Burger King recently announced an effort to renovate its 12,000+ locations worldwide using a new restaurant design they call “20/20” – which includes features like rotating red flame chandeliers, television-screen menus and metal-and-brick walls – in order to better compete with fast casual chains like Starbucks and Panera.
The idea is that if the restaurants now look more “sit-down” than “drive-through,” they’ll make a better impression on diners, who view Chipotle, Cosi and the like as “better than fast food.”
The flaw in this strategy is the failure to realize that the reason the fast casual demographic eats at those restaurants is because the food there actually is “better than fast food,” even if only by a margin.
1,000+ calories aside, a chicken burrito from Chipotle is better for you calorie-for-calorie than a double cheeseburger or an original chicken sandwich. The key is in the ingredients – for example, the fresh, free range, hormone-free chicken that Chipotle uses and the artisan bread served at Panera – and not in the decor.
I love fast food a lot more than I should so these kinds of changes are going to make my personal dining experience more enjoyable and comfortable, but they’re certainly not going to attract the crowd simply looking for a healthier alternative to the Whopper and the Big Mac.
And therein lies the challenge for Burger King corporate. Franchisees are required to update their restaurants every so often, and the company is trying to position “20/20” as the most attractive option, but it’s tough to justify to a small business owner trying to get by in this less-than-stellar economy that they should spend the $300,000 to $600,000 necessary to implement the upgrade when the potential for new business is so small.
The money Burger King invested coming up with this new design would have been better spent creating higher end menu items that better matched those of the companies they so desperately want to compete against. As those companies have proven, people are even willing to spend a little more to get a higher quality of food.
But “20/20?” Well, that’s just putting lipstick on a Whopper.