If Chick-fil-A Inc.'s restaurant operators do enough dealing, they can begin wheeling at company expense. The $134-million chicken-sandwich chain, based in Atlanta, awards some of its top operators the use of a spanking new Lincoln Continental Mark VII for a year.

Each Lincoln retails for roughly $25,000. To get the use of one, restaurant operators must increase their restaurant's sales by at least 40%. If they duplicate that performance the following year, they get title to the car. No costs, no strings, and no limit to the number of times an operator can win a car.

Since the program was started in 1975 around 100 operators have won Lincolns, with some earning cars more than once. In 1983, Chick-fil-A's sales increased a record 29% over 1982; during ceremonies this year noting that achievement, the company presented 1984 Lincolns to 46 of its operators. Management had expected only 10 or 12 to reach the 40% threshold.

"It's quite an effective incentive," says company spokesperson Don Perry, who adds that the increased sales more than paid for the cars. "If an operator increases his sales, his personal income goes up. And then, on top of that, he gets a luxury automobile that reflects his achievement. That's why we call the program Symbol of Success."

Kevin Taylor, operator of a Chick-fil-A outlet in a shopping mall in Ogden, Utah, experienced a 90% jump in 1983 sales, the number one annual increase among some 300 Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide. His outlet was also the top seller per square foot in the mall. Now Taylor tools around Ogden in a Lincoln, and it will be his if he meets the 40% minimum in 1984.

"The car represents to me the opportunities this company gives us," says Taylor, who is 27 and has been with the company less than three years. "It's a first-class car, and we get first-class opportunities to prove ourselves early." For motivation, he keeps photos of Continentals on the walls of his restaurant. "It's a goal that I can visually keep in front of me while I do my job," he explains.

Nation 's Restaurant News, one of the leading trade journals in the fastfood business, attributes much of Chick-fil-A's overall success to "unique and highly profitable management [incentives]" like the Lincoln program. In an industry beset by high employee turnover, such incentives help keep the company in the fast lane.