Counter culture: fast food’s slow evolution

Feb 4, 2015
  • Article by Online Editor

The Corner images courtesy of Mitch Lui, KFC designs courtesy of The Great Indoors

Interior design and architecture has been a fundamental part of the recent growth in the Australian hospitality sector. Just as informed consumers judge new ventures based on the quality of single origin coffee beans and the freshness of produce, the design of any new café or restaurant plays an essential role in the business’ long-term success.

The Corner McCafe

For major operators like McDonald’s and KFC fighting for relevance within Australia’s hospitality scene, the successful speciality café business model is no longer merely monitored from the sidelines, but is now actively appropriated into their own commercial offerings.

With the Australian ‘McCafe’ concept dating back all the way to 1993, McDonald’s has always been fiercely competitive and arguably forward thinking in developing new models for the brand’s success. This has now edged further forward with The Corner, a new McCafe in Sydney’s Camperdown.

The Corner interior

The design of The Corner seems almost clandestine in its jettison of a traditional fast-food interior towards something that more closely resembles the sort of restaurant that would be, and is, featured on Broadsheet. The design is certainly divisive for those who savour the artisan indie nature of both Melbourne and Sydney’s café cultures, but it is no less intelligent for doing so.

A sleeker, industrial Scandinavian approach is given to the open-plan interior, while maintaining the canteen feel reminiscent of a traditional McDonald’s. Crisp white tiles line the counter wall that frames the two custom-made Victoria Arduino Black Eagle espresso machines perched on top of the stainless steel bench. Top this off with a simplified menu that breaks down the ordering process with minimalist graphics and subtle signage, and you have a restaurant interior that may leave complacent consumers unaware that they have just stepped inside a fast-food chain’s commercial experiment.


The Corner menu

Following the continuing slump in McDonald’s international sales as well as the recent resignation of its CEO, Don Thompson, there is no doubt that ventures like these may present new streams of income for chains.

KFC has followed suit with their new plans for a concept store targeting a younger, ‘urbanite’ consumer. Without venturing as far as McDonald’s and creating an entirely new face for the chain, the designs for the ‘fast-casual’ restaurant have been made by The Great Indoors, in tandem with Designworks, to offer an alternative to the traditional KFC.

“Warm timber, black industrial metal, concrete and highlights of the KFC red brand colour combine with hyper modern graphics to create an enticing environment for the young urban crowd,” says The Great Indoors.

KFC concept plans
KFC reveals sketches of its new dining concept. Courtesy of The Great Indoors


The new store is set to be opened in Parrammatta and will likely resemble a similar one launched by KFC in Toronto, Canada, offering a wider range of products, including beer and cider.

The concept’s designs maintain a clear fast food element in their blockish graphics and dark colour schemes, reminiscent of other chains such as Grill’d or Nandos, which highlights the uniqueness of McDonald’s attempts to present itself in The Corner as an independently owned restaurant.

The role of design in both these projects is fundamental to the creation of a new business model for the two chains. For KFC, their concept store is an alternative offering that steps tentatively towards something new, revealed in the somewhat ubiquitous nature of the concept’s designs. For McDonalds, the sense of the eerily unreal, or unheimlich, is created for the perceptive customer who is left unsure of whether it is a good or bad thing that their corner store is owned by one of the largest companies in the world.

Click here for a first look at KFC’s new fit out.

An article by ADR contributor, Doug Ross.

Conversation • 2 comments

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06 Feb 15 at 11:24 AM • Anna

White, black, timber, splash of colour… Yep, pretty easy to mimic.

McDonalds did actually hire a professional design company to do The Corner, but plenty of cafes do their own interiors, and so many look so similar it almost doesn’t matter if it is a chain or not.

Personally I find chain stores/cafes/whatever a bit depressing because of the conformity, you may be going into different spaces but they’re not really different places. But when the designs of so many apparently independent cafes are so similar it erases difference anyway.

I really think we (designers) really need to step up and do a better job of celebrating difference.

03 Mar 15 at 11:00 AM • Jessica

There’s so much complacency in the industry, particularly where hospitality design is concerned. Whenever I go out it’s a struggle to find a difference between cafes – all with white walls and industrial leanings. Where’s the originality gone??


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