Illinois_9-MenuNew competition has a knack of forcing change. In the QSR space, McDonald’s successful all-day breakfast promotion prompted Dunkin’ Donuts to make significant changes to its menu boards—both from a style and content perspective.

Scott Hudler, chief digital officer for Dunkin’ Brands, spelled out the importance of the redesign in an interview with Bloomberg News earlier this year. He said, “Dunkin’ Donuts’ new menu boards offer our guests a more contemporary, brighter, easier-to-read menu with attractive fonts, imagery and video content, to create an overall warmer, more modern design. The menu board layout is designed to strategically emphasize Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee and beverage varieties as well as our sandwich options all served any time of day, making it easier for guests to personalize their order.”

Illinois_112While some franchisees might agree with this notion, others are not convinced the changes – and the elimination of combo meals – are in the best interest of operators and customers. In a recent interview with The Street, Dunkin’ Brands CEO Nigel Travis said, “We found that about 60 percent of the space on our menu boards was combo meals, so we decided it was much better to promote our products, particularly our beverages, which have higher margins for our franchisees," he added. "We expected we would get some people who wouldn't like the change because people don't like change, but the number of complaints we have had have only totaled seven.”

While it would be nearly impossible to quantify that number, Independent Joe spent a recent morning at the Dunkin’ Donuts on S. US Highway 12 in Volo, Illinois, and talked with a few customers in the store and at the drive-thru. Summer break began a few days earlier for kids in the area and it was a warm and sunny day. This also happened to be “Cop on the Rooftop” day throughout Illinois, and this shop was one of 234 locations throughout the Land of Lincoln that teamed-up with law enforcement officials to raise money for Special Olympics. Given so, customers were in a mood to talk. Most admitted they paid little attention to Dunkin’s menu changes; most had an idea of what they wanted before they got into line. Their comments provide a snapshot – though unscientific – of what customers in one of Dunkin’s largest markets like.

Illinois_5-copWhat customers are saying

Officer Michelle Hernandez, who was volunteering for the event, was one of the first people to share her input. While her coworkers were on the rooftop trying to attract customers driving along Highway 12, she was on the ground collecting donations at an informational booth outside the shop. Officer Hernandez said she's a regular to the Volo Dunkin’, visiting when she is on-and off-duty. “I like lots of things here; donuts, the bacon and cheese bagel, French vanilla coffee, and more depending on the day,” she said. As far as the menu, she says she looks at it for ideas, but didn’t notice the recent changes. “I feel like I know what Dunkin’ has to offer.”

Adam Gage, a regular at this location, was having a late breakfast with his son. He was eating his usual: an egg-cheese-and-sausage sandwich and a black coffee, while his son enjoyed a chocolate glazed donut with sprinkles. Gage told us he misses the combo deals.

“I’m a combo guy. When I want food and drink, I come here. If I were just going to get a drink, I might go to Starbucks instead.” he said, expressing his frustration that some shops are keeping combos while others have discontinued them. “The thing is, now I never know if the Dunkin’ I’m at is offering the combo or not so now I just ask, ‘does that come with hash browns?’”

Travis has told interviewers the brand may reinstitute combos at some point, if brand leaders decide it could help drive traffic in the future. The fact that many other QSR chains have been leaning heavily on combo deals to increase sales does not seem to impact Dunkin’s thinking.

We Know What we Want

Illinois_6Christine Schramm and her dad were in the shop to get donuts for her two toddler sons. One son was sitting next to his mom and across from them, the other son was seated next to his grandpa.

“We hardly look at the menu because we know what the boys want,” she said. “We fed them a healthy breakfast earlier and then came here for a snack.” Between the two boys, they shared three chocolate glazed donuts. “It’s something they look forward to doing with their grandpa and me,” Schramm said.

Christine Olsen, who visits the Volo location twice a week on her route to work, says she’s not a big menu-reader either. She usually goes through the drive-thru, but the Cop on the Rooftop event drew her into the store. “I’ve been drinking coffee since 4th grade, so I know what I want,” she said. “I usually get what is in season, so as the new season comes, I’ll pay attention to the menu to decide what I’m going to go for, and then usually I don’t pay attention to it for a while.”

Dunkin’s strategy for its new menu boards, which came online shortly after McDonald’s introduced its all-day breakfast, was to highlight beverages first from left-to-right, then feature the various sandwich offerings and then draw the eye further right with images of donuts, muffins and other sweet treats. That way, the menu has a logical flow.

I’ll Try a New Drink Next Time

It’s those images of beverages – gleaming in high-definition – that caught the eye of two customers in line to grab snacks. Kim Jones was making her usual munchkins order when she noticed a picture of the frozen hot chocolate. “I hadn’t noticed that before. It looks really good,” she said. When asked if she'd buy the drink next time, Jones nodded and said, "Probably."

The same advertisement for frozen drinks made an impact on Jessica Kerns too. “I came for a donut and coffee, but next time I’m going to get that blue drink. It popped out at me,” she said, referring to Dunkin’s blue raspberry Coolatta.

I Didn’t Notice

Bagels are Marcin Simson’s thing. While the Volo store isn’t his usual Dunkin’, he was driving by and made a stop for a late breakfast. “At all the Dunkin’ Donuts I go to, I always get a bagel. Sometimes a coffee too,” he said. “I looked at the menu this time, but didn’t really notice anything different about this one that made me think, ‘I should get something other than a bagel,’” he said. So was the case for Sarah Kane. “The drive-thru menu looked the same to me. I always come for my donuts, so I don’t really pay attention to what else is on the menu,” she said.

I Don’t Know What I Want

Veronica Woodall was dining with her two daughters­—a common occurrence for them. She enjoyed an egg sandwich while her daughters ate donuts. “We always look at the menu because we don’t know what we want sometimes,” she said. “I noticed the menu was a little different, but didn’t know exactly what changed.”

Laurie Barnowski, who was enjoying a late breakfast in the restaurant with her two daughters, pointed out that the three of them rarely buy the same items off the menu. She ate her usual donut and coffee while one of her teenage daughters had the same. Her other daughter had a breakfast sandwich. “I noticed the new menu,” said Barnowski. “It’s easy to see the drinks are separate from the sandwiches. My daughter looked at the sandwich section before choosing.”

Because Dunkin’ Donuts welcomes so many return customers to its shops, the new menu layout may not resonate with those regulars. As we found out, many skip looking at the menu because they know what they want. One criticism of the menu is that its cursive font may not appeal to the millennial generation, a key target demographic. As one Associated Press reporter jokingly noted in a recent posting on Twitter, “Big mistake by Dunkin’. New menus use cursive - millennials don't know how to read cursive.” We’ll have to see if that really matters.

Illinois Dunkin’ Shops Raise Money for Special Olympics

On May 20th, 234 Dunkin’ Donuts shops throughout Illinois teamed up with local police departments to raise money for Special Olympics athletes during “Cop on the Rooftop” day. This was the 14th anniversary of the statewide event, in which police officers sit on the rooftops of Dunkin' shops, as a way to attract people to the stores. Customers who are drawn to the shops and make a donation to Special Olympics, receive a coupon for a free donut. This year, the event raised more than $600,000 collectively throughout Illinois for Special Olympics, and nearly $2.3 million has been raised during the partnership over the years.