Consumer Trends | February 2014 | By Kevin Hardy

Decked Out

Innovative design and architecture are increasingly hallmarks of upstart quick-service and fast-casual brands.

Domino's Pizza rolled out a new prototype with an enhanced store design.
Domino’s Pizza, which made a name for itself as a delivery brand, recently unveiled a “Pizza Theater” prototype that enhances the store with features including a small dining room. Domino’s

Gone are the days of big-box fast-food joints, sterile plastic booths, and mystery kitchens. Limited-service brands are getting makeovers, and the results are sleeker, more attractive restaurants that are giving customers even more reason to trade down from full-service experiences.

Many companies are downsizing, creating smaller and more efficient stores in many markets, while some value-minded brands are creating more homey, comfortable, and upscale spaces. All kinds of concepts, meanwhile, are peeling the curtain back on the kitchen, making the back of the house just as much a centerpiece of the restaurant design as the dining room.

The reason for this change, experts say, is that good design is an imperative in today’s restaurant climate. No longer can brands compete on cost, speed, and quality alone; executives say aesthetics are just as important, and that design plays as much of a role in showcasing food as the menuboard. That’s why brands ranging from the biggest quick-serve chains to upstart fast-casual stores are adding more sophisticated design and architectural touches.

Updated McDonald’s stores, for example, feature plush armchairs and clean, modern lines throughout. The company even ditched the hallmark double-sloped Mansard roof for a more modern look. Wendy’s, meanwhile, has added fireplaces, flat-screen TVs, and light wood to give its restaurants a more airy and comfortable feel.

“I think that many of the players in the [quick-service] business have realized they’ve really got to up their look in order to look similar to the Paneras and the other big fast casuals out there,” says Michael Arrowsmith, chief development officer for Captain D’s.

The seafood brand, Arrowsmith says, has always been more of a fast-casual concept at heart. It cooks to order and does most business inside the restaurant, not at the drive thru. But until a recent branding and design overhaul, customers might have found it easy to lump Captain D’s in with other standard quick-service concepts.

The store redesign created a more beach-like feel in updated units, with surfboards hanging as wall art, communal seating, and bright colors and materials. The physical overhaul works in concert with Captain D’s menu change, which brought on grilled items like shrimp skewers and steak kabobs. The brand is aiming at recruiting new customers while still maintaining old menu favorites like fried fish and hushpuppies. Collectively, the changes are working to increase sales and bring in a younger crowd.

“If you walked into a Captain D’s today and weren’t familiar with the brand’s past, it really looks more like a fast-casual restaurant than it does a quick serve,” Arrowsmith says.

It’s tough to send a message about such a wholesale change, Arrowsmith says, without some kind of physical facelift. That’s because even restaurants that have traditionally competed on price and speed, he says, are paying closer attention to design and architecture. It’s considered just as important as the menu and the speed of service and just as fundamental as accuracy or customer service.

“I think the design and the experience are so intertwined now,” says Anna Abbruzzo, principal at Igloodgn, a Montreal-based design firm. “It’s that expectation—[customers] really expect to feel something special, to connect to their environment. When we go out for a burger, we’re not just going out for a burger.”

Abbruzzo’s firm redesigned one of Montreal’s oldest burger joints, Mister Steer. At the time, half of Mister Steer’s clientele was over 50, and the owners, much like at Captain D’s, wanted to find a way to keep their current customers happy while attracting a new fan base.

The new design added sepia-tone tiles laid in a quilt-like patchwork, red vinyl reminiscent of an old diner, and designer lighting. Igloodgn also worked on a total rebrand of the restaurant, changing everything down to its website.

The redesign seems to have paid off. With a totally new look and vibe in the restaurant, Mister Steer’s owner was able to raise burger prices. That, Abbruzzo says, wouldn’t be possible without the aesthetic upgrades. “He couldn’t have done it,” she says. “I think he would have been laughed out of business. I think you’ve got to give your customers a reason [to visit].”

Across the spectrum, fast-casual and quick-serve restaurants are putting more weight on design, Abbruzzo says, because it’s a necessary competitive advantage.

“Chains know they can no longer be generic,” she says. “Even Applebee’s has to stand out from Friendly’s, for example. And I think a lot of the time, the food is very similar. They just do it with design.”

