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Localizing the chain restaurant

April 23, 2012

The rise of fast food and chain eateries in the 1950s and 60s did wonders not only for the standardization of food but also of restaurant interiors. You can walk into a McDonald’s in New York, Iowa, Texas–heck, even Hong Kong or Australia–and it pretty much looks the same. It was an amazing mechanism for brand recognition for all kinds of chains: a starbucks is a starbucks, is a starbucks right?

But several food chains are shifting their image away from standard design elements to be more architectural. And that architecture seems to be more of a reflection of the local environment itself.

For example, check out this Starbucks in Dazaifu, Japan, recently designed by Kengo Kuma.

The coffee shop serves tourists and locals alike as it sits on a path leading to one of Japan’s largest and well-known shrines. Set among one and two-story neighboring buildings “the project aimed to make a structure that harmonizes with such townscape, using a unique system of weaving thin woods diagonally” according to Kengo Kuma and Associates.

McDonald’s has also been well publicized for leading the redesign of their franchise in France. The French are known (perhaps only in a cliche) as sitting in small cafes slowly enjoying their meal. So, it may not be a surprise that McDonald’s is trying to capitalize on that and create a more relaxed, contemporary experience for their French patrons before they implement design changes in America where meal-time efficiency is still at an all-time high.

images via architizer

And check out this Chick-Fil-A in Chicago that got a make-over from square feet studio.

image via square foot studio

The restaurant incorporates a light fixture made from recycled coke bottles, reclaimed wood, and a locally-made steel logo. Chick-fil-A says they “will incorporate energy conservation measures and recycled materials into all new restaurant construction activities, and by the end of 2012, over half of the chain’s 1,600+ restaurants will receive energy and water retrofits.”

And one final example from Hong Kong is the redesign of Maxim. This interior by Steve Leung Designers and Alan Chan Design creates a “retro” experience. They incorporate the work of local artists, who were asked to create pieces that fit the restaurant’s heart theme.

images via designboom

It’s hard to determine what to make of these changes; is it just a natural progression as consumer tastes change? Will chain restaurants truly adapt to their local environments and use local materials, labor, and designers? Is that actually any better for our planet or is the mere existence of the fast food restaurant what haunts us?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 23, 2012 11:20 pm

    Interesting examples, especially Maxims. I was in HK several months ago and was struck by the design and layout of their spaces.

    I believe the chains are doing it just to cater to prevailing trends. I am still very skeptical that designing for sustainability and emphasizing local uniqueness are part of their DNA. At the end of the day for them, it still comes down to mindshare, profitability, and marketing visibility. As soon as sustainability and local are at odds with any of those elements, they will be dropped as priorities.

  2. April 24, 2012 5:12 am

    Mere existance haunta us. However, those starbucks look amazing!

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