Why scarf your Baconator and fries on the go? Grab a ketchup packet or five and settle in by the fireplace. As part of Wendy’s (WEN) efforts to update the 43-year-old brand (including a redesigned logo), 80 of its stores have already added fireplaces surrounded by lounge-style, faux leather chairs. This year, 200 more Wendy’s restaurants in North America will be remodeled with fireplaces, and by the end of 2015 the chain plans to have renovated more than 600 company-owned stores.
Why are there fireplaces at Wendy’s? Tré Musco, chief executive of Tesser, the San Francisco design firm behind Wendy’s makeover, says the chain was looking for a way to make its restaurants more inviting. “The hearth at home is a gathering place. It’s warm, it’s comfortable, it says stay and relax, as opposed to, this is fast food, get in and get out as quickly as possible,” he explains. In other words, it helps slow down the fast-food experience.
Encouraging customers to dine in has its benefits. They typically spend slightly more than when they order takeout or drive-thru, says Wendy’s spokesman Denny Lynch: Sales at the renovated stores are up 25 percent so far.
There’s also the pressure to keep up with the McJoneses. Some McDonald’s (MCD) restaurants in the U.S. and Canada already have fireplaces, and they were included as an option when the chain announced a redesign in Canada in 2011. Subway tested them in some café-style restaurants. While fireplaces were added to some Jack in the Box (JACK) locations starting in the mid-2000s, spokesman Brian Luscomb says they will likely not be part of the chain’s design moving forward due to cost.
Wendy’s general guidelines are that the fireplaces—which cost $4,000 to $6,000 each, including installation—be kept on all day, even in the summer and in hot climates, though that will be left to the discretion of each store’s general manager.
Consumers shouldn’t plan on roasting marshmallows or warming their hands over the fire. “The fireplace is designed for atmosphere, not for heating,” says Lynch. They’re enclosed in glass for safety. Most are fueled by gas, says Musco, and some are electronic and only produce light that simulates a flame. That might not create the same ambience, but at least your Frosty won’t melt.