Now Reading
What fast food chains teach us about the link between CX and architecture

360 Magazine 
in Print


What fast food chains teach us about the link between CX and architecture

McDonald’s may have called it Play Place, but when I was running around with three kids under the age of seven, I thought of it as Sane Space.

As long as they had socks on, my sons and daughter would be able to frolic in the maze of plastic piping that filled up a designated area of the fast food chain. There was usually a table or two nearby where I would sit, sometimes with some food or a fountain drink, and spend a few minutes with my own thoughts.

This was key to the customer experience I enjoyed, even if I’d never heard the term CX at the time.

Today, that kind of CX seems to belong to a bygone era. As a recent story on CNN shows, quick service restaurants (QSRs) are slowly doing away with the giant neon signs, the whimsically-designed seating and interior décor that sometimes resembled a theme park ride.

We’re seeing fewer bright red Pizza Hut rooftops, for example, fewer boomerang-shaped Denny’s marquees and the disappearance of McDonald’s Play Places.

Most fast-food restaurants are built to maximize efficiency, not catch motorists’ attention. Many are shaped like boxes, decorated with fake wooden paneling, imitation stone or brick exteriors, and flat roofs.
One critic has called this trend “faux five-star restaurants” intended to make customers forget they are eating greasy fries and burgers. The chains now sport nearly identical looks. Call it the gentrification of fast-food design.

The shift was attributed to a greater focus on CX (though CNN didn’t describe it as such). What’s more critical to on-the-go consumers today are drive-thu lanes, ordering kiosks and so on. An increased focus on digital channels may also make eye-catching exteriors less of a priority.

At least for now. During the pandemic, I saw a number of my favorite coffee shops – and not just Starbucks – convert seemingly overnight from cozy hangouts into little more than brisk take-out counters. One of them has since jettisoned the counter and brought the tables and chairs back.

Some QSR brands may also overlook how a thoughtful physical design could align with their digital engagement strategies. When I used to plan a trip to McDonalds, for example, I used the brand’s web site to identify locations with a Play Place. Even if it meant going out of my way, those were the ones I chose.

See Also

As much as the CX community sometimes talks about developing “blueprints” to create the right CX “architecture,” they’re usually referring to applications and platforms. I’ve never met a CX executive with a background in actual architecture.

Yet the fast food giants knew long ago just how much their buildings advertised and reinforced the kind of experience they offered, not just their brand names.

I’m not suggesting QSRs or brands in other sectors need to bring back cheesy design trends that began in the early post-war period. But maybe the CX profession would benefit from a deeper understanding what architecture can do to bring CX visions to life.

After all, the most successful brands seem to find a way to make customers want to immerse themselves deeply in the environments they create. No matter how young or old we are, we’re all looking for some play places.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

8 Belton Court, Whitby, ON L1N 5P1, Canada

Scroll To Top