Being 102 years old can’t be easy for a restaurant brand. But Nathan’s Famous is betting a new store design will smooth any wrinkles of a concept that sizzled its first hot dog when handlebar mustaches and barbershop quartets were the rage.
The objective is to delight the customers who appreciate that heritage while heightening the chain’s appeal to the torn-jeans generations who’ve turned innovations such as third-party delivery into must-have features. Simultaneously, the new prototype addresses such current-day operational imperatives as speeding service and providing a setting where smartphone users can sit and recharge their handhelds.
“We’ve been around 102 years—we kind of needed a face-lift and a rebranding effort,” says Phil McCann, senior director of marketing for the 300-unit chain. “We worked for about 18 months to two years on a new design.”
The result: A new 3,000-square-foot, free-standing franchised restaurant in Cape Coral, Fla. The new North American prototype, built from the ground up, replicates the design sported by two restaurants in the Philippines.
The Cape Coral store is still in the honeymoon period, but the franchisee was “pleasantly shocked by the sales,” says McCann. He notes that a second store with the new design is already under construction in Miami, and elements such as a vertical drive-thru board and updated dining room menus are already appearing in existing stores.
Here’s a tour of the hot dog specialist’s new look.
More than hot dogs
One of the redesign’s objectives was communicating to potential customers that there’s more to Nathan’s menu than hot dogs and crinkle-cut fries. The new exterior trumpets the availability of chicken, cheesesteaks and Arthur Treacher’s-brand fish and chips, among other items.
The exterior sports Nathan’s signature green, a part of the brand’s heritage. In addition, “We have a lot of glass and open space, allowing people to look in and look out,” says McCann. The store also sports a prominent patio.
Showcasing the drive-thru
The drive-thru is critical to the store’s aim of being more convenient for customers on the go, says McCann. About 40% of Nathan’s sales currently come from the drive-thru, and the chain hopes to raise the mix to 50%. One twist: Cheesesteaks were taken off the drive-thru menu because everything is made from scratch, and the sandwich can take five minutes to prepare (the average drive-thru service time is three minutes).
Among the features incorporated into the new design is a vertical drive-thru menu board.
Two parking spots are reserved for drive-thru customers waiting for longer-to-prepare items such as Arthur Treacher’s fish and chips. (Menu items from Treacher’s, a brand owned by Nathan’s, account for about 15% of sales, McCann says. Many Nathan’s units sport the menus of both brands.)
Sit and recharge
Booths were included in the new interiors, in part to provide a place where customers could recharge their cellphones. The seating is comfy, says McCann, so customers can sit for a while.
A section of the exterior presents customers with the story of Nathan’s, going back to the beach grill that Nathan Handwerker and his wife Ida opened just off the boardwalk of New York City’s Coney Island seaside resort. It’s one of the ways the concept amplifies its long history.
Among the operational objectives of the new design was cutting service times, part of an effort to make Nathan’s more convenient, particularly for millennial guests. The kitchen was reconfigured to produce meals more quickly and was moved closer to the drive-thru to speed that form of service.