Queso Doesn’t Cut It: QSR Brands Should Invest in Experiences

Queso Doesn’t Cut It: QSR Brands Should Invest in Experiences 491 800 Chute Gerdeman

Let’s Go Big

A few months ago, once-mighty Chipotle announced the addition of hot liquid cheese to its menu, hoping it would guide the company back to its previous growth trajectory. The orange goo debuted to tepid reviews, dashing the former industry leader’s hopes of a comeback—but that is beside the point:

Mediocre improvements, limited time gimmicks, and aesthetic adjustments will not move QSR brands, or the fast food industry as a whole, forward.

The category is poised for reinvention. Each brand should focus on its core values—and what really makes it special—to create customer-centric magic and a booming business.

Do: You—Know Yourself and Your Brand

As designers and strategists, it’s our passion to help brands identify and sharpen their values, and then translate them into physical spaces for customers to enjoy. In recent history, many QSRs have become indistinct, each borrowing elements from each other to create aesthetic monotony, and a pretty lackluster experience for their guests.

Is it just us, or do all of these fast food exteriors look the same?

Red pylons, glass and steel accents, and rectilinear architecture makes each restaurant blend together. Look away from the logo, and the designs do not reflect a unique brand identity.

Don’t Miss: Checkers

Our team helped Checkers harness the heritage of its iconic architecture to create a building that was a beacon for customers. The brand is enjoying double-digit sales increases and a 149% return on investment.

Check out the client story.

Do: Know and Support Your Customers

Delivery is THE buzzword today, with countless apps and websites having sprung up during the past 5 years, and all indications pointing to continued success for at least some of these startups for the foreseeable future. It’s surprising to us that legacy fast food brands like McDonald’s and Wendy’s have recently begun participating in this game, partnering with UberEats and DoorDash respectively.

We believe QSR brands perform at their best when they serve (and fill a need for) customers who are already in motion. In the eyes of consumers, fast food restaurants are an omnipresent convenience, providing sustenance and solace to busy soccer moms, thrifty eaters, and traveling workers.

There is also a layer of cost prohibitive administration associated with delivery services, upping the expected low baseline cost of common fast food by as much as 100%. This doesn’t align as well with the QSR industry’s value proposition, and may alienate customers with fragile purse strings.

Energy and investment should be directed into the physical customer experience to attract customers who want quick, convenient food.

Our recent order of a $5 Egg McMuffin meal from McDonald’s incurred a delivery fee of $4.99.

Do: Make Everything Simple and Easy

One area in which QSR brands have the opportunity (and responsibility) to stand out is simplicity. Specifically, guests should enjoy an easy and delightful experience prior to and during ordering, whether in the store or drive thru. As time has gone on, restaurants have added menu items to offer everything to everybody, but studies show the paradox of choice is at play in customer satisfaction ratings.

Brands finding success today have some of the most focused and edited menus in the industry. From In-N-Out Burger’s three simple options to Raising Cane’s four value meals, customers see sophistication and ease in dramatically refined menus. Improving the customer experience, as well as the added benefits of reducing labor costs and improving efficiency, makes simple menus a wise design and operational decision.

Casual dining chain Chili’s Grill & Bar has recently taken steps to slash the number of items on its menu by over 40 percent. “As we were chasing new platforms we were losing our credibility on what built us,” Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer Steve Provost told reporters.

Don’t: Forget About Fast

In 2017, according to QSR Magazine, wait times at fast food establishments are getting slower, with the average time closing in on four minutes. While this number may seem minuscule when compared to the minutes in a day, four minutes could be nearing the amount of time it takes for a customer to order and receive food at a fast casual restaurant.

Have QSR brands lost sight of their core customers? Fast food restaurants serve an essential purpose: to provide quick, efficient food for hungry, time-starved customers. And while some patrons may be willing to add wait time to “have it their way” at Chipotle and Arby’s, there is still a need for an instant provider.

Do: Craft an Experience that Builds on the Value Proposition

The days of QSR restaurants being bland boxes outfitted with ceramic tile and laminate tables are over. While this may have worked for decades, competition from fast casual concepts is putting the pressure on the fast food industry to innovate—and that should especially be done by elevating the interior experience.

Concepts like Fusian and Piada, grown in Chute Gerdeman’s backyard of Columbus, Ohio, join growing chains like ShakeShack and SweetGreen in delivering a chic environment in which customers want to spend time. Warm wood tones and modern fixtures complement dynamic layouts to define the restaurant of the future.

During the past few years, the Chute Gerdeman team has worked with Domino’s to reinvent their overall brand, amplify its in-house technological investment (and achievements) while completely overhaul its in-store environment.

A longtime leader in food delivery, the brand approached CG to improve its carryout business and subsequent store environment. To continue to drive carryout business, Domino’s needed to better connect with customers in-store. The service counter, which had always been positioned perpendicular to the store entrance, was rotated 90 degrees to run lengthwise, with the Pizza Theater upfront and the cash register at the back. Now, the first thing customers see is the best thing Domino’s does…pizza-making.

Domino’s stock price is up 5,000% since the project began and the “theatre” concept is emulated throughout the industry by a van array of brands.


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Do: Follow the original pillars of fast food

The 2016 movie The Founder staring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, follows the McDonald’s owner through his ascent to American legend, and what drew him to purchase the McDonald brother’s proprietary cooking method: Speedee Service. The brothers understood that speed was central to the success of the fast food phenomenon they invented.

There are a few other things the McDonald’s brothers did to ensure quick service, aside from a simple menu.

First, they created a beacon. Whether it was the loud and clear signage at the first location, or the distinct golden arch architecture of the initial prototype restaurant, McDonald’s always provided magnetic and clear positioning that was visible to potential customers from the road.

Second, literal transparency was a purposeful design feature in each of its restaurants. Granting customers a view into the kitchen through edge-to-edge windows eased minds and helped to facilitate the decision making process for guests.

Third, the design and architecture of McDonald’s restaurants complemented, encouraged, and required a certain format of ordering. In this case, customers had to order at the window through a series of openings in the glass facade. This created efficiency from an operation perspective, but also built a culture of ordering that’s unique and fast.

Do: Craft an Experience that Builds on the Value Proposition

Obviously, we think the category is ripe for reinvention. Legacy brands can adapt to the changing marketplace while honing their attributes, and up-and-coming companies can jump into the segment to meet customers’ changing and unique tastes.

Recently, our design team performed an exercise to brainstorm what the future of QSR might look like. Here are a few thought starters:

  • Use digital image boards to stream content that connects the online assets to in-store or in drive thru media.
  • Deliver on the seamless experience and use the power of digital to provide day part messaging and LTOs that have impact to drive ticket and frequency.
  • Make it easier for loyalists to love your app and want to order through it.
  • Don’t ask them to wait in line with the other cars.
  • Build on the efficiency of order ahead and digital methods available to customers – specifically online, call ahead, and app orders- create a quick order ahead pick-up lane.

Ready to get started?

Our team of strategists and designers are ready to help take your QSR brand to the next level.

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