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Fast food ditches ‘kitsch’ design for minimal glass cubes, and experts say it’s a smart move

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  • Fast service Restaurants adopted a uniform design of minimalism and clean lines.
  • Experts say this design is the most efficient at handling mobile and steering wheel controls.

The next time you eat a burger, burrito bowl, or pumpkin and spice latte, you might just grab it at an airy, cube-shaped restaurant.

McDonald’s, Burger King, and other chains in the fast food and fast food industries have posted designs and started updating locations for what many have dubbed the restaurant of the future. Most of these designs look surprisingly similar, even for establishments that serve different products.

“We see squares and rectangles, cubic shapes, with a lot of glass and a very airy look. They have clean lines, a very contemporary look,” said Tom Cook, director of the restaurant consulting firm King. Casey, on the restaurant designs.

Restaurants also tend to be “fairly minimalist,” with wood tones and natural colors, while incorporating technology, restaurant consultant Mark Moeller told Insider.

KFC redesign.KFC

These designs exist mainly for lack of efficiency, experts told Insider. As take-out orders, via mobile orders, drive-thru or meal delivery apps like DoorDash, become more important to business bottom lines, restaurants are increasingly designed to accommodate them. . A simple, minimalist cube is the most adaptable design and can accommodate add-ons such as drive-thru areas or mobile pickup areas, Garret Rice, senior designer at FRCH Design Worldwide, told Insider.

With more ways to order and get food, ease of access is key. This efficiency is a consideration in every part of the design, even the initial construction, said Moeller. Past iterations of iconic fast food architecture tended towards designs with corners and curves, requiring a more skilled workforce to build. New minimal restaurants with straight lines are much easier and faster to build, lowering upfront costs and increasing revenue, Moeller said.

Fast food ditches 'kitsch' design for minimal glass cubes, and experts say it's a smart move
Papa John’s is going to rethink his restaurants.Dad johns

Another factor in these different types of restaurants that look alike is Chipotle at KFC at Starbucksis that they are now targeting the same customers more than ever, according to Moeller. Fast food chains compete with each other, but so do casual fast food chains and, as a result, take their overall branding more seriously.

Fast food used to be about creating cheap or kid-friendly food, Moeller said, but now those chains are abandoning “kitsch” design and distinctive “gimmicky” architectural features to create broader appeal.

Fast food ditches 'kitsch' design for minimal glass cubes, and experts say it's a smart move
Chipotlane drive-thru design.Chipotle

The distinction between fast food chains like McDonald’s and fast food chains like Chipotle has eroded to the point that those categories hardly make sense anymore, Rice said. Both types of chains try to communicate that they focus on food, not design, so restaurants are minimal, he said. Chains “need to save money on design to spend more on food,” as Moeller put it.

As fast food and fast food restaurant sales continue to grow, impressive architecture or distinctive designs won’t help a brand stand out in the crowded landscape. Multiple ways to access food, through drive-thru, mobile pickup stations and curbside outlets, will be key. The minimal cube design happens to be an effective way to achieve this.

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