That’s true even for some of the most value-minded brands. Whereas a “get them in, get them out” mentality used to reign, companies now are encouraging people to linger, says Lynn Rosenbaum, vice president of environments for Chute Gerdeman, a Columbus, Ohio, strategic brand and design firm. That’s partly because environments that are more comfortable help build brand loyalty and trust, he says.

Take Domino’s as an example. Chute Gerdeman’s recent design of a new-store prototype, dubbed “Domino’s Pizza Theater,” changes the entire store environment. No longer are customers relegated to a small waiting area. The new design is open and bright, and includes a dining area, a sea change for the brand that made its name in quick delivery and service.

As consumers grew more sophisticated and had higher expectations, Rosenbaum says, Domino’s executives realized they needed to showcase their ingredients and cooking process more. Putting the prep line in customers’ view in the “Pizza Theater” model has done more than just provide a behind-the-scenes peek at pizza making; it’s put more trust into the cardboard box.

“Domino’s has always used fresh ingredients. They’ve always hand-tossed their pizza. They’ve never used frozen ingredients,” Rosenbaum says. “But there was an assumption by customers that because I can’t see what’s going on back there, they must be using frozen, processed ingredients.”

The environment where customers get their food, he adds, says a lot about what they’re eating. Rosenbaum points to grocery stores like Whole Foods that have revolutionized shopping by focusing on fresh and healthy products, displaying fresh meats, cheeses, and produce as if they were art. He says that change has trickled into the quick-serve world.



While it is good that quick service businesses are updating their design and architecture, I feel that they also need to be focusing some attention on their network security to make sure the customers information is not stolen and used by hackers. A quick service business can be the best looking business on the block but if it is the victim of a security breach all of that doesnt matter. Quick service businesses may not be able to compete on cost, speed, and quality alone but competing on security can only lead to better, more secure business transactions. If I were given the option of going to a brand new state of the art quick service business that is using a traditional network security solution or of going to an existing quick service business that is using a state of the art network security solution like an Application Defined Network (ADN), I would feel more comfortable going to an existing quick service business that used a state of the art network security solution like an Application Defined Network (ADN). It wouldnt matter to me what the quick service business looked like as long as I knew that my payment information was going to be secure.Now dont get me wrong, there is no doubt that the design and architecture of a quick service business matters to consumers. It is typically what they see when driving by and when they first walk in. However, I feel that quick service businesses need to take a serious look at what is going on behind the counter and make sure that the network security solution being used is adequate to operate and secure all of the different applications (payment, loyalty, point-of-sale support, tank monitoring, back office, etc) so that the consumers payment information is kept as secure as possible. In an age where hackers have the ability to access one system and use that system as a gateway into other systems a network security solution needs to be implemented that is designed to handle this.The Target breach was caused when somebody at an HVAC contractor was phished by hackers which allowed the hackers to gain access to the HVAC system which they then used as a gateway into the point-of-sale system. There is no doubt that the Target breach cost the company millions of dollars of lost revenue and severely hurt the companys public image. What I dont understand is that implementing a network security solution that could have prevented this breach would have probably cost much less than the breach did and would have actually improved the companys public image instead of hurt it because the company was taking steps that would make customer payment information less vulnerable. Waiting until a breach happens to make a change is unacceptable and is not a good business practice.I mention Application Defined Network (ADN) above and this technology is extremely interesting. In short, an Application Defined Network (ADN) simplifies security by establishing discrete independent networks that do not require complex security rules to partition traffic types. It is designed to address the need to securely enable multiple, differing applications, such as guest access Wi-Fi, while securing payment and other back office applications on the same network. It allows for specific security and performance policies to be established at the application level versus the network interface level which allows for applications with contrasting security policy requirements to be completely isolated from one another and facilitated with customized security features. If an Application Defined Network (ADN) with public internet is breached by an outside party, the ability of the breach to bleed between the other applications, such as the payment application, is virtually eliminated.All this being said, I think that quick service businesses could benefit from promoting what they have done to ensure that their customers payment information is safe. Spending money on upgrades like chairs, pictures, and tables is nice but not if there is a security breach because of inadequate network security. Once a security breach happens the focus immediately turns to security and not chairs, pictures, and tables. Customers wont care about anything else except why the security breach happened. This is why it is important to look at network security proactively instead of reactivity.


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