Hopdoddy, restaurant designers discuss the ROI of redesign

| by S.A. Whitehead
Hopdoddy, restaurant designers discuss the ROI of redesign

Though it's often said that looks aren't everything, in the restaurant industry they sure do help. For proof, you need to look no further than brands like Captain D's, which cites its makeover a few years ago as a major reason for the chain's resurgence in popularity. 

But what really drives profitability for a brand when it comes to rebranding its "look." That was the topic of an October session filled with show-and-tell photos of brands that have done it right at this year's Fast Casual Executive Summit in Nashville.

(Pictured, left to right) Moderator Tracey Fullington, with designers Tom Cook and Kellie Sirna, as well as Hopdoddy Chief Growth Officer Tom Haley.  Photo Matt Tillbury

Attendees learned how to eke out every cent of a redesign to give the brand maximum bang for the buck when it comes to true brand beauty in the customer's eyes. They also learned how to make negatives — like long wait lines —  actually work for a brand through design. 

It was a true hour of power, featuring moderator Tracey Fullington, national account manager at Essity (formerly SCA/Tork) and three experts, including:

  • Tom Cook, principal at King -Casey  
  • Terry Haley, chief growth officer at Hopdoddy Burger Bar
  • Kellie Sirna, co-founder and principal at Studio 11 Design

What follows are some of the bites from the back-and-forth among Fullington and audience members and the three panelists.

Q. What design trends brands today may have gotten a little too carried away with?

Cook: I think the warehouse look. It's nice, but when we design a space, we really try to capture the brand … and to make that a distinctive environment so when go in there you know where you're at. 
Haley: Yep, you see a lot of concepts that should be intimate places, but they've gone with the warehouse look because they've seen that everywhere else … so they're basically shoplifting other concepts when that's not "you." 
Sirna: Communal tables. Be careful about using communal tables. 

Q: How do you begin the approach to a restaurant design?
: We use story-boarding. … From the moment a person walks into a restaurant to the moment they're leaving, you're telling a story. So first it's important (restaurateurs) know what story you want to tell. For us, that means getting down to the brand identity and it's a positioning piece. That is particularly true when a restaurant is in a growth phase. 

Once we have that story laid out, then it is its own plan. That's not all about upselling, sometimes it's about validating that purchase. … (Customers) have got to know why they paid X amount for that burger. 

Our goal is to simplify the message points and don't overwhelm (customers) with innovation. …Then look at when we are transitioning our message from the process of ordering to closing down (the sale) where I want to entice them to come back. 

Haley: Yeah, like ever heard of "de-chaining the chain"? … That's more about knowing your story and letting your designers go to work on that. … 
Our colors are red and green. Green because everything is fresh and scratch-made. … Red because we're Austin (based) and Austin is a little irreverent, right? … 

Then, also we tend to have big lines … but instead of seeing the line as being a problem, we want it to be a party, so (at design planning) we decided to purposely run the line right down the center of the restaurant and right by the bar. 

Q: Tell us about a design where you've helped return a brand to its roots? 
Sirna: Long John Silver's. They had not rebranded in like 30-something years… and there's something very nostalgic about Long John Silver's, but we wondered how we update that. … So, they've been sustainable for 30-something years … so we thought, why not tell that story because this is incredible: They were sustainable before it was even cool. … 

Then, one of the things we're doing with lots of brand is making things things more interactive. So, at Long John Silver's, for instances, you know the "crunchies" you get (at Long John Silver's with their fish), what do you call those? … So right at the front of (Long John Silver's) restaurants we have boards where we're asking customers, "What are you calling these things?" … And we're doing that too on social media with hashtags. 

Q: What are some of the design issues around the growing take-out and home delivery trends?
Haley: I think now you have to start (the process of design and redesign) at the parking lots … because that's as far as a lot of people are going to get in your restaurants now. " 
Cook: We do lots of work with Starbucks, and they had an issue of congestion … and they're having to look at how they handle all that volume. … That's a work in progress but it's definitely a complex design issue. 
Sirna: Yes, like aesthetically you don't want to see 20 brown bags sitting there. For instance, we're working with a fast casual Indian cuisine (brand) … where we realized that doesn't look fresh, so we're having to find new storage space and heaters and space for that. 

Q: What design elements can be used to boost profitability? 
Sirna: We have a Latin-Asian fusion) restaurant that had a really tight budget… so we popped open the doors to really create that energy from the street level … and we added projection screens for games. … Simple things like that really draw people in from the street. 
Haley: We just opened our 21st location three miles from here … and the patio is a huge draw. … So  now we're turning them into active social environments. I love that idea of opening (restaurants) up and letting that be your billboard.
Sirna: Also try to prioritize certain elements. … For instance, we spent most of (that Latin-Asian fusion restaurant's) budget on (a wall-length) mural and … kitchen equipment and then we cheaped out on other stuff. 

This restaurant mural took the majority of the budget for a Chino, California restaurant, but gave the brand a powerful single image statement about its Asian-Latin fusion roots.

Cook: Yes, many of those I work with don't really understand the economics of space. … So pick out where you will get the most bang for the buck and where you can save money that nobody is going to know you saved money.

A lot of (restaurants) are also overlooking the importance of customer communication in restaurant design, particularly through the menu board. In terms of ROI, there's not a better thing you can do that optimize your menu board. 

If you can use communication (through menu boards) they provide a tremendous opportunity to drive customers to things you want them to buy. That is really something all (restaurants planning designs or redesigns) should be looking at. 

Great discussions, like the one above, are jam-packed into this summit and the Fast Casual Executive Summit in 2018, this time in Seattle. Register now. 


Feature photo: iStock

Inset photo: Matt Tillbury

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Communications, Curbside, Customer Service / Experience, Delivery, Digital Signage, Display Technology, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Menu Boards, Restaurant Design / Layout, Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Trends / Statistics

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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