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Efficiency or Identity? A Dilemma for Fast Food Restaurants

Minimalism is in; Googie architecture is out.

Red roofs, neon golden arches, and other bright-colored structures have practically disappeared from the fast food landscape. They have been replaced by boxy, sleek designs that reflect both cultural and economic trends. Whether or not these new designs are less aesthetically pleasing than their older counterparts is a matter of personal taste. Fast food chains’ primary goal remains to give customers what they want.

Video Spotlight: The Decline of Pizza Hut…What Happened? (December 22, 2021, Company Man)

This post is based on the CNN article, Why Pizza Hut’s Red Roofs and McDonald’s Play Places Have Disappeared, by N. Meyersohn, February 18, 2023, and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: all_about_people/Shutterstock.

Discussion Questions:

1. To you, as a customer, what are the most important attributes of fast food restaurants?

Guidance: Most students will say cost, value, consistency, convenience, taste, low wait times, clean bathrooms, etc. It is unlikely that Gen Z, a tech-minded and environmentally conscious group, will express any nostalgia for bold, loud designs. Millennials, who enjoyed play places when they were kids, no longer view fast food restaurants as attractive options for family dining as more upscale restaurants have adopted kid-friendly themes and menus. In other words, neither generation associates fast food with fun and originality.

2. How do the latest architectural designs contribute to increased efficiency? Is it wise?

Guidance: The smaller, squarish designs are cheaper to build, maintain, heat, and cool. They also maximize the use of space for productive purposes. The technology (e.g., mobile ordering and digital kiosks) reduces labor costs. The kitchens are configured to facilitate fast food preparation. The number of drive-thru lanes and pickup windows has increased to minimize wait time. In other words, fast food restaurants are refocusing their operations strategies on low cost and fast delivery.

3. Although styles come and go, differentiation is always important in a highly competitive environment. How can fast food restaurants claim their identity despite homogenized architecture and décor?

Guidance: The industry once relied on a “place-product-packaging” strategy. Now that design, décor, and personal service have taken a back seat, fast-food restaurants have emphasized new menu items and value pricing in their ads. This messaging has its limits. Fast food chains used to be cool and fun. To regain that appeal, they will have to be more proactive and inspire new lifestyles and tastes rather than react to market changes (see video).

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