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Architecture + Branding: Burger King dramatically revamping ambitious “20/20” design vision amid contentious internal headwinds

1-Growth model

Although some debate still exists as to the exact details of the company founding, there is no debating that the Burger King brand has grown from its South Florida roots into a global presence.

As of December 31, 2013, Burger King was ranked as the second largest global fast food hamburger restaurant (FFHR) chain, with over 13,500 restaurants in over 95 countries and U.S. territories (source: bk.com).

DSC07939 - BK - Burger King Weston Road and Rowntree Dairy Road Vaughan ON

Burger King (custom design), front 3/4 view, Weston Road and Rowntree Dairy Road, Vaughan, Ontario

Ultimately, the company can trace its early days to the Jacksonville, Florida-based Insta-Burger King restaurant chain that began in 1953. When financial difficulties struck the Insta-Burger King chain, its two Miami-based franchisees purchased the company, tweaked components of the concept, focused on the flame-broiling process, and renamed the company to the shorter Burger King moniker (source: wikipedia.org, bk.com).

In those early days as today, Burger King has grown principally through the franchise model.

DSC10936 - BK - Burger King Rue Jean Talon Ouest and Boulevard Décarie Montreal QC

Burger King (custom design), side 3/4 view, Rue Jean Talon Ouest and Boulevard Décarie, Montréal, Québec

However, unlike other restaurant competitors, Burger King maintains a small and decreasing number of corporate-owned stores, having accelerated the shedding and re-franchising of stores in recent years.

2-Designed for suburbia

Massive growth of the fast-food burger restaurants in the United States followed in lockstep with the growth of the automobile and suburbia.

DSC06184 - BK - Burger King - 104 Elwood Davis Road  North Syracuse NY

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 104 Elwood Davis Road, North Syracuse, New York

As such, Burger King locations consist in large measure of suburban-set freestanding single-storey full service restaurant with seating, drive-thru window and adjacent parking area. Alternatively, the restaurant might be sited within a field of parking, surrounded on all sides by vehicle drive lanes, parking stalls, or queuing space.

DSC03930 - BK - Burger King Ogilvie Road and Blair Road Gloucester ON

Burger King (now closed), side 3/4 view, Ogilvie Road and Blair Road, Gloucester, Ontario

Adopting a basic rectilinear (square or rectangle) shape, visual interest and attention is focused on the ingress point, with the entry component generally projecting from the building plane, as a singular mass or bulge in the overall footprint.

DSC05915 - BK - Burger King Boulevard St-Joseph Gatineau QC

Burger King (now closed), front 3/4 view, Boulevard St-Joseph, Gatineau, Québec

The building is commonly flat, squat, and short. Additionally, the simple mansard roof capping off the building only accentuates the diminutive height. Generous roof overhangs extend on multiple sides, serving to conceal rooftop equipment from view and adding a traditional touch to the elevations.

DSC07600 - BK - Burger King 293 Britain Street Santee SC

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 293 Britain Street, Santee, South Carolina

Quite commonly, the entry component projects both in footprint and elevation, thus breaking the roof trend line by rising above the principal roof, and proposing a change in the general roof geometry. The double-height entry appendage, often finished off with a scalloped roof, adds some visual interest to uniformity of the main roof.

DSC06071 - BK - Burger King 314 Main Street East Hawkesbury ON

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 314 Main Street East, Hawkesbury, Ontario

DSC06073 - BK - Burger King 314 Main Street East Hawkesbury ON

Burger King, rear 3/4 view, 314 Main Street East, Hawkesbury, Ontario

Although the prototypical freestanding Burger King restaurant format is of the suburban variety, multiple urban and non-traditional locations examples can be found within the chain.

DSC05603 - BK - Burger King Rue Ste Catherine and Phillips Square Montreal QC

Burger King, front 3/4 view, Rue Ste Catherine and Phillips Square, Montréal, Québec

DSC10289 - BK - Burger King Rue Cremazie Est and Boulevard St-Laurent Montreal QC

Burger King, front 3/4 view, Rue Crémazie Est and Boulevard St-Laurent, Montréal, Québec

Nonetheless, the pervasive traditionally suburban freestanding restaurant had come to predominantly epitomize the Burger King brand in the twilight of the last millennium.

3-Green initiatives

After the “Burger Wars” of the early to mid-1980s, a near 20-year period of continued under-investment in the brand followed throughout the ownership by Pillsbury, Grand Metropolitan plc and Diageo plc (source: wikipedia.org, bk.com). As such, many of the restaurants had grown tired and stale.

