To understand a shift underway in the chain restaurant business, consider that you can sip a martini at the bar of Denny’s newest restaurant while waiting to get married in the on-premise wedding chapel.
Then re-watch “All About Eve,” the classic film about an understudy who eventually grabs the spotlight from the established star. Restaurant design is growing beyond its supporting role to rival menus as the marquee draw.
Less noticeable is how that’s affecting headquarters’ fundamental strategy. Once, renovations were something a chain undertook maybe every five years, more likely every seven or 10, and quite often not for more than a decade. Now a concept’s layout and look are getting tweaked on a refresh cycle that’s closer to the constant updating of menus.
A case in point: Kona Grill ended its recent announcement of a new “swanky” design with the promise to adjust the look as the chain fields reactions from customers. "We are excited for our guests to come and see our new design and will incorporate their feedback as we utilize this new look for future restaurants and remodels," said CEO Berke Bakay.
The 23-unit polished-casual brand isn’t alone in trying to deliver a more sophisticated setting to customers. TCBY is trumpeting a new format that includes a Live Culture Bar where patrons can sip smoothies made with anti-oxidant-packed juices and Greek-style yogurt.
O’Charley’s turnaround efforts pivot on a new look that includes a showcase bar called The Charles, after founder Charles Watkins. Also included are what the chain calls “signature rooms,” like The Porch and The Piedmont. “Signature,” of course, is a term that’s usually reserved for distinctive menu items.
Denny’s is quick to note that its newest restaurant, in the downtown area of Las Vegas, is a one-of-a-kind. Indeed, it even has its own name, Denny’s on Fremont, the street it fronts.
Sounds as if the chain may be borrowing a page from Starbucks’ strategy plan. The coffee giant has also started naming its outlets by location. Each differs from the other—not necessarily in menu, but in design.