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Subtle branding

Branding doesn’t have to be done with a sledgehammer. Sometimes it’s the subtle touches that make a brand stand out. The “Free Smells” offered by Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches add a sense of fun, while the stained-glass lampshades at Applebee’s give the impression that it’s an old-school neighborhood restaurant. Fast-casual chicken chain PDQ has made its mark with an unusual design decision—adding a sink to the main dining room. Co-founder Bob Basham, who first saw the idea in action in a full-service restaurant in California, says the sinks are very popular with families.

“I have a lot of fun with the sink when kids do it,” Basham says. “They haven’t figured out that there’s a foot pedal there. I’ll tell them they have to talk to it and say ‘please’. So they will go ‘please’ and then I will step on the foot pedal myself and it just blows the kids away. They think it’s a magic sink.”

That sense of family fun is something the chain actively seeks to cultivate. PDQ, which Basham started with Nick Reader in 2011, has 11 stores in Florida and North Carolina, with seven more scheduled to open this year in the region. The focus is on chicken tenders, sandwiches, salads and milkshakes, with an emphasis on handmade food, homemade sauces and dressings and fresh ingredients. The name stands for “People Deserve Quality”, and for President Stephen Erickson, the sinks reinforce that image.

“It plays into the overall flow and direction of what we were trying to accomplish,” Erickson says. “[It’s] this open market, fresh, clean, ‘nothing’s hidden’ approach.”

Basham made sure the sinks were an integral part of the dining room design from the start. “We told them it was one of those have to have things,” Basham says. “Our architect designed around it. Every time he tried to move it, I said ‘we’ve got to make sure it’s accessible.'”

Now, it’s become one of the points of differentiation for the chain. Erickson says that after the basics, it’s one of the first things people notice. Like the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines the restaurant uses, it’s viewed as fresh and modern. It also connotes hygiene and sanitation. (For those who don’t do well with subtle cues, the signage says “Quality and clean go hand in hand”). Plus, moms appreciate having a place where kids can wash their hands in full view, instead of having to go off to the bathroom.

“It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s clean, it’s quality,” Erickson says. “You subliminally know that a handwashing sink is for cleanliness.”

While the sinks involve their own dedicated plumbing system, costs are low. Erickson says the install is $2,500, with an ongoing cost of $200 or less for water (plus additional soap and paper towels). But given its popularity, he says it’s been worth it.

“It’s not just moms but anyone who walks in the door,” Erickson says. “The first thing they do is wash their hands.”

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