ROSEMEAD Calif. Panda Express has debuted a new prototype design that will feature digital menu boards, a more upscale atmosphere and a small retail section selling bottled sauces, snacks and other branded products.
The new concept unit opened here earlier this week next to the headquarters of parent company Panda Restaurant Group. Officials said the new look incorporates features also tested at other new concept stores. Most of the new features will be used for new store development starting in the third quarter.
For example, the new prototype features three 46-inch digital television monitors, which display the Panda Express menu, as well as promotional marketing content. The digital signage offers store managers flexibility to change menu information, such as adding calorie counts, as some units will be required to do in California this summer when a statewide menu-labeling mandate goes into effect. Panda officials said the company also is considering a test of computer kiosks for customers in line to review nutritional information on specific menu items.
The new Panda Express prototype will play branded Asian music, rather than the traditional pop music played in most stores now, as well as more varied seating, including a mix of booths, tables and high tops.
Chefs at the new unit wear chef’s uniforms, rather than the polo shirt worn by front-of-the-house staff. In addition, food is served in wok pans, rather than the traditional stainless steel steam-table pans.
At the register, the new Panda Express units will sell the brand’s bottled sauces for home use, as well as Panda Express packaged snacks and stuffed animals.
The unit also has a wall mural of the Great Wall of China, which ties the brand visually to its cultural roots.
“The idea behind this evolution is to touch all five senses of our guests,” said Nader Garschi, Panda Restaurant Group’s executive director of concept innovation.
Guests will smell the aromas of Chinese food, they’ll see the vibrant colors and cultural references to China, they’ll hear branded music and touch quality furnishings, such as new granite tables, he said.
The new look is also designed to create a higher-quality atmosphere to better capture guests that may be trading down from casual dining because of economic pressures, Garschi added.
Panda Restaurant Group operates or licenses 1,232 Panda Express restaurants, as well as about 35 Panda Inn and Hibachi-San locations, in 36 states.
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected] .