Fast casual concepts break new ground
* Click here to view a slideshow of Atlanta Bread and LP Bistro's new interior designs.
 
 
Nearly two years ago executives at Atlanta Bread made the decision to rebrand the concept. With growth stymied by outdated interiors and menu items, Atlanta Bread was in need of a boost, but they didn't want to be a "me too," said president and CEO Jerry Couvaras.

"We wanted to stand out and be different," he said. "We wanted to create the third place, which is the place in between the house and the office."

In order to create that third-place experience, designers created a new interior look that made us of private seating areas, comfortable sofas, a softer color palate, updated artwork and new menu items.

"Our niche is to become the culturally diverse bakery," Couvaras said. "Everything comes from a different place, so when you walk in it's not just an American bakery café."

So far, close to 30 locations have undergone the redesign, and by mid-2009, 50 percent to 60 percent of Atlanta Bread's 107 locations will have the updated look.

"It's not as quick as what we would have liked, but if you look at the economy, this is not the best time in country," Couvaras said.
Part of Atlanta Bread's new design is an updated color scheme and a variety of seating options.

In certain markets where the upgrade has been incorporated, locations have had a 30 percent swing in same-store sales. The rebranded locations also have seen an increase of customers throughout the day, not just during the three big dayparts.


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"Our segment leads itself well to continuous service," he said. "The chilled parts of the day have increased tremendously. And now dinner is really a chilled dinner. It's not high pressure. It's really seldom in a Houston's or an Outback do you find a guy reading a book a book while he's eating. You would do that at home and you would do that here."

Customer relevance

Brands such as Atlanta Bread are not alone in their quest to update their image in order to stay relevant.

Saladworks, Penn Station East Coast Subs, Le Petite Bistro (now known as LP Bistro) and many others have undergone concept renovations within the last year.

LP Bistro's new prototype was designed to complement the quality and freshness of the food and overall style of the brand, found primarily in non-traditional locations such as airports.

The new design features digital menu boards, new menu items and glass food cases that encourage consumers to "buy with their eyes," and the name change.   

The name change was part of the company's decision to move the brand forward because "there was nothing French about our brand," said Nick Schaefer LP Bistro's chief development officer. "We were moving so far from that."
 
LP Bistro has been in business since late 1990s, and the concept's core branding proposition was great food on display.
 
"We've enhanced that, but we wanted to keep that core element. One of our initial market targets was to refocus on airports and then nontraditional locations. In order to do that had to create something that had a much more current look and feel," Schaefer said.
 
Updating the look, for both brands, also was a way they could stay relevant in consumers' minds.

"The food was still certainly appropriate and the manner in which it was displayed and served, but the decor was becoming dated and we felt, if it was not already there, it would soon become a detriment to the food and the concept," said Scott Stubble, LP Bistro's vice president of marketing.

A prototype location was built in Atlanta's SunTrust corporate area that incorporated an important element of customers buying with their eyes: digital menu boards.
LP Bistro's design upgrade included the incorporation of digital menu boards.

"This is really a new part of what we are doing with the bistro," Stubble said. "Not only did we want the restaurant to have a much more contemporary feel, we wanted to use state-of-the-art technology to help us merchandise our menu."

The brand will continue to seek out malls and lifestyle centers for concept development, but with a new emphasis on high-traffic locations such as airports, what the type of brand they display to the customer is just as important as the type of food.

"The branding and restaurant image have to stand out among everybody else and that was one of the basics of why we had to take this thing to the next level," Schaefer said.

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