Fast Food Restaurants Imitate Chipotle to Modernize

Months ago we reported on the proposed changes fast-food restaurants like Wendy’s and Taco Bell were undergoing to modernize their brands and attract demographics they might have lost to more upscale quick service restaurants. Now it appears that many of these brands are exclusively targeting Chipotle as the model for their changes. Taco bell unveiled it’s ‘Cantina Bell’ menu to emulate the more upscale Southwestern options available at Chipotle. Similar styles have been observed at new fast food locations around the world with designs including broad panes of glass, hard wood surfaces, metal poles and blocks of metal and concrete.

The original design of Chipotle’s restaurant locations was created by an architect named Brand Gould in 1996. The design was used at Chipotle’s second location in Denver, and stressed natural colors, raw materials and high seating. This new design had a huge impact with customers, giving them the feel that they were eating at a far more authentic restaurant with modern look. This design is also far more cost effective for the restaurant’s the shinier designs used by Chipotle’s competitors. For instance, Wendy’s new design cost only $750,000 to build per location, compared to the $1 million plus it previously cost the brand.

“Chipotle and Panera, these guys raised the bar and changed what consumers expect,” said Craig Bahner, Wendy’s chief marketing officer. “That inspired us to try to offer a fast-casual experience at quick service prices.”

Ultimately this imitation by other fast food brands may disrupt Chipotle’s enormous growth over the past few years. Customers may be less willing to pay more than $10 for a burrito with guacamole if they can get a similar product and experience for much less at a restaurant like Taco Bell. However Chipotle is continuing to push forward in its design initiatives, hiring New York architect Thaddeus Briner to design a fresh look for a location in Manhattan. Briner has already removed any extra decorations from the stores, leaving just the concrete floors, plywood wall coverings, high wooden tables and metal light fixtures.

“We thought about how Chipotle makes their food. They do a few good things, and they do them well,” said Briner. “So in that first restaurant – and there were these discrete parts – there was this queueing wall, there was this storage box with seating and condiments in it. There was fast seating and slow seating. There was an idea about how to use art. So we had these five or six key things, and they had relationships to each other, but you could go into any kind of space and apply the strategy to all these different kinds of spaces.”

In 2009 Chipotle made this design the new standard for all of their locations. This minimalist design actually requires more work from the designers to make them thoughtful rather than sterile and cold. Taco Bell recently boasted that their new look was designed without the help of any architects at all.

Ultimately Chipotle’s prices are still far above those of any of it’s would be competitors, including Taco Bell, and the direct correlation between design and an increase in business cannot be determined. Since redesigning their restaurant locations, Wendy’s has observed a 20 to 25% growth in sales in its first renovated location.

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