A Study of Fast Food Restaurant Design
In a world full of fast-paced lifestyles, constant interaction and interlinked global activities, food has become a common denominator that connects people from all around the world. While tasting delicious cuisines from different parts of the world can be an exciting venture, there are some things that remain constant throughout the world. This is where fast food restaurant design comes in.
Imagine you’re on a tour to a foreign land. You’re enjoying the scenery, taking in the sights, making amazing memories – but then you try the food, and it turns out it doesn’t quite suit your palate. Maybe you’re in country where sea food is the norm, and you’re kind of allergic to it. Maybe you’re in a country whose local cuisine doesn’t entice you at all. What do you do in times like these?
Well, if I were you, I’d simply go to the nearest McDonald’s or Burger King for an evergreen Big Mac or a Beef Whopper!
Similarly, imagine being on an urgent errand for work with nary a second to spare, but it’s lunch time and you’re hungry and there’s no time to sit down for a proper meal. In such a situation, I’d get a best value deal from the nearest Applebee’s. Easy, convenient and hassle free!
This is how the fast food restaurant design industry has completely revolutionized the way we experience food. Whether you’re looking for a common meal-choice or whether you want food on the go, or whether you simply enjoy burgers and fried cuisine, a fast food joint brings you all that and more! Let’s look at the concept behind these joints and how you can design a successful one.
The concept behind a fast food joint
The first thing that you should know about designing a fast food restaurant design is that these joints have a huge corporate identity. Can you imagine a McDonald’s without the requisite M on its logo? Or a Subway without the arrows? Such foodie joints have a brand identity with enormous worldwide recognition!
The second thing to know about fast food joints is that they are not designed to provide a memorable experience. They’re designed to be as efficient as possible so the customers can eat quickly and carry on with their daily activities. The ambiance promotes ‘fast gratification’ which is not quite the way food was meant to be enjoyed.
Thirdly, these joints have a very structured idea about how to deliver the ambiance as well as the exterior. The color scheme is chosen specifically to stimulate the appetite. You might have noticed the red and yellow undertones in the McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Hardees and Subway outlets. It’s not a coincidence – these colors are there to make you feel hungrier.
Lastly, the fast food business is all about convenience. It’s about providing a good meal at a low budget so customers leave feeling absolutely satisfied for what they’ve eaten at the price they’ve paid.
All of these factors have to be carefully and thoroughly considered while designing a good fast food restaurant. Leaving any of these out can take away from the essence of a fast food joint.
Target audience of a fast food restaurant
Generally, fast food establishments cater to all sorts of demographics. They’re intended to attract kids, adults, working people, business folk, families and young parents alike. This is why the interior design has all sorts of spaces. There are play areas for kids – one of the major attractions that initially shot McDonalds to international fame and stardom.
However, these days the play areas are few and far. Now that many of these brands have established a successful commercial presence worldwide, we now find buildings with large open windows, and sometimes even sophisticated interiors. However, the endgame is always to attract people from all walks of life.
Interior of a fast food restaurant design
There’s a lot of thought put into the design of a fast food joint. The basic idea is to make the surface as attractive as possible, but with philosophies that are meant to keep you engaged as well as make you hungry. Let’s look at how most fast food restaurants manage to do so:
Through color schemes:
Ever heard of the ketchup-mustard phenomenon? No? Well it’s a design philosophy used in picking the color scheme of a fast food restaurant. The idea is that the combination of red and yellow can actively stimulate the appetite and make the patrons feel hungry. This is why many fast food outlets have incorporated either one or both of these colors in their branding and interior design. If not red or yellow, it’s imperative to design an interior that’s rich in warm colors, as they stimulate the appetite. Many fast food joints use a combination of wood, warm colors and great graphic designing to create a stylish ambiance.
As mentioned before, the corporate identity of all fast food restaurant design is based on familiarity. People always feel comfortable in a place they’re used to dining in. So even when you’re in another country, a familiar ambiance is sure to make you feel at ease. Fast food joints don’t go for customized themes because that goes against highlighting their corporate identity.
Branding is a key factor in designing the interior of any fast food chain. There’s always a specific focus on the logo. It’s usually front and center, while the official colors are sporadically spread throughout each individual outlet across the city/country/world. There’s always a catchphrase on a feature wall to emphasize the brand identity. You might have seen ‘an appetite for life’ or an ‘I’m lovin’ it’ if you’ve been to your local KFC or McDonald’s lately.
There are tons of functional factors to consider in a fast food restaurant design, so let’s take a look at them:
a. Maximizing space: The first order of business in any fast food joint is to make the most of all available space. These chains are highly popular worldwide, and there are tons of patrons to cater to on an hourly basis. This is why everything – from the furniture to the order counter to the self-help tables are designed to be as compact as possible.
b. Seating: Seating at most fast food restaurants is designed to be simultaneously interactive and isolated. The tables are usually small (with mostly 4 seaters at the maximum), with larger booths to accommodate families. Did you know that Starbucks designed roundtables for their outlets to accommodate interaction between strangers? Similarly, the shared island style seating in places like Hardees and McDonald’s is designed to do the same thing.
c. Family-friendly ambiance: This is quite an important factor to consider in any fast food restaurant design. The goal is to make the space as memorable as possible, especially for little kids, so they ask their parents to visit again.
d. Efficiency: At the end of the day, these fast food chains are designed to ensure maximum efficiency. This is a key functional aspect to consider in their interior designs. The space has to walk a fine line between comfortable yet efficient to keep people moving. Once again, it’s both about the experience as well as instant gratification.
