brand experience brief: carl’s jr. sports-themed restaurant

My new Brand Experience Brief (audit and analysis of a new or interesting restaurant and retail concept) is about a unique location of the West-Coast burger chain, Carl’s Jr.  They have employed a new sports restaurant theme in the Glendale area of Phoenix and in this video, you’ll see the concept has good potential but doesn’t quite excel at retail customer experience.

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Today’s brand experience brief is about a unique location of the West-Coast burger chain, Carl’s Jr.  You’ll see the concept has good potential but hasn’t quite become a breakthrough brand experience yet.

It’s a new sports-themed restaurant in the Glendale area of Phoenix. The sports theme makes a lot of sense because the restaurant is across the street from an arena where sporting events including the home games of Phoenix’s hockey team, the Coyotes, are played.  At its opening, the franchisee who owns that location explained ““We look forward to serving the crowds of sports fans who usually fill the streets before and after games.”

The building design and architecture definitely stands out. There’s a huge Happy Star, the chain’s logo, on the exterior and another in the drive-thru, lots of bright colors, and the star is a prominent motif inside the unit as well.  The décor is very modern and the layout includes a communal bar-like table and fun circular booths. Tons of digital screens and bold window signs fill the inside wall space and the digital menu boards give the place a very modern feel.

So this is a cool place and definitely different from other Carl’s Jr. locations and a step up from many other fast food chains in general — but it didn’t pay off on the sports theme as much as it could have.  For example the TV screens would be perfect for showing games and sports shows like Sports Center but when I visited most of the screens were showing other programming.

There is a picture on the wall featuring a sports montage but that was the only sports-themed decoration.  Why not fill the place with sports memorabilia the way a Hard Rock restaurant features guitars, clothing, albums, and other rock and roll related items in its décor?!

I saw one employee wearing a sports-like outfit but the manager was dressed in a regular manager’s uniform, and neither of them conveyed a sense of excitement or energy that you’d expect from a sports-themed venue.

One of Carl’s Jr. burgers is the official burger of the Phoenix Suns and it was featured prominently on a window decal, but I’m pretty sure I would have found the same at other of the chain’s locations in Phoenix.  This unit could have featured special menu items related to sports, or at least given its combo meals a clever sports-themed name.

And what about all the other details of the experience?  It could employed the sports theme with a bulletin board listing the latest scores or records from local teams; it could have piped in sports-themed songs for an audio track; it could have used trays and bags that looked like the kind you get at a sporting event; it could have taken a cue from REI which features ice picks as door handles, and used baseball bats or hockey sticks for its door handles.  I could go on – so many opportunities to create a more distinctive, sensory-rich, memorable experience were missed.

Fast food chains have been struggling to create new menu items and clever promotions to drive traffic and to distinguish themselves from the legion of competitors.  Carl’s Jr. is on to something here by innovating in the restaurant experience itself.  But it just needs to do more with it.


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