Not since Clark Kent turned a phone booth into a changing room have we seen transformations like the ones that were set in motion this week by parties in the restaurant business. Here’s a look at a few of the more radical changeovers that are being attempted, along with a rundown of the factors that could prove to be kryptonite.
1. KFC’s new concept
Twenty-six years ago, Kentucky Fried Chicken tried to shake concerns about the healthfulness of its food by renaming itself “KFC.” That’s nothing compared with the latest gambit to modernize the brand’s image.
The effort involves yet another identity switch, this time to K Pro. But that’s just the start of the recast. The menu abounds in fare like salads, juices and panini, according to local media reports. The chicken is grilled and shares the spotlight with proteins like shrimp and salmon.
The design is a complete departure, according to the reports. KFC’s signature color palette of white and red has been dropped in favor of greens. Signature features include ordering kiosks strikingly similar to the ones being adopted by McDonald’s.
Here’s the asterisk to the situation: The makeover has so far been given to a lone unit, and that store is in China. The chain itself has said little about the experiment, but the venture has stirred up considerable news over there—along with speculation that it could be imported back to KFC’s home base of the United States.
2. Panera’s digital-only health menus
A bold but puzzling experiment also figures into Panera Bread’s continuing effort to provide better-for-you fare. The chain revealed to the investment community that it’s adopted three health-oriented menus available solely through its app and in-store ordering kiosks.
One of the rosters consists solely of plant-based selections, the second spotlights protein-heavy choices, and the third features items that are especially rich in nutrients. The items on each were already available in the stores, but now they’ve been “curated” into separate menus to make them more accessible to the health-minded.
3. Better ways to retain angry customers?
A search is on for a better way to detect turned-off restaurant customers and ensure the relationship is repaired, judging from a panel at this week’s Restaurant Trends & Directions conference in Chicago.
Right now, observed Matt Olsen, senior manager of digital marketing for Firehouse Subs, most chains believe they’ve “closed the loop” on a negative social media post or customer comment when they reach out to the disgruntled patron. But there’s no certainty the problem has been settled and the patron is appeased.
Why, asked fellow panelist Bill Long, CFO of Snooze, can’t an operation tell what the customer does? For instance, it’s common to give a complaining customer a coupon or credit for a free meal in the hope of getting a second chance. “But we don’t know if they come back in,” even though the technology exists today to check, he commented.
The third operator on the panel, Taco Mac Director of Marketing Emily Beesley, revealed that her chain has hit on a way to learn about a service problem and fix it while the guest is still in the restaurant. Tabletops within the sports-bar concept invite guests to “text the prez,” company President Greg Lippert. A phone line set up for the purpose relays the text in real time to Lippert, who fields every text. He can then contact the unit to ameliorate the situation before the patron leaves.
4. QSRs plow deeper into on-store retailing
While experimenting with a new health-oriented concept, KFC is also following several of its rivals into the e-commerce business. The chain just set up a virtual storefront called KFC Ltd., where die-hard fans can buy their very own version of Colonel Harland Sanders’ string tie for $12.
The clothing options don’t end there. The website also stocks socks imprinted with chicken legs, as well as an extensive line of T-shirts sporting fried chicken witticisms (the World’s Greatest Fried Chicken Salesman model is sold out).
Also showcased are such must-have home decorations as pillows emblazoned with the Colonel’s image and prints of a Sanders portrait.
The truly possessed can opt for a meteorite that’s been sculpted into a depiction of KFC’s new premium Zinger sandwich—for a mere $20,000.
No doubt hearing footsteps, McDonald’s recently upped its retail game by extending a burger-themed accessories line to include a Big Mac phone case, tote bag and baseball cap. But the add-ons were only offered in limited numbers, and solely in Japan.
But Europeans, Australians and Canadians can still order Big Mac-themed underwear, raincoats, Wellington boots and dog coats.
5. Promoting cashless—with cash
Visa intends to increase the number of restaurants that don’t accept cash by offering an incentive of up to $10,000 each, according to the credit company’s website. The offer will apparently be limited to 10 pioneers, and only small restaurants, cafes and food trucks qualify, the site explains.