It’s the age-old question, resurfaced: Why fix what ain’t broke? Restaurateurs are often faced with the dilemma of handling change in their chains. As a hospitality-focused design firm, starrdesign has worked with a wide range of quick service restaurants over the years, gaining insight into their operational mindset and processes. What the company has discovered is a distinct difference in the approaches of small and emerging chains versus those that are already well established across the country. These differences relate back to the balance between absolute consistency and constant improvements, as well as the weight placed on operational requirements versus customer insight.

With a large national chain, processes are extensively ingrained in the management habits. Decisions are highly driven by operations. This leads to very efficient systems and locations that closely resemble one another. Their goal is to have every store look and feel the same as the last. Entering any given restaurant will feel similar to one in another state, no matter the culture of the surrounding community. Because of this, while large chains may occupy more of the market share, their decisions are often driven by consistency and operations, rather than customer insight.

The difference is that smaller chains aren't afraid of change, and they're willing to mix it up.

On the other hand, comparing this to a fast-casual Mediterranean chain that has grown to over 100 stores in recent years, there is almost an opposite approach. As a smaller chain, it doesn’t necessarily have the same disciplined processes set in place, which creates a team that is more responsive to customer insights and less concerned with operations requirements from store to store. In fact, the management uses every store as a learning opportunity to continue making improvements. Their outlook is that each location needs to be better than the last. Being more open and responsive to change allows them the flexibility to adjust their stores according to the audience’s opinions and insights, thus leading to a greater customer satisfaction. This attitude of constant improvement over a desire for absolute consistency led to a chain of stores that delivers exactly what the customer is looking for upon arrival. They hit the mark.

The difference is that smaller chains aren’t afraid of change, and they’re willing to mix it up. The owners are entering the market with different priorities, which is leading to higher customer satisfaction. Customers are ranking smaller chains as better experiences, and that has less to do with the actual quality of the food—although that’s still an important factor—and more to do with the overall environment created.

The outlook of these smaller chains is allowing them to remain relevant to guests, leading to an increase in customer volume and diversity. Deliberate changes reinforce the restaurant’s unique brand identity and fill the space with a newfound life and zest. Great care and intentionality is put into every store, and this shows through to the customers. Guests leave feeling valued, respected, and content—and they will be sure to return.

Rachel Wasylyk is the marketing coordinator for starrdesign, a Charlotte, North Carolina–based company that connects brands with people through creative environments and responsible processes.
Outside Insights, Story