Can you use the term upscale and fast-food in the same sentence?

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

6 January 2015

The new trend in fast food: Going upscale

The idea of fast food restaurants turning things upscale seems oxymoron enough, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Since McDonald’s success with Chipotle, establishments have been trying to duplicate that success in markets where chains exploit regional fair in selected locations.

McDonald’s is going one step further. It is sampling a coffee shop in Australia with the name, “The Corner.” The minimal and sleek location offers a variety of McCafe drinks, panini sandwiches and a sampling from the Chipotle menu (a bit of a hodgepodge if you ask me).

Is this the right way to do it?

Is this the right way to do it?

The issue here for many of the fast food restaurants is that opportunities are dwindling. Sales across the fast food industry are down and most have already taken full advantage of the last day part opportunity of breakfast. (That’s why most fast food advertising today concerns breakfast.)

Therefore, chains are responding by trying to attract new customers who would not think of going to a fast food restaurant. Today, you see poor attempts like an upscale eatery called “KFC Eleven.” Or Red Lobster changing the way it plates its food so it seems a little more like Ruth’s Chris.

The real issue lies in the brand. The upscale move, if you want to call it that, must be born from what your brand already means or, more importantly, what that brand means to target audiences. To just add an upscale feeling or menu item on its own falls into a void.

Recently, we helped a fast food chain become stronger in another day part by attracting new customers based on an emotional trigger shared by the brand and the new audience. It worked because it’s not just about adding a panini sandwich or espresso coffee.

Growing market share is tough business. For the fast food chains, it is not simply enough to add menu items. You must dig into what brand promise you can fulfill that makes those menu choices attractive and believable within the context of your brand.

Otherwise, you will find yourself trying to out-menu the competition – and headed anywhere but to the upscale penthouse. You become an imposter.

See more posts in the following related categories: Fast Food Industry fast food restaurants McDonald's


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