Through high visibility:
Ever noticed how everything in a fast food joint is visually interlinked? No matter where you’re sitting, the seating is designed in a way that you can clearly see the workers taking orders at the counter, the hustle and bustle of the open kitchen, and the large backlit menus. This is to keep that sense of urgency intact so that patrons can hurriedly dine and get on with it.
Another important interior design element to consider in fast food establishments is the furniture. Most chains have brand approved furniture that’s used in outlets all over the world. This is another common factor to familiarize the brand identity of a fast food chain in a globalized manner. It makes people feel comfortable in the establishment even if they’re not in the same country.
Lighting in a fast food restaurant design is always comfortable yet not accentuated. There is no mood lighting to create a certain ambiance. Although there are trendy light fixtures, the lights inside them are pretty generic. You may not know it, but lighting has a direct impact on how you consume your food. When the lighting is dim, the mood becomes inherently romantic, which in turn stimulates the appetite. This technique is used in fine dining establishments. But fast food restaurants use ambient lighting that is comfortable enough, but definitely not a mood setter. Again, this is used to ensure efficiency.
Fast food kitchens
The commercial kitchen of a fast food restaurant design is definitely different than that of any other food-related establishment. For one, most of the equipment is right there behind the order counter and customers can see the food being made. There is a high level of transparency, urgency and constant hustle and bustle.
Of course, there are health and safety standards that need to be met. The personnel need to be trained to use the equipment, the floor materials need to be sturdier and the ceiling needs to be properly ventilated.
The following elements need to be considered in the kitchen of a fast food restaurant design:
- The counter space needs to be accounted for. There have to be a sufficient number of order and receive counters. This usually depends on the ratio of people that will be deduced to order at a counter at a specific time.
- There is usually an ample amount of space left in front of the counters so that the order and receive line has enough room to converge.
- This area is designed in clear view of the entrance so that people know exactly where to go to order the food.
- There are menu screens above the order counter where customers can easily see the prices, deals and menu items. They usually run in a horizontal formation right above the counter area.
- Behind that is the kitchen, where freshly fried food is laden into glass cabinets and dished out by personnel. There are fryers in the back, while the ice-cream machines are usually at the front.
- There’s also a pick-up door behind the counter where staff pick up large orders for serving if the specific fast food joint serves that way.
- Lastly, the size of the kitchen must correspond with the size of the establishment. It should also be designed according to the dimensions of the equipment. There has to be enough circulation space for the staff to move around fast.
Fast food in food courts
With the success of large malls and their subsequent food courts, the fast food restaurant design genre has further evolved. Fast food joints in food courts are decidedly smaller and more compact. Most of them usually consist of a kitchen and order/receive queue and only a few of them have small or separate sitting areas.
Once again, these compacted versions of fast food establishments feature their signature color, branding and furniture as a beacon to invite regular patrons no matter where in the world (or mall) they actually are.
Unique case studies from around the world
Till now, we’ve only looked at how the fast food restaurant design is crafted for convenience and corporate identity. Now let’s look at some unique case studies that defy this concept and deliver something truly different. These are very few, but they do stand out because of their distinctness. Let’s take a look:
The Minimalist McDonalds by Patrick Norguet: Located on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, this McDonald’s joint is a study in simplicity and radical modernism. Designed like a minimalist cube with lots of transparent glass, the interior of this particular McDonalds comprises of grey concrete and sheet metal. The only ode to the ‘ketchup-mustard phenomenon’ is actually the colorful ceiling and the brightly toned furniture. Of course, there’s use of the requisite logo for familiarization, but the overall look of this branch is highly unique and different.
The Burger King Garden Grill: This revamped Burger King outlet in Singapore is a study in rustic charm and warm, organic textures. It takes leave from the regular modernistic approach used in many of the mainstream Burger King outlets and delivers a highly unique and intimate atmosphere. Designed by Outofstock, this outlet features a plant covered trellis, exposed brick walls, plush furniture, inverted planter pendent lights, some great mood lighting and metal framed tables. There’s even minimal branding, which is highly extraordinary for a chain with such strong brand identity – just a large board in the middle of the accent wall with the Burger King logo, and nothing else.
The Non-Design Experiential McDonalds: This McDonalds branch is located in Hong Kong and designed by Landini Associates. It’s actually designed more like a fine dining establishment. It features concrete tables and atmospheric mood lighting along with an interactive concept. The booths are larger, the color scheme borders on neutral with only the logo providing a spot of bright color. There are fun graphics on the wall, and even the kitchen is actually an exposed cooking area with glass cases of lush, un-fast food like items on display. There’s even a cold service bar for salads, desserts and drinks! This particular fast food joint is definitely extraordinary.
These are some of the basics of fast food restaurant design that you need to know. And always remember: only when you know the basics can you eventually defy them! If you’re looking to design a fast food establishment of your own, we at CAS can definitely help you with your project.