*Click here to view a slideshow of the new design.
Metallic finishes. Ceramic tile with a rustic wood look. Black accents. A chandelier that looks like a flame.
Burger King Corp.'s new prototype store, located at 8523 Spring Cypress Road in Spring, Texas, was unveiled last week and is intended to propel the dining experience beyond its competition as well carry the chain's branding into the future.
"We do feel that this concept does surpass what our competition is doing," said Hector Munoz, senior director of retail image and engagement at Burger King Corp. "Not only from an aesthetic point of view but also just with the restaurant and how hard it's working for us. It does do a real nice job of really conveying to the consumer what it is that Burger King stands for."
The store's exterior roof area is lit at night with red parapet lights that mimic flames. Signage includes the brand's messaging, including the "Have it your way" slogan.
Inside, the store features LCD digital menu boards and counter cards, a flat screen TV in the dining room, and three specially designed tables with a mounted monitor for playing computer games. In the center of the 60-plus seat dining area is a large party table featuring that flame chandelier, an artistic interpretation of the company's "grill-centric" brand.
The restaurant also contains some operational enhancements, including the new Duke Flexible Batch Broiler and other solutions currently being tested by Burger King, such as new point-of-sale equipment.
Amin Dhanani, owner of Burger King franchise Houston Foods Inc., which operates the new store, is thrilled with the new design — and consumer response.
"It's just very eye catching, very sleek," he said. "Customers love it. They just can't believe this looks like a Burger King."
Dhanani said Houston Foods is so excited with the design's success that it has increased its number of planned store openings, all featuring the new prototype. He had planned five openings for 2010 but now will open 10 over the next 12-14 months.
Burger King has been researching and planning its new design since October 2007. In the meantime, Houston Foods also drafted one of its own. After seeing Burger King's design, Houston Foods incorporated some of its planned features, including outdoor patio seating as well as a waterfall and fountain in the drive-thru.
The waterfall can be seen from the drive-thru menu board but has a soothing enough sound that it does not interfere with the ordering experience, Dhanani said.
Munoz said Burger King's research for the new design included visits to its own and competitors' stores around the world, searching for industry best practices. The design, developed in partnership with the company's firm Interbrand Design Forum, has been chosen as the design moving forward in Europe and in some parts of Latin America.
The company has about a dozen stores featuring the new look open around the world, including in China, Germany and Scotland. In the United States, another 10-15 beyond Houston Foods' goal are planned for the next year.
Still, the design is considered under test in the United States, Munoz said. The company also will study the business case for some of the Houston-area franchisee's features, such as the drive-thru fountain. That element, for example, fits with the company's goal of carrying over the feel of the new interior to the drive-thru, which serves more than 60 percent of the chain's transactions.
"We wanted to create a drive-thru experience that didn't feel like an afterthought but an actual experience, and replicate what consumers would have inside the restaurant," Munoz said.
The new prototype is scalable and can adapt to any type of footprint. The Houston-area store, for example is 80 percent of the original prototype, he said.
Munoz said franchisee response has mirrored that of consumers. In fact, at the company's recent convention, a number of franchisees were so impressed with the prototype display that they have stopped construction underway to transition to the new look.
"This definitely is the restaurant of the future, but there is some work, and some future validation that needs to take place before we can come out with a system recommendation," he said. "Operators have been so impressed by this design that they're chomping at the bit at this point to move forward, but we still need to do our due diligence as a franchisor to provide that business case."
Christa is editor of QSRweb.com and contributes to FastCasual.com and PizzaMarketplace.com. She has experience in the restaurant industry as well as 15 years as a journalist.