As a kid growing up in Houston, Texas, I was no stranger to the family-friendly casual dining chain restaurant. “Foodie” wasn't even a concept in the early 1990s, so when my parents took us out for a special occasion, or I took my date out before the junior high dance, we found ourselves at TGI Friday's in Willowbrook Mall.
Looking back, we never went to these restaurants specifically for the cuisine (though I did love Friday’s potato skins). The food was fine, but it was really about the time spent with family and friends.
I still enjoy dining out, but like many others, I have higher expectations when it comes to food and a restaurant experience. While dining out is on the rise, casual chain dining is on the decline. The problem seems to be how to make the "chain" feel a little less corporate and a lot more personal, social, and local—without sacrificing convenience and affordability.
Produce attention-getting research and design concepts for new casual dining clients.
Observe and define behavioral mindsets for casual dining customers and tie those behaviors to customer aspirations.
Identify moments for enhancement in the casual dining experience—especially to facilitate more meaningful social interactions.
Address operational challenges to effectively align the fine-tuned restaurant operation (front and back of house) with new customer-focused enhancements.
I coordinated and executed a contextual research process to study casual restaurant brands and their customers during two three-week periods of interviews and observation at different location types, times of day, and social occasions (birthdays, happy hour, holidays).
I created a coded research database of field notes, interviews, and site recordings, and synthesized the data into specific insights for the experience designers and media architects.
Our research yielded four categories of customer mindsets for casual dining—“celebration-making,” “value-seeking,” “daily gathering,” and “family focusing.”
We produced several low-cost rapid prototypes for each category, which we documented in media and renderings for client design documents and proposals.
We built research-driven relationships with category leaders in casual dining that generated design briefs for in-store media architecture and digital brand platforms.
Identifying and qualifying client leads in the casual dining industry.
Coordinating meetings with c-suite connections and delivering pitches and presentations.
Planning and conducting contextual field research and interviews for three major casual dining brands.
Planning and producing prototyping workshops.
Project management and resource planning.
Writing design briefs, research documents, proposals, scripts, and presentation decks.
Art direction, storyboarding, and diagram design.