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Restaurant designers’ work is never done


“It needs less people, less everything,” says Roland Dickey Jr. about the new design at Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. “No gas, 80 percent less wood, no ice cream, no fryer, just fast-moving items and a smaller kitchen.”

Restaurant design is always a delicate balance of form and function. But when a franchised company creates a new design, it also needs to think about throughput, efficiency, turnover, longevity and value for franchisees.

Whether a franchisor has a design staff or brings in a consultant, data has become the dominant force for creating a new layout.

At Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, info from the company’s data-collecting Smoke Stack program helped cull the menu by flagging low sellers, which in turn allowed designers to simplify the kitchen drastically.

Roland Dickey Jr. said the fourth-generation model stripped their standard design “down to the studs.”  Gone from the menu are low sellers like fries and other sides, which meant staff could do all the cooking in a single barbecue pit—now fueled by a proprietary blend of efficient wood pellets. The free ice cream machine was nixed as well.

“No gas, 80 percent less wood, no ice cream, no fryer, just fast-moving items and a smaller kitchen,” said Dickey, who added the 500-square-foot kitchen is extremely efficient. “We designed it so none of our crew members need to leave the line. Everything is there.”

On the other side of the counter, Dickey’s created a new communal table and emphasized natural wood, a key component in the flavor of the food. They also added plug-ins at every table and started offering free WiFi.

At Smoothie King, the data needed for their top-to-bottom rebranding and design update came from a mass of consumer surveys and market research. Bret Cunningham, vice president of design and construction at Smoothie King, said they started working with retail branding and design firm WD Partners in 2013.

Dunkin' Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts offers franchisees four different design options, including the one above.

'“We asked them to do some research so that we could understand our customers and understand their perspectives of healthy eating, their attitudes and their behaviors toward smoothies, and then what was and wasn’t working in our customer journey,” said Cunningham. The research included 6,000 customer surveys, a world tour of the various markets and 11 focus groups.

That mountain of facts gave them plenty of insight, and confirmed that their old logo did, in fact, “look like a lube express.” Ultimately, the new logo got a warm welcome from franchisees and their staff and was more appealing to the female demographic—but the data also helped them reinvigorate the brand at the unit level.

“There were too many products and we were disorganized and inconsistent,” said Cunningham. “So we stripped a lot of that product off the bar and brought our blenders up front to bring our product out more so they could see the customization and we could emphasize our core product.”

Customers also said they were looking for a more comfortable environment. “Customers mentioned that they didn’t like hard seating, they liked soft seating and that they would sit in the store and relax more if they had that,” said Cunningham.

Collaboration comes first

Dunkin’ Donuts is two years into the rollout of a design update dubbed Fresh Brew 1.0. They have a consumer research group to collect data, but first they spoke with franchisee leadership to get the ball rolling.

“It all starts with collaboration,” said Joe Pascarelli, senior manager of global design and construction. “They understand what our guests need, and we get a lot of valuable data from that.”

Behind the counter, things stayed mostly the same with the addition of a more efficient sandwich station. The real changes were out front. Messaging changed, retail merchandising moved and a new impulse- purchasing area was introduced to drive sales incrementally.

The biggest change for franchisees was the choice of four different design options when remodeling time came along. “I’d call it structured flexibility,” said Pascarelli. “In the past, they had one design and they would execute it. But we recognized that we’re not a one-size-fits-all brand, and we never have been.

We’ve gotten really positive feedback and response from our franchisees about the flexibility.”

Newk’s Eatery just opened one of two new prototypes, which will serve as tests as the company works toward a new design and remodel package. Partnering with design firm Studio B, the goal was refreshing the restaurants for new markets, without alienating current fans.

“Some of the key distinguishers of our brand are the open kitchen, condiment round table and we have a unique vestibule area outside our restrooms. So those three items as well as our grab-and-go setup were really what we kept the same,” said Chris Cheek, chief development officer at Newk’s. “Everything else we kind of updated, the upholstery, we updated the color scheme and we even created different seating zones.”

Rachael Myrick, building and design project manager at Newk’s, said the new seating zones have been a hit in these early tests.

“We have a particular set of booths that’s really focused more for family seating,” said Myrick, and for the lunch rush, there are new options as well. “We are testing out a community table and we’re also testing out some bar height seating, During the soft opening, we had all the single diners flocking to the community table and bar-height seating.”

Ultimately, design changes aren’t frivolous aggravations for the company CFO; they must be designed to enhance profits or cut costs for the franchisee. But like the menu and the brand, tweaks and full updates are always on the calendar. “It is something that we’re currently working on  and it’s something that we’re always working on,” said Dunkin’s Pascarelli.

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