McDonald’s Grows Up, Shouldn’t Every Chain?

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From stadiums, to retail stores to restaurants, remodeling works. It helps create an experience, frame your product, and ultimately, generate higher revenues. In the case of many baseball stadiums, the remodeling halo effect lasts for a dozen years. Less, if you have a sub-par product. Toronto Blue Jays, are you listening?

However, if you have a good (or marketable) product, you are doing it a disservice by selling it in a depressing environment. Case and point: Burger King. Last night, my friend was craving a Whopper, so we stopped in at a midtown Burger King. My GOD, the FLUORESCENCE!! Who designed this lighting? Surely, it was Satan. These places are the same as when I was a kid, grease stains and all. As an adult, I am aghast. While, my obvious disdain did not preclude my friend from devouring his Whopper, I know there is a way for Burger King and its brethren to grow up and attract new customers along the way.

When I was in college, I remember visiting a McDonald’s in Florence. I was amazed at how good it looked. Once I got over my tantrum for having to pay extra for ketchup packets, I was amazed at how “hip” the place was. It served beer. High school and college kids would go in there and just buy fries and hang out. They even had plants. (I defy any vegetation to survive at the Burger King I visited.)
Anyway, as this New York Times article explains, McDonald’s in Europe is finally making design a priority. The vacuous, fluorescent eyesore that pockmarked Europe is no more. This is exciting to see, but honestly, it’s about time. America, it’s your turn!

The obvious candidates for renovation are Wendy’s, Taco Bell, KFC, Dunkin Donuts, and Pizza Hut. In New York some of these franchises often share in the same unappetizing space. I recently went to a smaller chain called Chirping Chicken, which tastes good, as long as you’re not bothered by the two dangling, dripping air conditioners hovering unsteadily above your head.

It’s time even more aesthetically successful chains reinvented themselves. Even Starbucks, has stagnated. The company’s successful template is starting to look staid, uncomfortable and generic. How about some leather couches, partitions, softer lighting, local art? Where is the imagination? How about catering to the demographics of neighborhoods? Or better, allowing franchisers to use local talent to supply the music, design, and furniture.

I believe that a rebellion against homogenization is slowly brewing (at least in my house). If everyone buys their clothes at Wal-Mart, all coffee shops look the same, and every city is packed with chains, why travel? You can safely assume that a mall in Minnesota will look just like Paris, only without McCrepes.

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Provocative predictions & prescriptions on where innovation, economics & culture will take us. Fearless. Funny.