DSC09566 - BK - FORMER - Oswego Road near Vine Liverpool NY

Burger King (now closed), front 3/4 view, Oswego Road near Vine, Liverpool, New York

In 2002, a group of investment firms led by TPG Capital purchased the Burger King brand from Diageo plc, and quickly moved to revitalize and reorganize the company (source: wikipedia.org, bk.com).

New, smaller restaurant designs that sought to reduce average building costs were introduced in April 2005 (source: morganstanley.com). As a follow-up, around fiscal 2008, Burger King launched the “ROC” (Return On Capital) prototype, which was then hailed as both energy efficient and a lower cost remodel effort (source: online.barrons.com). The “ROC” prototype proposed a smaller footprint, reduced material and utility costs, increased labour efficiencies, along with a more efficient flexible batch broiler (FBB) and new refrigeration equipment (source: qsrweb.com, Burger King CR Report).

Over the years, many franchisees had put off remodels to existing stores due to their expense and perceived marginal increase in store profitability. Not surprisingly, more than 15% of franchise stores were over 20 years old when the “ROC” initiative launched in 2008 (source: online.barrons.com). As such, Burger King had hoped that the “ROC” design would encourage franchisees to take the leap and remodel their restaurants.

BK - Burger King 762 West Coshocton Street Johnston OH 1 https___maps.google

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 762 West Coshocton Street, Johnston, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

The ROC design added height and grandeur to previously short and stout buildings with tower elements at doors and drive-thru windows.

BK - Burger King State Route 161 and Karl Road Columbus OH 5 https___maps.google

Burger King, side 3/4 view, State Route 161 and Karl Road, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

The exterior cladding consisted of a combination of brick, two-tone/multi-coloured brick, stone veneers, along with stucco, EIFS, red tile and pre-finished metal elements.

BK - Burger King 840 West Army Trail Carol Stream IL 4 https___maps.google

Burger King, side 3/4 view, 840 West Army Trail, Carol Stream, Illinois (source: maps.google.com)

Parapet towers, punched window openings with individualized metal awnings, interrupted/segmented canopy overhangs, metal coping, and red-coloured LED illuminated parapet bands increased visual interest by adding rhythm and articulation to the elevations and facade.

The “ROC” prototype spawned multiple variations, which themselves were further refined, modified and augmented. As individual franchisees selected in an à-la-carte fashion which “ROC” elements to integrate into their particular re-image project, the Burger King restaurants progressively began to shed their traditional look for a modern interpretation.

4-Upscale intentions

On the heels of the “ROC” reception, Burger King would go one step further and attempt to build upon the improvements that the “ROC” concepts brought forward.

DSC07350 - BK - Burger King 5556 North Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale FL

Burger King, side 3/4 view, 5556 North Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

In October 2009, then Burger King CEO John Chidsey, unveiled a massive global plan to remodel all Burger King restaurants to the “20/20” design (source: burgerbusiness.com, qsrweb.com, boston.com, huffingtonpost.com, can-restaurantnews.com). In development since October 2007, and tested in Europe, Latin America, Canada and in some U.S. locations, the contemporary and edgy “20/20” concept was the vision of the restaurant of the future (source: qsrweb.com, burgerbusiness.com, interbranddesignforum.com ). Scalable and adaptable to any type of building footprint, “20/20” was going to lead the way forward.

BK - Burger King 8523 Spring Cypress Road Spring TX 2 https___maps.google

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 8523 Spring Cypress Road, Spring, Texas (source: maps.google.com)

Utilizing warm and welcoming elements, the “grill-centric” design draws inspiration from Burger King’s signature flame-broiling, cooking process and brings it “to life through bold colors, textures, imagery and text.” (source: qsrweb.com).

Interior materials, such as corrugated metal finishes, exposed brick walls, black accents, ceramic tile, hardwood-like floors, exposed concrete, results in a modern industrial-inspired aesthetic (source: qsrweb.com, can-restaurantnews.com). Fixtures and equipment include modern hanging lamps, rotating red flame chandeliers, a large flat-screen television, table-side touchscreen ordering menus, saucer shaped ceiling element, and new liquid crystal display (LCD) menu boards (source: qsrweb.com, gizmodo.com, abcnews.com). Refreshed seating options now include bar-seating, booths and chairs. Furthermore, the interior décor leans towards earthy colours, such as deep red and beige.

The contemporary, industrial-inspired, theme carries through from the interior to the exterior. However, a black, red and tan colour scheme punctuates the exterior.

