Creative Staging

However you define “casual dining” these days, what it often means is “on trend.” Let’s take a look at some of the strategies and venues that give customers what they want today, from chef-casual to fast-casual to QSR.

creative staging boardBored with Boards?

Sure, a chalkboard listing specials is nice. But have someone with artistic talent do the writing, perhaps even a simple drawing or two. Another great idea: Mount a roll of kraft paper on the wall. It’s inexpensive and easy to change. Whiteboard also works well—nicely framed, please. Or, incorporate updateable pieces with a surfboard or boat hull, wooden lattice or antique door, a car hood—anything that fits your décor. One clever kitchen installed a two-way mirror; the wine menu is written on the mirror side, and they can check on diners from theirs. Other options include a customized digital board or a projector that puts words on the wall.

Out & About

Many smart operators make the outside of their building work hard. Check out the photo for Phipps Bakery Café (Toronto); the logo is tastefully displayed from virtually every angle (, including a sidewalk sign. Others put enticements on their windows: “Fresh Soups,” “Gourmet Sandwiches,” etc. Sampling—both in-house and out—is another way to get attention. When a slow train stopped several cars in front of her restaurant, the owner handed a sweet snack to those waiting. The result? Lots of social-media gratitude, and some great newspaper PR. And remember: delivery vehicle signage!

All the Senses

Waft a tempting scent the way of incoming customers—or even streetside. Think baking bread or cakes, or grill smoke. Place a speaker just outside the door to entice passersby with your
venue’s music. Or set the tone on your website, like brand-new Toronto venue Macho Tex Mex Radio Bar ( With fine dining trying to be more fun, and fast food looking to add sophistication, there’s much you can do to visually push your brand. Joe Forte’s Seafood & Chop House in Vancouver commissioned custom neon spelling out “Oyster Bar & Grill,” along with an etched mirror over another seating area (

creative staging basketShow & Tell

Bars display an array of bottles for good reason. Why not extend that thinking to food? Consider placing a small table near the hostess stand with an arrangement of beautiful (and hardy!) ingredients on an attractive plate. Or how about a “theme” display? Perhaps a basket of ingredients pertinent to the season makes sense, to whet appetites for seasonal fare. Whether your venue is quirky or classy, tell that story any way you can. Maybe your specials are inked onto paper chef’s hats: Line them up on a shelf, perched on mannequin heads!

What’s for lunch? QSR, fast casual or Home Meal Replacement is a spur-of-the-moment decision for most.  

*NPD, 4/16 (