Burger King sets the dining mood with a ‘Whopperish’ aesthetic

Photo: Synergy Group
Jan 16, 2020
Matthew Stern

Burger King is testing out a new look at two of its locations, and the new dining experience is looking high-concept.

Table lighting that incorporates the Burger King crown and light fixtures up above that are designed as modernist takes on the restaurant’s signature Whopper are two of the new design features on display, according to a KDSK news report covering the St. Louis Burger King location testing the concept. The restaurant also features white subway tiles on the floor and bench seats inspired by classic Cadillac cars meant to bring to mind the freedom of the open road in the U.S. of days past.

The restaurant appears to be built on the notion that high-concept design features meant to evoke a particular mood — in this case, the “Whopperishness” — can improve a dining experience.

Burger King is not the only restaurant experimenting with creating a brand-evocative ambiance.

Chipotle, for instance, recently announced as part of its design overhaul that refreshed locations would have a direct line of sight into the kitchen in order to evoke the company’s commitment to transparency. Detractors, however, questioned if the “transparency” customers were supposed to experience would be worth the possibility that employees would be made to feel uncomfortable and under constant scrutiny.

Many quick-serve restaurants in the last decade have gotten serious about modernizing not just their look and feel, but their operations.

For instance, Burger King’s main rival, McDonald’s, has begun rolling out such technological enhancements as in-store touchscreen ordering and has continued experimenting with new solutions like predictive, AI-driven ordering at the drive-thru.

Burger King’s mode of competing against the Golden Arches has largely been conceptual, rather than technological, often using offbeat advertising campaigns to poke fun at McDonald’s.

There has been an element of technology at play in some of Burger King’s trolling as well, though. For instance, one campaign used geofencing to send a coupon for a one-cent Whopper and directions to the nearest Burger King to anyone within 600 feet of 14,000 McDonald’s locations.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you make of brands like Burger King and Chipotle applying high-concept design elements like “Whopperishness” or “transparency” to improve the appeal of the dining experience? Will pilots like this yield improvement in performance or do they represent fleeting trends in store design?

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"While I applaud Burger King for taking a different tack from McDonalds, putting the emphasis on in-store ambience isn't likely to help."

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14 Comments on "Burger King sets the dining mood with a ‘Whopperish’ aesthetic"

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Jeff Sward

Uhmmm… OK, but it’s still all about the burger. Sure update the stores. Absolutely. But my car is still hardwired for Five Guys or In-n-Out.

Richard Hernandez

What fast food means to people is changing – McDonald’s was never a favorite of mine as an adult; the food was inconsistent (and not healthy), tables were never clean and maintenance was never kept up. The Burger King redo looks pretty fancy — in comparison (again in my area) McDonald’s raised their prices, I guess to support the new fancy redo of most McDonalds restaurants (which is far superior looking to what they looked like a few years ago)- or at least that appears to be the case to me and other diners I talked to. It will be interesting to track the return on investment on these remodels…

Jeff Weidauer

While I applaud Burger King for taking a different tack from McDonalds, putting the emphasis on in-store ambience isn’t likely to help. QSR patrons want cheap food quickly; ambience isn’t part of the consideration when making a choice where to go. This is especially true when most of the customers use the drive-thru. The bottom line is whether the interior design alone is going to change anyone’s mind. The answer is no.

Shep Hyken

Retailers, especially in the competitive market of fast casual restaurants, have to “keep up with the times.” That means new menu items and new aesthetic concepts – unless nostalgia is the concept. We should take a lesson from Walmart when they did a major redesign of several stores. It was a test. They listened to their customers and made some improvements. The stores had a dramatic new look. The only thing that didn’t improve was sales. All that money spent and sales stayed the same. The goal is to move off of “the same” and create new designs that improve the experience and the bottom line.

April Sabral

I applaud them for this effort however we know that consumers are now looking for healthy local options, even in the fast-food business. A&W with their no hormones campaign was a good one and always made me feel like it’s a better option. McDonald’s has moved toward being a cafe and introduced local and healthier options.

Is “Whopperishness” a play on the current offering? if so they will have more work to do here.

Matthew Stern

Hi April,

Just to clarify, “Whopperishness” is a phrase I came up with to describe the look and feel that Burger King is going for with the redesign, it is not part of the restaurant’s branding.

Scott Norris

“Whopperishness” is a great mouthful of a word that we can’t let get away. Probably means something so self-referential yet ultimately disposable that one would wonder why so much expense was given: “Jane decorated her cubicle with so much company-branded swag that you could sense the Whopperishness all the way back at the elevator bay.”

April Sabral

Got it … It is catchy though!

David Naumann
David Naumann
Retail Industry Analyst
8 months 7 days ago

Since 50 percent to 70 percent of fast food sales are drive-thru and the percent of customers that actually dine inside vs. take out is very low, it seems like they may be over-investing in the dining area experience. I suggest they focus more attention on food quality, variety and convenience – the things that guests value most (IMHO).

Ryan Mathews

There are three reasons people go to quick serve locations: Convenience, price, and taste. If they were into a fine dining experience they wouldn’t be at Burger King in the first place. If you are sticking with the same menu, don’t confuse ambiance … such as it is … with appeal. I’m not sure what “Whopperishness” is, I just hope it isn’t contagious. That said modernization of facilities can’t hurt, but it will fall somewhat short of transformational.

Doug Garnett

Burger King outlets desperately need a face lift. Is “high concept” design the way to go? I doubt it. Nice seating, clean looking environment, etc. would go a long way a lot faster — because they could apply it to more restaurants…faster.

Chipotle? They’re a much different beast from Burger King — if they don’t continue to put quite a bit of money into design we’ll all wonder what happened to them.

Craig Sundstrom

Methinks the Instant Poll QOD is a little misleading: in a competitive environment, everything can become important, but only if you’re going head-to-head on what’s MOST important; so in this case it means “fix the menu.”

Personally, I always thought BK deserved better than they got; but that was a long time ago and with the emergence of better competitors — both in burgers specifically and fast food more generally — it may be too late. Oh! If only 20 years ago someone had just thought to get the fries right!

Morgan Linton

I think this is a great idea and is similar to what Starbucks did in the coffee world. There’s no question that people are impacted by the decor of a store or restaurant. Making nicer Burger Kings will likely improve the brand image and could help them compete more with other brands.

That being said, this move could be a little late since companies like Shake Shack went big in this arena with well-designed restaurants and a focus on a more high-end brand that is resonating with consumers around the world.

Can Burger King really up-level their brand by upgrading their stores? It’s hard to know but it does feel like a step in the right direction if they want to compete with some of the new incumbents that are clearly taking marketshare from them.

Brad Johnson
8 months 6 days ago

As a younger consumer, this is very appealing to me. It looks like a place I would like to eat. However (as some have already stated), they would probably be better off focusing on cleanliness and revising their menu offerings to suit changing consumer tastes.

Chipotle recently debuted their “Lifestyle Bowls” which cater to different consumers based on their diets (Keto Bowl, Vegan Bowl, Whole30 Bowl, Paleo Bowl, etc). Yes, people could do the research and make their own bowl, but I thought it was a clever way to market the same/existing ingredients in a new way.

"While I applaud Burger King for taking a different tack from McDonalds, putting the emphasis on in-store ambience isn't likely to help."

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