When fast-casual concept PDQ first opened its doors in the fall of 2011 with a new approach to the chicken category, owners Bob Basham and Nick Reader weren’t sure what to expect. They knew the brand’s contemporary design, commitment to quality, and emphasis on customer service were strong brand differentiators, but they wondered if consumers would respond favorably to this variation, which was designed around a brand with chicken tenders as the core menu item.
Two years and 20 stores later, they’re confident the deviation has paid off.
“We’re not your typical quick-service or fast-casual restaurant,” says Bob Basham, PDQ’s principal owner and the former cofounder of Outback Steakhouse. “The curb appeal of the restaurant draws you in. And once you come in, we want you to feel like it’s a different experience than what you’re normally going to get in that category.”
PDQ, which stands for “People Dedicated to Quality,” aims to enhance consumers’ store experience in a variety of ways. Before consumers even walk through the doors, Basham says, they’ll notice the modern, sleek building design, which is two stories tall and has a large footprint. In the restaurant, PDQ provides a hand-washing station, multiple high-definition TVs, and a variety of seating options to help guests feel at home.
In addition to these amenities, Basham says, guests appreciate the high quality of the menu. PDQ’s chicken tenders are hand-breaded, fries are fresh-cut in the restaurant, milkshakes are hand-spun, and signature sauces and dressings are homemade every day. The brand offers guests homemade lemonade, bottled Cheerwine (a favorite in the South), and hundreds of soda options thanks to the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.
“It’s all made to order, there are no freezers in the restaurants. That’s a lot different [from other quick-service concepts],” Basham says. “People aren’t expecting it, and I think that’s a very pleasant surprise for a lot of people. It’s kind of what you expect at a good casual-dining restaurant in terms of the level of hospitality and the quality.”
Basham says genuine hospitality rounds out PDQ’s primary brand differentiators.
The concept emphasizes face-to-face communication throughout the restaurant. Inside the store, the menu is placed on a board just below the register so the guest is able to interact more with the cashier while ordering; an open kitchen invites guests to learn more about the cooking process; and PDQ team members regularly visit guest tables to ensure that consumers’ needs are met. In the drive thru, customers place their order directly with a person rather than through a microphone, and are able to watch the fries being made through a window as they wait.
“We really go out of our way to make sure our guests are treated the way that we would like to be treated,” Basham says. “The way the menus are, the way we treat people, we want to make sure that our guests are taken care of.”
This year, PDQ has plans to double its store count from 21 to 42 units. The Florida-based brand has expanded into the Carolinas and Alabama, and is opening in the Dallas area soon.
“It’s about fresh food fast, it’s about quality, it’s about great hospitality,” Basham says in regards to the brand’s fast growth. “You don’t usually get it in that kind of restaurant. That’s one of the reasons we’re having the success we have.”
By Marlee Murphy