Brand extensions: Fast food brands going even faster

April 16, 2014

With the current trends toward healthier eating, and casual dining serving healthier foods, speed eating isn’t as desirable as it once might have seemed.

ihop express

“Fast food that you can eat real slow,” was a slogan for one fast food chain years ago when tried to counter the perception that fast meant “eat it quick and don’t think about the taste.” But with the current trends toward healthier eating, and casual dining serving healthier foods, speed eating isn’t as desirable as it once might have seemed.

Except maybe when you are in a hurry. Airports are not known as destinations for high-end dining. The emphasis is typically on speed, portability and universal taste appeal. Many airport concourses offer quick food courts with a taste of local cuisine such as barbeque in the South, sausage and sauerkraut in the Midwest, or healthy tacos in Southern California. The usual fast food concessionaires—from McDonald’s to Dunkin’ Donuts—are part of the landscape. But as the category of casual dining brands has expanded, some other restaurant brands have made their move into dash and dine at airports. It’s not unusual to see Wolfgang Puck’s Gourmet Express show up across the transportation landscape.

But what really threw me on a recent trip through Atlanta’s Hartsdale Airport—as the world’s busiest airport—was seeing an IHOP express restaurant. The iconic International House of Pancakes at an airport? No steep blue pitched roof here. Opened in October 2012, the IHOP express in Atlanta is the first in an airport, right down to the five kinds of syrup being offered. It’s part of IHOP’s move into express dining throughout the country. Quite a contrast from the Sunday morning bacon-eggs-pancakes-coffee ritual. According to Jean Birch, IHOP President, "IHOP Express fills an important need by allowing guests to sip, flip and enjoy our famous coffee and buttermilk pancakes, along with other options found only at IHOP Express, in less time."

So how fast does a restaurant brand have to be? Red Lobster, part of the Darden family of restaurants that includes the Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille chains, brought out a Seafood Express fast casual lunch concept but dropped it. Applebee’s got in the fast casual trend as well. But quality seems to be suffering when restaurants move too fast.

And if the quality of the dining experience suffers, certainly so does the brand suffer. Certainly brands that extend into airports must serve customers in transit quickly with signature items that are unique to that brand, such as Puck’s gourmet pizzas. But when the quality of the food and service are poor imitations of what a brand stands for outside of its speedy incarnation, it may do well for overpriced sales in an airport, but it certainly could leave a bad taste in a consumers’ mouth.

What’s your favorite express food brand and where did you eat it last?

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