains what you were still doing when he made his bones.

While we have no idea to what degree either of these chains actually regard the other as direct competition — although we hope these blog entries circulate enough to where they’re compelled to — we sure as heck will be paying attention, and you’ll be reading all about it.

Shake Shack

The great Sin City Fast Food Culture War is under way.


We can show you where on the map Chick-fil-A dominates, and suddenly mere theories of a southern skew cease to be theories but cold, hard fact. They are more than simply strong in the southeast (well, from Texas east).

While the graphic focuses on Austin, we’ve also included the full state map. You can see plainly the durability of this chicken to the residents of The Lone Star State. The author of this blog entry can anecdotally tell you that all the most Chick-fil-A obsessed people he personally knows are Texans. This may seem pointless, but I’m speaking of like 12 different people.


(The second map provided is to give you a sense of Chick-fil-A’s popularity throughout the great state of Texas.)

Shake Shack

Even for Chick-fil-A’s obvious dominance in the region, the Daily Show must have found its way to at least part of Texas — or at the very least a fondness for pricey burgers and fries took the trip southwest.. While Shake Shack is nowhere near a threat to Chick-fil-A in the region, the Shack’s numbers do suggest that at least in the nationally acknowledged hipster haven that is Austin — and as we’re learning Shake Shack likes to “buzz” into hipster havens, and hope their big city cred comes with them — they’re very much in the game.

And this is from where Shake Shack partially gets its reputation. Austin? Why not Dallas? While we strongly suspect Shake Shack has every intention of having locations in Dallas at some point, it’s clear that theirs is a “building from inside hipster enclave out” strategy.

We wonder if the folks in Lubbock have ever even heard of them.

Chick-fil-A management may live in accordance with an abiding faith, but Shake Shack certainly conduct their business driven by a well thought-through expansion strategy. Their strategy, it must be noted, only works if they have faith that for some reason their burgers, fries, and shakes will appeal to a certain demographic, one that fancies itself as more into food, or better informed as to where the really good food is, than the average person.

One’s reminded of Steve Rubell, owner of New York City’s famous late-70s disco Studio 54, and his highly exclusive door policy. Legend has it that there were nights where the club itself had six paying customers in it, while literally hundreds clamored outside to get in (of course, Mark Zuckerberg, in a different way used a similar strategy in the slow roll out of Facebook). Scarcity creates demand, as does exclusivity.

Just how into food is the Shake Shack audience anyway? Their TV viewing habits suggest quite heavily, but let’s dig deeper.

Let’s see what social influencers the Shackers are following on the web (“social influencers,” can be anyone, but what we mean are those with large social audiences, whose content is frequently shared, and so forth).


Well, look at that? Righ off the bat, we have a certain Mr. Bourdain at number one. If we’d been taking bets, we’d have had a difficult time finding somene who would bet against that. A certain Mr. Flay is lower down the list, as is a Mr. Batali, which is obviously worthy of note, and two Clintons and a Colbert again confirm a narrative.

But right now we’re not culture warring, we’re trying to determine the depth and breadth of food dedication.

So, let’s sort these influencers by “multiple.”


Woah! That even took us by surprise. Now we’re talking! All ten entries, food related.

These Shackers are very much the sorts who would be well aware of Shake Shack (and for that matter Chick-fil-A) long before it gets to town, and their particularly intense dedication to this specific area — in its most basic form, a simple action crucial to our survival — also explains why each new Shake Shack opens to long lines, and the sort of hype usually reserved for when the Pope comes to town.



As they are a Georgian company, it could be considered an embarrassment for Chick-fil-A that it’s not their top market, but considering that Texas is gigantic and they’re insanely popular there, I’m sure they’ve long since forgiven the state that birthed them.

Also, their Georgia numbers are anything but shameful. In fact in the state’s capital, they are kicking butt.

In this case, Chick-fil-A smear their New York rivals to the degree that one wonders if Shake Shack has even much bothered with the region yet.

Shake Shack


Chick-fil-A’s New York numbers are worth observing, given how recently they’ve come into the region. While nearly insignificant compared to their Texas numbers, their 2% is from only as of last fall, and from a single restaurant.

Here’s the dirty little secret about Chick-fil-A, while the beliefs of their management may run contrary to the values of some, their chicken has a stellar reputation and flavor often transcends the ideological differences of Man.

