A busy Georgia father makes Daddy-Daughter Date Nights a tradition for 20+ Years

Catherine Howard had just sat down at the Braselton, GA, Chick-fil- A® restaurant with her father and two sisters when she spotted a neighbor she used to babysit as a teenager.

“Aren’t you a little old for this”?” the girl, seated with her dad, jokingly asked Catherine.

“Nope,” Catherine replied, shaking her head and smiling. “You’re never too old to have dinner with family.”

For the last two decades, Catherine (25) and her sisters – Teresa Lillibridge (29) and Mary Stemp (21) – have enjoyed a special Chick-fil-A date night with their dad, Fred Stemp. The tradition started in 2000 when Stemp was working as a police officer in Duluth, Ga. He worked the evening shift, so he rarely made it home to dinner with his family.

“My wife suggested I take Teresa and Catherine – Mary was just a baby at the time – to Chick-fil-A on my dinner break before their bedtime,” he recalled. “And it worked out perfectly.”

So perfectly, in fact, the Stemps have kept it on the calendar every year since, prioritizing the special evening out as an opportunity to connect over a meal and talk about lessons, dreams, relationships, and more. And while the conversations have evolved over the years as the girls have grown – passing through preteen years into high school, college and young adulthood – a shared commitment to listening, learning and supporting each other has remained.

“We make a point to avoid talking about stressors or things bothering us,” Howard said. “We reserve the time to share what we want to do with our lives and how we plan to better ourselves. We talk about trips we hope to take together, and we ask dad for advice. It’s a great opportunity to catch up and talk about things we don’t usually talk about over the phone.”

An enduring family event

At one point, when Teresa and Catherine were especially busy with high school sports and activities, the streak looked like it could be in jeopardy. But the family has always managed to clear their schedules and make it happen, even through a pair of health scares – Stemp was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2014, and Howard had emergency brain surgery in 2016. Both are healthy now.

“We’re a large family (of seven) and have always been big on game nights, holidays and dinners,” Stemp said. “Chick-fil-A Daddy-Daughter Date Nights have given me a great opportunity to build a bond specifically with my girls and reserve a special experience just for them. It’s something we’ve always looked forward to.”

He adds, “We’re usually the oldest there, by far. I turn to the dads with little ones and say, ‘This is what they grow up to be. And this is how you make memories.”

Stemp and his daughters agree on one rule for the evening: no phones. They trust Chick-fil-A Team Members with photo-taking duty.

“We realize we’re all getting older and busier, and will not be able to do this forever,” Howard said. “So, it’s important to enjoy each other and stay in the moment.”

The family has continued the tradition at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, ordering food for delivery from Chick-fil-A Braselton. “We’ve loved being able to put our feet up and make a movie night out of it,” Catherine said, adding that they plan to return to the restaurant next year. And Catherine’s husband, Cyprian, will start his own Daddy-Daughter Date Night tradition with their 18-month-old daughter, Cecilia.

A Chick-fil-A tradition since 2010

While the Stemps have been doing their own Daddy-Daughter Date Nights for two decades, they became “official” for Chick-fil-A in 2010 when a franchise owner in Kansas created an event for fathers and daughters to share a memorable evening. Now, hundreds of Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide host their own Daddy Daughter Date Nights, usually in February, each adding unique touches to make each girl – from toddlers to adults – feel like a princess.

Restaurants offer special touches including tablecloths, flowers, balloons, music and more. Tabletop talking points offer helpful conversation starters.

“It’s a great way for girls to interact with their dad and learn more about what he does for their family,” said Brandon LaMarque, operator of the Braselton, GA, Chick-fil-A restaurant. “It encourages dads to take a pause from their busy lives and schedule time to be intentional and present.”

LaMarque’s restaurant offered four scheduled seatings for the 2020 Daddy-Daughter Date Night; all 350 slots sold out online in nine minutes. Guests parked in a nearby hospital lot, then boarded a limousine for a ride through town before arriving at the restaurant where they were greeted by a red carpet and photo booth before sitting down to order from a special menu topped off by a strawberry shortcake dessert. A violinist roamed the dining room playing music to match the event’s theme of “An Evening in Paris.”

The online registration process included an opportunity for dads to write their daughters letters, which were printed and presented to the guests of honor with carnations and goodie bags.

“These girls want nothing more than quality time with dad,” said LaMarque, whose restaurant hosts a similar Mommy-Son Date Night around Mother’s Day. “We’re proud to help create these emotional connections and meaningful experiences.”