DSC09528 - BK - Burger King 4035 Route 31 Clay NY

Burger King, front 3/4 view, 4035 Route 31, Clay, New York

DSC09530 - BK - Burger King 4035 Route 31 Clay NY

Burger King, partial side 3/4 view, 4035 Route 31, Clay, New York

Revised exterior design includes brick cladding, bold black towers, “window” eyebrow elements and pre-finished metal awnings with sloped roofs or cable tie-backs.

DSC11261 - BK - Burger King 290 Main Street Binghamton NY

Burger King, front entrance view, 290 Main Street, Binghamton, New York

The drive-thru component is accentuated by surround bump and “archons” to add articulation to the building footprint and extend the new branded experience to drive-thru customers.

DSC11270 - BK - Burger King 290 Main Street Binghamton NY

Burger King, drive-thru 3/4 view, 290 Main Street, Binghamton, New York

The design favours a flat roof with high parapet configuration with metal copings clad with a lighted red LED parapet edge trim. Conceptually mimicking grill flames, the illuminated parapets are meant to allude to the flame broiled process (source: qsrweb.com, justiceholdingsltd.com).

Striving to make Burger King a more inviting place to sit down, rather than just a drive-thru or quick meal option, the “20/20” design attempts to merge an upscale casual dining experience with the speed and convenience of a fast-food hamburger restaurant (FFHR).

5-“20/20” vision blurred

Anticipating strong adopting and implementation of the “20/20” design worldwide, Burger King had forecasted more than 200 re-imaged restaurants by the end of June 2010 (source: qsrweb.com). However, at a cost of $500,000 for “20/20” remodels, many franchisees hesitated.

Lack of uptake by franchisees for the expensive remodel has led Burger King to scale back its rollout plan. In fact, with only 52 corporate-owned stores, Burger King is effectively 100% franchise owned, and dependent on selling franchisees on the merits of the design concept (source: bk.com, morganstanley.com). A stated goal of 40% re-imaged restaurants by 2015, North American adoption of the “20/20” design stood at roughly 30% as of December 31, 2013 (source: bk.com). Even though the rollout has been slow, corporate commitment to the “20/20” image remains.

In fact, patchwork designs that bring in some of the key elements of the “20/20” design into the existing building vocabulary can be observed. Changes such as mansard roofs interrupted by high parapets, grey coloured standing seam metal roofing, drive-thru headwall bump outs, new black and tan colour scheme, new signage, and the illuminated light bar denote attempts to integrate the primary components of the “20/20” design into existing locations at a lower cost.

DSC09574 - BK- Burger King - 732 Canton Street Ogdensburg NY

Burger King, drive-thru 3/4 view, 732 Canton Street, Ogdensburg, New York

DSC09575 - BK- Burger King - 732 Canton Street Ogdensburg NY

Burger King, entrance side view, 732 Canton Street, Ogdensburg, New York

However, ad hoc, uneven application, in a bid to save face and salvage the “20/20” design, will potentially serve to further dilute the potential value and benefits that might result from a consistent, cohesive design execution.

Already, the retail landscape is littered with numerous buildings whose form factors make them instantly recognizable as former Burger King locations.

DSC09251 - BK - FORMER - Snap Fitness 2901 Rue Laurier Rockland ON

Snap Fitness, front 3/4 view, 2901 Rue Laurier, Rockland, Ontario

DSC07153 - BK - FORMER - Bartel Road and Route 11 Brewerton NY

Burger King (now closed), side 3/4 view, Bartel Road and Route 11, Brewerton, New York

DSC07515 - BK - FORMER - Burger Fi 4343 North Ocean Drive Lauderdale-by-the-Sea FL

BurgerFi, side 3/4 view, 4343 North Ocean Drive, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida

DSC08461 - BK - FORMER - Malibu Restaurant West 662 Wonderland Road London ON

Malibu Restaurant, side 3/4 view, West 662 Wonderland Road, London, Ontario

Notwithstanding, Burger King needs a momentous jolt to revive sagging sales, and regain its number two position in the U.S. market. After numerous years of top-down neglect as the competition actively updated their brands, the perennial second place to category leader McDonald’s, Burger King now trails behind Wendy’s in terms of same store sales (source: wikipedia.org). Ironically, as it attempts to re-launch its image and store design, Burger King must contend with its self-inflicted wounds that have caused significant reticence and apprehension from its most ardent fans, its own franchisees.



All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.


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