Will full service feast on Chick-fil-A flap?

The Chick-fil-A controversy helps define a new target market for other restaurant operators.

Chick-fil-A c.e.o. Dan Cathy’s restaurant industry peers are still assessing the fallout from the chain’s high-profile marriage equality meltdown. But First Amendment rights or no, you can bet his fellow execs won’t be speaking out on this subject soon, if ever—except for those who want to actively court those who advocate tolerance and pro-marriage diversity.

For its part, Chick-fil-A wants to put the issue behind it. The chain waved the white flag after a crazy week that included Mike Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” “National Same Sex Kiss Day at Chick-fil-A,” and stay-outta-my-town grumblings from Boston mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Here’s the statement the chain posted on its website:

“Chick-fil-A is a family-owned and family-led company serving the communities in which it operates. From the day Truett Cathy started the company, he began applying biblically-based principles to managing his business. For example, we believe that closing on Sundays, operating debt-free and devoting a percentage of our profits back to our communities are what make us a stronger company and Chick-fil-A family.

"The Chick-fil-A culture and service tradition in our restaurants is to treat every person with honor, dignity and respect—regardless of their belief, race, creed, sexual orientation or gender. We will continue this tradition in the over 1,600 restaurants run by independent owner/operators. Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena.”

Clearly, Chick-fil-A is eager to return to business as usual. But at least two full-service restaurants now hope to attract the anti-Chick-fil-A crowd.

One is Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grille, whose 12 units are located on the West Coast and in the Midwest and Florida. The chain describes itself as “an open-air bar and grill for open-minded people,” and points out that it is the “only national franchise actively marketing to the LGBT community.”

Here’s the pitch:

“Mary’s is adding her voice to the increasing number of campaigns to counter Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s controversial public stance against marriage equality… by offering a Southern-style chicken sandwich while advocating diversity,” the company says. “Hamburger Mary’s ‘hate-free’ Southern-style chicken sandwich starts with a fresh chicken breast, marinated and battered with Mary’s secret recipe flour and spice mixture. It’s then deep-fried and served with herb mayo and dill pickles on a bakery fresh bun.”

Hamburger Mary’s is featuring this sandwich as its August “burger of the month.” The $7.95 price includes waffle fries.

This marketing ploy also works in full service. At dbar in the Boston suburb of Dorchester, MA, chef Christopher Coombs has come up with a “Chick-2B-gAy” entrée that brings a fine-dining perspective to the fast-food chicken sandwich. His version combines a boneless piece of fried chicken with a homemade biscuit, mashed potatoes and gravy. All proceeds from the sales of this $19 item are being donated to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The restaurant’s marketing tagline: “Supporting the right to love is always in great taste.”

The marriage flap hasn’t been all bad for Chick-fil-A. As the massive turnouts on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day proved, Cathy’s position struck a nerve with a lot of customers, who are willing to stand in line during brutal weather to demonstrate their support. Going forward, the company knows it has a strong base to build on.

But it also stirred up plenty of people who hold a view opposite of Dan Cathy’s, and they’re looking for a like-minded place to eat, too. Restaurants whose marketing message addresses their values may be able to capture a loyal group of new customers who will return even after the current controversy has died down.