Restaurant Concept Design: High-End Burger Joint

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In January of 2011 I was contacted by a client interested in opening a high-end burger joint in the North West Chicago suburbs. The main focus of the menu would be organic, grass-fed beef burgers, fries and shakes at reasonable prices. No easy task! Comparables in this market are restaurants such as Elevation Burger, Farm Burger, BGR and Good Stuff Eatery. The client wanted this restaurant to not only serve high-quality food but also to be designed so that the brand could grow into multiple locations and future franchises. Maybe due to the client’s previously owning McDonald’s stores and then Ben & Jerry’s stores, they already had a name picked out: ‘Peace Love Burger’. Sensing some potential trademark issues down the road I thought it might be a good idea to explore alternatives to that name, maybe by trying to uncover the underlying ethos, outlook and sensibilities that pointed the client in that initial conceptual direction.

The first step in designing a successful concept was to do a category survey. I compiled a list of as many other US burger-focused restaurants as I could, For each company I detailed things such as their name, logo design and overall graphic look, their in-store experience and website design. In terms of food¬†their burger offerings, meat mix, full menu, ordering process, , etc. were all noted. The survey list was built around future ‘competitor’ restaurants focused on organic and premium meat mixes. Also included were burger restaurant brands such as Shake Shack and Five Guys that had similar target price point and a record of growth and expansion. And to round out the list, burger restaurants that had an interesting concept characteristic such as Umami Burger and In-N-Out Burger were included. The purpose of all of this survey work was to seek to show the breadth and depth of comparable restaurants out there, what aspects of these concepts resonated with consumers and to potentially uncover untapped niches within the burger category that this new concept could stake a claim to, develop and utilize to stand out from the crowd.

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The concept for the burger restaurant that I designed grew out of the idea of the name being represented by a series of graphic icons. These logo icons would be the beginning of a larger vocabulary of icons that would form the basis for the menu ordering system. This visual language might also be developed into a system immediately recognizable by the customer so that symbols could be interchanged and used depending on the specific situation. The hope would be that this graphic system would as a whole signal the identity of the brand instead of just the name, thereby growing beyond the original trademark concerns.

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In addition to concept, naming, graphic and space design, I helped the client craft a focused menu that would reflect and highlight the core identity. While the menu would showcase the organic, grass-fed beef mix they were planning on, it had to also have enough supporting items so as to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Probably due to the client’s McDonald’s experience, they were planning on serving pre-cut frozen fries. While I was hesitant about this direction, I went along with it based on the ¬†fact that Shake Shack had been successful while serving frozen waffle-cut fries. Interesting that, as of this writing in 2013, Shack Shake has recently announced a switch to hand-cut house-made fries due to customer feedback. I did convince the client, though, to raise the bar on some of the other menu items. In this regard I developed a custom lentil-based veggie burger recipe for non-meat eaters that want the burger experience.

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This brand concept design project was just the initial design process for this burger restaurant. More design development work would have to be done to get it to the point of successful resonance with it’s target audience and smooth operations. But the base concept was fun to design and there is a lot of potential for this to grow into a great brand.