Fast Feeders Go Comfy Chair Route

Discussion
May 31, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


Looking back on it, Monty Python was prescient about the future of fast food restaurants with its Spanish Inquisition sketch and the combination of comfortable seating with food
and beverages.



Cardinal Ximinez: So you think you are strong because you can survive the soft cushions. Well, we shall see. Biggles! Put her in the Comfy Chair!


(An old woman is pushed into the Comfy Chair.)


Ximinez: Now — you will stay in the Comfy Chair until lunchtime, with only a cup of coffee at eleven.


(The woman finds this quite nice.)



Today, Monty Python sketches aside, a whole host of fast food operators, including the likes of Burger King and McDonald’s, are going from harsh interior colors and plastic seating
designed to move customers in and out of restaurants to more soothing colors and, dare we say, more comfortable seating.


Dave Chandler, president of Bennett Management Inc., which owns 31 Burger King restaurants, told the Toledo Blade. “Consumers’ expectations have been raised by chains
like Panera Bread and Starbucks that have provided that ambience of a fireplace or whatever. Those two have raised the bar.”


Denny Lynch, a spokesperson for Wendy’s International, said the chain is exploring a number of options to upgrade the interiors of its restaurants.


“We’re looking for lighting that isn’t florescent, wood works that aren’t necessarily veneer or laminated,” he said.


The fast food chain that may be undergoing the biggest change is McDonald’s. The company has recently moved into the premium coffee segment dominated by Starbucks and it is following
the coffee shop’s lead in other areas, as well.


McDonald’s is testing more comfortable seating, Wi-fi internet service, flat screen TVs and hanging lights, in some locations.


The upgrades, which cost about $300,000 per location, may be worth the investment.


Jim Yauger, vice president of Simrick, Inc., which owns five Taco Bell franchises said, “You do lose a lot of income when you have to close, (demolish), and rebuild. But then,
you usually get a nice little bump in sales once you reopen.” 


Moderator’s Comment: Are the 30 to 40 percent of fast food consumers who eat inside the restaurant likely to spend more as interiors become more people
and family-friendly? Will upgraded interiors increase the numbers and/or percentage of consumers who eat inside fast food restaurants?

George Anderson – Moderator

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11 Comments on "Fast Feeders Go Comfy Chair Route"


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Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 8 months ago

Is the other half of our food Industry listening?

Stores with: sterile white walls; glaring lightening, not soft to the eye; and
row after row of aisles. And it isn’t just Wal-Mart.

Ambience, shopping experience, and wanting customers to stay in the retail outlet should be top priority, for grocers.

Oh, well. Hmmmmmmm

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Though I don’t see much effect coming from this, I still have to question the logic: we rant daily about obesity, then (someone) come(s) up with a concept that encourages people to buy – and presumably consume – more, and THEN spend more time sitting down…am I the minority of one, or is this (ultimately) counter-productive?

Karen McNeely
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

I think this could be a winning proposition, again in the proper locations.

Because of the prevalent use of drive throughs, many locations no longer have peak periods for the inside of the restaurant, so it really amounts to better use of under-utilized real estate.

New technology in stain resistant fabrics means that it does not have to be a cleaning nightmare for the younger crowd.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

The whole purpose of any remodel is to increase sales. McDonald’s will have to make a careful decision based on demographics. Will customers spend more? I don’t think they will, per trip, but might increase their frequency. The whole purpose of having uncomfortable seating was to encourage customers to leave soon after eating. Otherwise, it might attract the wrong crowd to loiter too long. However, it doesn’t hurt to test the concept to see where it works and where it doesn’t.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Using less orange plastic is radically different from creating a comfy place to sit while dining. Although Starbucks doesn’t use orange plastic, their chairs are usually not upholstered. No fast food place can survive if the customers hang around too long at peak times. Most restaurants and other retail stores need refreshed decor from time to time. That’s why leasehold improvements are depreciated.

Bobby Martyna
Guest
Bobby Martyna
14 years 8 months ago

My wife likes to sleep in Saturday mornings, resting after watching two toddlers (3 and 2) all week. I usually take the kids outdoors, but in cold or rainy weather, the local McDonald’s Playland is our starting point. So, sitting in a comfy chair and catching up on e-mails while keeping an eye on the kids sounds pretty good to me.

Now, would we stay longer and buy more food? Probably not — but the golden arches would be a more compelling destination for the three of us — and maybe we’d start out there on a few sunny mornings as well.

Add some healthier breakfast choices (we’d pay a premium over the usual McBreakfast fare) and it could be a real winner.

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 8 months ago

I believe that the decision to upgrade the interior of a fast-food restaurant should rest on whether or not increased revenue is expected.

If a particular unit fills to capacity several times a day, the choice would probably be to keep the seats hard and the colors bright to prevent crowd build-up caused by customers getting too comfortable.

On the other hand, if sales are slow, upgrading the ambiance to meet the Starbucks standard will likely bring in incremental customers.

Mark Heckman
Guest
14 years 8 months ago
Interestingly, I just attended a store design conference where McDonald’s from the UK was presenting an array of their new upscale decor and renovation packages. I must say, my first impression was one of being impressed by the new image, the more comfortable seating and the use of earth tones and other more soothing color combinations. On second pass, my thoughts turned to the potential “mixed message” these more upscale presentations will send to many of McDonald’s existing core customers, namely, the value oriented and the “moms with kids” crowd. Hard plastic seating may be uncomfortable to some, but it does lend itself to the long term maintenance and upkeep of a high volume restaurant that is subjected to spilled milk shakes and smashed ketchup packages! Methinks that some of these more upscale treatments, although they may be appealing to the Starbucks crowd, will end up being a high maintenance “pain in the Big Mac” over time. I think it wise to be very measured about this and make sure fast food restaurants do not… Read more »
jared colautti
Guest
jared colautti
14 years 8 months ago

As an outsider to the fast food industry looking in, it strikes me as yet another move by the fast food (read ‘unhealthy’) purveyors to try to win back customers who have followed the growing trend toward healthier living. Adding fresh salads etc. to the menu made sense, but creating a comfier Starbucks-esque (read upscale) environment doesn’t.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Colour me confused. Is fast food no longer going to be fast? Are fast food restaurants going to serve more slowly or add dishes that need to be eaten more slowly or put up the cost of food to include an element of rent to the customer sitting around for longer? Are they going to stop calling themselves fast food restaurants and coin a new phrase? There is already a growing Slow Food movement all over the world – are these chains now planning to join?

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

I agree it should be based on ROI. Having said that, a couple observations… Sometimes Starbucks is so full of people seemingly living there, playing with laptops and half-asleep in the lounge chairs, that I have to wonder how many customers buy merely a latte to go, vs. buying more if they could sit down. I don’t do fast feeders anymore since I’m an aging boomer attempting to delay death, but I have to say I always found the garish bright colors jarring. If I’m cranked with coffee and go inside a McDonald’s with those screaming colors, well, it reminds me of some of my out-of-body experiences in the ’60s, when I was cranked on other substances.

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