Last month, Salata Salad Kitchen marked its first Florida location with the debut of a guest-forward neighborhood design concept. The Houston-based fast-casual offers guests fully customizable, tossed-to-order salads and wraps, soups, organic teas and lemonades. Salata has more than 80 corporate-owned and franchise locations in Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Florida, Georgia and Southern California and plans to open in multiple new markets this year.
Modern Restaurant Management (MRM) magazine spoke with with Salata President Michelle Bythewood about the process that went into the Lake Mary Salata, which is the organization’s 84th location overall.
Can you describe the process, who on the team provided input on the prototype?
I decided to encourage the Salata founders to reimage and rebrand, as I had previous rebranding success at Focus Brands and Cicis Pizza and saw the opportunity to increase traffic count and brand awareness through an updated, more customer-inviting environment.
The crux of our restaurant redesign process was research. We knew that it would be crucial to our success to understand exactly what our consumers want and appreciate. In order to do that, we needed to conduct extensive research with both active and inactive guests.
Our research included demographic and psychographic segmentation broken down by geographic markets, qualitative brand positioning triads, and multiple consumer focus groups.
The results of our research provided us with the data we needed to develop a new restaurant design that we feel confident will meet guests’ needs and wants.
To aid in the development of the new design, we engaged Tracey Barker and Bart Mills of Back Lot Productions, Inc., a restaurant design and brand development firm based in Atlanta. Back Lot’s unique approach to brand design is a philosophy they call Markitecture, which they define as marketing your brand through the built environment to evoke the desired emotional response from the guest. Tracey and Bart knew that everything that touches the guest and employee alike must speak back to the brand and be inviting to guests for all day parts.
Explain the dining neighborhood concept.
Our new dining neighborhood concept is one of the most important features of the new restaurant design. Our dining neighborhoods are designed to suit guests’ various needs, preferences, moods and times of their visits. The dining neighborhoods include a power aisle for to-go orders; a quick, in-and-out area for lunch at a table or window bar; a community table for dining with friends; a lounge area that is ideal for afternoon work sessions; and a more traditional area for having dinner in a booth with family or friends. We want every guest to feel there is area for them to have an enjoyable experience in the restaurant.
The first Salata opened in 2005. Since then, Salata restaurants have thrived by focusing on their product offering, presentation and back of house that reflected the business’s functional needs within a quick-service restaurant. With that in place, we knew that after more than a decade of the same restaurant look and dining experience, it was time to concentrate on the natural progression of updating the brand in a meaningful way to our guests.
Why start in Lake Mary?
The Lake Mary location provided us with an expansive, 5,000-square-foot space with outstanding visibility. It was the perfect canvas, so to speak, to introduce our new design. Lake Mary also marked our first location in Florida. It’s a community that places an emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle, so we were already thrilled to introduce Salata to the area and it made sense to introduce the redesign at the same time.
How will the new design help guests and staff?
First and foremost, the new design allows Salata’s food to serve as the focal point of the restaurant. Guests will be met by the bright, vibrant colors of the line as soon as they enter the restaurant. They will immediately see and understand the extent of our fresh and colorful ingredients and toppings. The rest of the restaurant features a neutral white and grey palette, with metal finishes, and a few subtle additions of color, so again, our wide variety of ingredients and toppings take center stage.
Beyond the focus on our food, we introduced a variety of dining neighborhoods to suit guests’ various needs, preferences, moods and times of their visits. We also introduced an improved online ordering pick-up experience so guests can capitalize on convenience and be in, out and on their way.
We believe guests will find the space to be noticeably more modern and inviting, but they will continue to enjoy the same friendly service for which Salata is known.
The improved online ordering pick-up experience and dining neighborhoods allow our team members to be more efficient and better serve our guests. In addition to this, the new design is intended to help energize and refresh our team. It is important to us that employees working at the new restaurant enjoy their surroundings and feel proud to work in the space and for Salata. We have also upgraded Salata employee uniforms, which now have a fresh, modern look, with the intent that employees will feel good wearing the uniforms.
In what ways does it elevate the guest experience?
The new design elevates the guest experience by providing guests with spaces in the restaurant that match their needs during each day part and surprising them with some unexpected features. Guests are able to enjoy a more modern atmosphere, and they will find some unexpected design elements and fun new touches like custom industrial chandeliers hanging over community tables. They are able to select from a variety of dining neighborhoods to fit their needs, moods, preferences and times of visits.
What is the importance of the tea chilling system?
Salata has become known for its signature organic teas and lemonades. We wanted to ensure we are offering our teas and lemonades at highest possible quality and taste, which means serving them at the optimal temperature, so we commissioned a custom glycol tea tap system design. With the new tea tap system, our teas and lemonades are perfectly chilled at 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
What kind of response have you received to date?
The response to the new design has been incredibly positive. We celebrated the grand opening of the Lake Mary Salata on Thursday, Feb. 7, with a wonderful and enthusiastic crowd. We heard lots of great anecdotal feedback on the restaurant design, with guests commenting on the variety of seating options and the modern and neutral white and gray color palette that allowed our food to take center stage. Seeing guests and media take photos of the new restaurant and selfies with the unexpected design touches throughout it was indicative of a more enjoyable guest experience.