It’s not inconceivable at all that significant growth in the New York region lays ahead for this company, once damned — in a hysterical kneejerk fashion (even in a culture where such things are the norm) — by many a “liberal, tolerant” New Yorker.

That is, at least until prior to them tasting those to-die-for strips, and that beloved sandwich.

This is a very real photograph, of young, liberal intellectual New Yorkers lined up, on what looks like a not very nice day, for well in excess of 20 minutes, for this food so many were frothing at the mouth to decry only a year or two before as the foodstuffs of ignorance and intolerance.

We’re pretty sure the management of Chick-fil-A retracted no belief nor opinion. Nor did it alter a single one of its business practices. It simply began to serve delicious chicken closer to these people’s homes.


And they’ve only got plans for expansion in the city, We are VERY curious to see how over the next year developments such as this impact the overall character of the Chick-fil-A audience. Do they become more food oriented? Do they become less conspicuously right-leaning?

It will be exciting to watch.

Shake Shack

As expected, the Empire State is where Shake Shack dominates. Home field advantage, and 15 years of residency. Still, these are some large numbers.

(We’ve also included a second map, showing the statewide numbers as well, just to give the full picture of their popularity here.)

Shake Shack has distinguished itself as a “hip major city” brand, at least for now. This would be because they’ve blatantly employed a strategy of only opening in one of the hipper areas of one of the country’s theoretically hipper cities. Their buzz precedes them, long lines await them, and a second location pops up before very long.

In addition to Chicago, Boston, Miami, and of course Gotham, they have also spread their tentacles out west. Specificaly to southern California’s West Hollywood.

It does seem they do indeed have a foothold in the region, and they are therefore officially a chain from coast to coast.

Shake Shack

Chick-fil-A it would seem too has a Los Angeles presence, however theirs is quite a bit more pronounced wih 12 locations in the area.

In this instance, our victor is clear, and quite suprising frankly.

Shake Shack’s expansion into liberal stronghold San Francisco is planned and eagerly anticipated for this year. We expect their impact is felt quickly.

Believe it or not, Chick-fil-A opened their first San Francisco location in 2012, and have found reason to open two more in the intevening years. Truthfully the chain’s numbers are humble


Perhaps this is an instance where the local culture and beliefs generally dominating a region have impacted the peanut oil-fried chicken king’s performance. We’ll be curious to see how quickly Shake Shack outperfrorms them. Or perhaps our hunches that such a thing is inevitable are mistaken. Time will tell, and we’ll almost certainly be checking in.

Shake Shack plays a very clever psychological game with a very specific type of consumer, and those are most often found in cities, where elitism is unrecognized as such, and the idea of standing in line waiting for an hour for “the best burger” to come one’s way seems a privilege.

They move into sort of young, hipsterish regions in hipper, major U.S. cities, and then quickly expand to two or three locations. Boston, Chicago, they’ve done this repeatedly and it has worked to our knowledge every time.


Curiously, when looking at the non-DMA national map, Florida is as strong a market for Shake Shack as, say, Pennsylvania. Florida is retirees and fellows like the gentlemen in Lynyrd Skynyrd, true. But we forget, it is also Miami; as hip a location as our nation has, and Shake Shack has indeed made their presence known there.

But let’s step back for a second. Chick-fil-A’s predictable and impressive performance in the area is quite evident when you look at our national, non-DMA map.


Now let’s see how they do in the Miami region.

Goodness! Ouch, even. It seems they’ve not much concerned themselves with that part of the Sunshine State at all.

Shake Shack

Our New York friends have, however, and it seems they are making a mark.

Between their irrefutable presence in California and Florida — in addition to about 80% of the yankee urban areas of consequence — we must admit Shake Shack has grown into a much bigger deal, much more quickly than we ever realized. Or could have imagined.

We all still remember vividly when they were just a burger cart in a park, and it does NOT seem like 15 years ago. We wonder if there’s still anyone around who ate S. Truett Cathy’s original chicken sandwiches, and how much they taste like what Chick-fil-A serves today?

Some questions even we can’t answer.

To learn much more about StatSocial, the curious are encouraged to visit the StatSocial site itself, where you’ll find all sorts of stuff including sample reports.

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