chain reaction takes fast food to a new level

Fast food restaurants have built their success on one core idea: deliver the same offer no matter where you are. Where unsophisticated foods inhabited simple, unsophisticated environments…however, times are changing.

The ‘one look for everywhere’ approach, which traditionally made sense and helped to underscore a brand’s identity has begun to look downmarket rather than consistent, and impersonal rather than recognisable. Consumers expect a more premium experience and the cookie-cutter strategy that dominated the sector is rapidly losing traction. Part of the reason is the artisan ethos pioneered by the smaller players. Brands like Bill’s and Leon – both of which have less than 100 UK sites, tapped into the zeitgeist by borrowing design cues from aspirational domestic interiors and as a result made ambiance the essence of the brand. Fashionable industrial lighting, quality natural materials, quirky buildings, intriguing props and unusual artwork give customers an authentic sense of place.

Big brands are tapping into the trend and are making the expression of their identities far more nuanced. KFC, the epitome of a fast food brand – have also been able to make the strategy work. It’s Bracknell outlet launched a radical new look with brick panels, copper lighting fixtures and handwritten signs. The sense of stylish domestic interior is evident through ‘kitchen tables’ with pendant lighting, which evoke the idea of shared family meals, while the semi-open plan kitchen makes food preparation feel more intimate. The iconic KFC colourways, graphics and visual identity take a back seat and allow the environment to become the brand hero. Burger King has also chosen to move away from full on corporate statement with a new scheme that combines copper, brick, bamboo and reclaimed wood. Branding is subtle with logos embossed into solid wood tabletops. These sorts of environments pick up on the UK consumer’s longstanding love affair with property design and interiors.

We have become less impressed with monolithic faceless corporations and want businesses to demonstrate honesty, authenticity and a more personal service. Branding is now about capturing an ambiance rather than corporate colours and a logo count. The fast food sector is particularly vulnerable to this change in consumer expectation and we can expect to see the trend for more intimate, almost domestic environments to continue in the future.

Nigel Collett – CEO, rpa:group.

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