Fast Food. Fast Change.

Fast Food
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Some brands are doing great at adapting to the massive amounts of change in our world.

Chipotle impressed me this week with a new digital-only restaurant in New York (near West Point, home to nearly captive, heavy-exercising, and always-hungry cadets).

Since nearly 50% of the chain’s orders are digital now, this new concept is designed from the ground up to be fast, efficient, cashless, COVID-friendly (is that an OK way to say ‘safe’?), and profitable.

My first blush reaction (I haven’t been inside this venue yet) is that it’s part stand-up, New York sandwich shop, and part Ghost Kitchen. Yet, it still looks, feels, (and probably shares the same aromas) as a regular Chipotle.

Instead of whining about change, Chipotle (NYSE: CMG)  leaned into their customers’ changing buying habits to inform its new store design. Designers and technologists also engineered this location to be better at handling digital orders, whether from patrons’ phones, web browsers, or catering orders. Like most first-of-a-kind concepts, the right parts get replicated to other locations, and the not-so-good ones die quietly (and inexpensively).

Long-time service innovator Starbucks (SBUX) opened digital-order-only stores in Beijing and Shanghai. Penn Plaza is the New York location for its store that require in-app ordering. You just walk-in, flash your app, and walk-out with your favorite beverage—just the way you like it.

Think about this design: Everyone gets more of what they want. Shorter lines for customers, smaller stores (less rent) for owners, and a touchless and contactless (don’t talk to me) experience for people who value their privacy.

Other quick-service chains are adapting with adjustments to their existing infrastructures. One of the most successful in my (Atlanta) area is Chick-fil-A, which has kept many stores’ sales at 95% or better—even with their dining rooms closed. Smarter tech and more outdoor servers are speeding cars through at <1 minute per vehicle.

If your business is facing massive change, one of the smartest lessons you can take away from Chipotle and Chick-fil-A is to see things through your customers’ eyes. When you understand what customers want most from you, you can prioritize changes based on what creates the most value. For them and for you.

Did you know? Storyminers was part of Chick-fil-A’s early digital drive-thru designs. Researchers and designers rolled around on chairs that were roped together as they ‘drove’ through a cardboard mock-up of the drive-thru. Anticipating customers’ needs let’s this QSR concept with one of the highest sales/unit drive changes across its system faster than most of its competitors.

One More Thing
In 2000, when I worked at IBM Global Services as their eVisionary, the first customer experience design project I sold was to McDonald’s (MCD). Here’s a picture of what we thought might happen. Credit where due: Doblin and Experience Engineering were powerful contributors to this project. We were pretty good at designing the future ;-)

We just didn’t think it would take until 2018. That’s when McDonald’s formally launched its digital drive-thru nationwide (in the US). Other digital roll-outs happened in Europe much earlier.

Take-away: No matter what kind of business you are in, it’s changing. Your customers’ needs are changing too. They need you to deliver new kinds of value. Don’t be afraid to stand in their shoes to see how they see you. Better yet, listen for how they want to see you and design for that. At Storyminers, we call that a Future Story.


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