TAI Digital Media Strategy Students Dive Into The Changing Landscape of Fast-Casual Dining

With the success of fast-casual restaurants on the rise, fast-food chains have to find new ways to attract customers as they’re losing market share to their fast-casual competitors. Many restaurants are trying to appeal to the popular consumer segment of Millenials, who seem to value overall experience and atmosphere very highly when it comes to dining out.

Fast-food chains, including KFC, Arby’s, and Taco Bell, have started redesigning their restaurants, inside and out, to appeal to consumers. According to Ad Week, a lot of these chains, Arby’s especially, have seen aging customer bases. Redesigning the physical stores, many of which are outdated, is a way for these chains to increase customer satisfaction in their existing customers, while creating interest in consumers who might not be customers yet.

One view of Dickey's Barbecue Pit's new restaurant layout.
One view of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit’s new restaurant layout. Photo credit: Franchise Times

“The fast-casual restaurant industry is a market that is still in its growth phase, meaning that there is a lot of room within the market,” TAI Digital Media student Nicholas McCall said. “For the fast food industry, the barriers to entry are almost non-existent due to their already existing supply change. A small change in the food and atmosphere of a fast food restaurant would not be tough to make happen; however, rebranding a company’s [established] brand into a healthy, fast-casual option would be slow to materialize.”

These new and improved store designs have typically followed updates to the stores’ menus, keeping up with changing consumer tastes. The overall idea is for fast-food chains to be able to compete with rising fast-casual restaurants, urging customers to spend more time in the store by providing a better atmosphere and better food options.

“Consumers are busier than ever as well as more focused on their health,” TAI Digital Media student Paige Brown said. “Fast-casual restaurants offer the best options available that provide both of these increasingly influential factors at a reasonable price.”

One view of Dickey's new restaurant layout.
Another view of Dickey’s new restaurant layout. Photo credit: Franchise Times

This semester, TAI’s second year Digital Media Strategy students are working with a class client, Dickey’s Barbecue, in the fast-casual industry in their Digital Media Strategy 3 course. Last year, Dickey’s introduced their newly designed store into the market, with a completely new tone and vibe. Now our students are working to help Dickey’s find innovative ways to bring new consumer segments into their store, mostly through digital efforts.

As we’ve seen, newly designed stores and up-to-date menus are a must-have to be competitive in the market. With fast-casual restaurants continuing to improve, will fast-food chains be able to keep up? Even a newly designed fast-food restaurant might not be enough to beat out the modern feel of a fast-casual restaurant. The stigma surrounding fast food might be hard to overcome for these chains.

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