These are interesting times in the fast food business. Fast food continues to be popular, but consumers are hungry for more options now. So, how about fast, cheap and healthier, or more ethnic, or a touch of “gourmet”? Hence the success of Panera, Chipotle, Baja Fresh, Quizno’s, etc.

A recent Brandchannel blog post, “McDonald’s President Cooking up Green Rival” gave brief but fascinating insights into the fast casual chain slated to open in 2011. Former McDonald’s alums Mike Roberts and Mike Donahue are behind the venture.

Tentative name: Stephanie’s. The idea: serve up a health-conscious menu in environmentally friendly locations with an eye to sustainability in every facet of the business. A great idea and a real departure for ex-McDonald’s alums, wouldn’t you say?

Being considered:

Herb garden on the roof

Grass parking lots

Fresh flowers on tables

Biodegradable cutlery

Possible frozen food selections at outlets like Whole Foods

Possible home delivery via electric cars

We all talk about a crowded marketplace, but there’s always room for fresh, new brands if they fill a niche. And if they deliver. One thing is certain: When it comes to restaurant brands, the two most important ingredients in the customer experience are taste and service. All of the green concepts in the world won’t create a success unless the principal criteria are met and the customer is happy.

In a recent Ad Age interview, Mike Donahue observed, when asked the inevitable question about founding a chain, that at present there are “no tangible goals other than to do one really good location, get the taste profile right and the affordability right.” After getting the formula down, they will determine “if and how quickly the concept can scale.” Smart. Why cookie cutter until they get the template right?

While the fast food biz has been generally anemic in a tough economy, with fast casual growing by only 4% in 2009, industry insiders feel if key trends can be capitalized on, as Stephanie’s is planning to do, the concept has plenty of upside. And if anybody can make a success in the fast casual category, it’s likely a pair of ex-McDonald’s execs. They’re probably right.


What do you think of the Stephanie’s concept? Will it fly?

What do you think of the timing in launching a new fast casual concept in view of the sluggish economy?

Would you personally be interested in eating healthier food in a fast casual setting like a Stephanie’s?

I’d love to get your feedback.

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Ted Mininni is president and creative director of Design Force, a leading brand-design consultancy.

LinkedIn: Ted Mininni