Dunkin' Donuts is taking a page not just from Starbucks' playbook but from the entire fast-food market. Within the past two years,McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King have all added more sophisticated, grown-up elements to their decor and the look of their restaurants.
If the results of the big burger chains are any indication, the overhaul could be a good investment for franchisees. Their brand image will probably get an initial bump. According to market YouGov BrandIndex market research, all three burger chains registered better consumer impressions after debuting new looks for their restaurants, although the lift was temporary for all three.
McDonald's says introducing its new design gives stores in the United States a 6 percent incremental sales lift, and Wendy's said made-over stores generate 20 percent higher sales.
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With its makeover, Dunkin' is trying to break out of the breakfast category it traditionally has been associated with and get customers to think of it as an all-day destination.
"The modernized design incorporates many new features to create a warm environment for guests who seek a longer, more relaxed visit to Dunkin' Donuts as part of their day," the company said in a release.
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"People are eating and drinking around the clock now and working wherever they have to," said Todd Hooper, retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon. Fast-food and coffee shops are shifting, as well, "going from just a kitchen to being an out-of-home den or office or conference room," he said.
Kathy Hayden, food service analyst at Mintel, said Dunkin' Donuts also is positioning itself to capitalize on two workplace trends: As more people telecommute, they're looking for places that let them get out of the house but still get work done. And a more mobile workforce means more demand for places that can serve as locations for business meetings.
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"Offering Wi-Fi is not enough. You need to have a welcoming atmosphere," she said.
Adding traditional coffeehouse touches shouldn't detract from Dunkin's brand image in customers' minds, Hooper said. "I think you can still be an anti-Starbucks person but sit in a comfy chair."
—By Martha C. White, NBC News contributor