Restaurant Development & Design

MAY-JUN 2018

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4 8 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • M A Y / J U N E 2 0 1 8 GOLDEN CORRAL FEELS LIKE HOME Deliberate Development According to Aaron Ruef, director in the specialty retail group at FRCH Design Worldwide, the project's interior designer, the chain's new prototype is inspired by residential expressions of hospitality: "an invitation for the guest to indulge, relax and share in the bounty that is Golden Corral and the choices that they offer." While this approach is fitting for a family-style-buffet restaurant, Golden Cor- ral didn't just go with its gut in selecting it. Instead, the chain took a methodical approach to addressing its needs along with the concerns of key stakeholders. The effort started with the creation of a prototype design team. This group included not just the chain's leadership but carefully selected franchisees as well. "These were all operators," says Conklin. "It wasn't just business own- ers, so to speak. It was business owners who'd been in the system for a consider- ably long period of time. They really had an opportunity to weigh in and provide their feedback on things that would work not only from an operational standpoint but in terms of how they viewed the business. It gave us a 360-degree view of this whole project." With this insight, the franchisees and senior leadership started by inter- viewing external design talent, eventually choosing Profitality for kitchen/operational design and FRCH for the interior. After selecting the design team, Golden Corral had representatives from both firms visit its restaurants to get a better feel for the concept and the people it serves. Since Golden Corral set out to enhance the cus- tomer experience and not fundamentally change the brand, this was an important step in the process, Conklin says. While this step focused primarily on culture and environment, the next phase dealt more with operations. The designers conducted time/motion studies of Golden Corral locations, educating the leadership team, says Conklin, in "how customers move, how our employees move. They counted steps. They went through every position and really got a comprehensive look at the business." Combined, these two phases of the project gave FRCH a starting point and direction for the new prototype's look and feel. The firm went on to develop three different design concepts, which were then reviewed by customer and re- search groups. The groups gave positive scores to some elements found in all the designs, including more natural lighting, modern decor, open spaces and sophis- ticated exteriors, while raising concerns about anything that felt loud, uncomfort- able or overcrowded. Instead of settling on a single look, the prototype team took the best of all three designs, leading to the creation of a fourth and final concept. With drawings in hand, most restau- rant chains move on to building that first store. Golden Corral, however, took an extra step, described by Conklin as "the number one best thing that we did." The chain found a large warehouse space where it created a full-scale layout of the new design's interior dimensions. Using cardboard and wood, Golden Corral built full-sized mockups of its new buffet line and island buffet bars and even created the layout for kitchen equipment. For the dining area, Golden Corral brought in real tables and chairs. The prototype team then walked through the space, experienced how traffic would actually flow and feel, and made adjust- ments as needed. "We literally picked up the wood and cardboard bar, slid it over a foot and said, 'How does that feel?' We had the architect there, and they'd take a new measurement. That is how we ended up where we are now," Conklin says. A number of adjustments came out of this exercise. Not only did the posi- tioning of the island bars change, but it allowed the chain to better respond to customer requests for a roomier environ- ment: More space was added to aisles and between tables, while the tables themselves got bigger. Of course, there was some push and pull during and after the exercise. Changing the dining area to give guests more space cost some seats and forced the kitchen to shrink. The chain was able to partially offset these losses, though, through the kitchen redesign and its fo- cus on efficient movement, Conklin says. Overall, this process wasn't too costly or time-consuming, Conklin notes. Golden Corral had in-house teams make The new design includes multiple seating areas and dividers, providing guests with seating options and break- ing up the space into warmer, friendlier zones.

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