Where Did the Wendy’s Sunroom go?

And what about the yellow branding?

My grandmother worked at Wendy’s in the early 2000s, she was forced to retire early in her 50s when the franchise owner couldn’t afford to keep paying her. She was the middle child of 7 kids and was forced to drop out of 8th grade to help care for the family. Considering her lack of education, Wendy’s provided her with a modest life in the 90s into the 2000s. Visits meant I always got the newest toys and no kids’ meal necessary. For a while, one of the distinct memories of visiting her was also visiting Wendy’s, and my favorite place to be was in the Sunroom. Sitting in the sun, playing with whatever toy she grabbed from behind the counter. Looking out into the road nearby and watching. Or, my absolute favorite, watching the rain while sitting underneath.

Wendy’s, in particular, used to have one of the more unique dining experiences of the various fast food chains. The exterior has an immediately recognizable silhouette, brick with an inward sloped red roof, but most importantly, the Sunroom, or Solarium, as they wanted it referred to.

''People who want to eat want to see other people eating. If there's no one there, the food must be bad. And when you're eating you want to look out. It increases the comfort level. You also have the opportunity to hang plants and create an upscale atmosphere. And, here's a real gold mine. You can put lamps inside and not affect the variance codes of the community as you do with outdoor lights. Those indoor lamps show up just great at night.''

- Denny Lynch, then vice president of communications for Wendy's International1

The sun rooms in the old Wendy's restaurants : r/nostalgia

There used to be a greater level of “identity” between each of the fast food restaurants’ dine-in experiences. Walking into a Taco Bell used to be like walking onto the set of Saved by the Bell ( I assume no relation). It had the classic pastel coloring and bright white fluorescent lighting that was typically associated with businesses of the 90s. Pops of purple color on the seats and the classic Jazz design on the walls and chairs defined the era.

Now though, it looks like a hospital lobby. Same for McDonald’s and Burger King. They all seemed to have adopted this sterilized design language perpetuated by a desire to imitate the current restaurant trends of the “fast casual.” Call it nostalgia for a time gone by, but I miss the old ways. I miss the Sunroom.

When did they think this was a “good” idea

According to this article from April, the physical change began to happen in 2012 as part of a larger “renovation” the brand was doing to all of its locations. A change I would refer to as “bad.”

Look, I understand that the old design had its faults. The “greenhouse” effect definitely cooked its fair share of patrons during the summer. But is that the real reason the change occurred? According to this article from Mashed, it was due in part to the heightened cost of climate controlling the restaurant because of the sunroom. I don’t buy it. They also mentioned a changing trend in design, and I think that’s partially the reason. But it wasn’t just a design trend that caused this. It was also a philosophical trend.

It’s Capitalism’s Fault.

As with all things, at the end of the day, it’s good ol’ capitalism. The constant hunger for increased profits and lower operating costs. You can find this evidenced in every fast food chains change in design language. As well as the ever-prevalent “Lean Staffing” model. Lean Staffing runs entirely counter to the idea of having guests sit in the restaurant in any capacity. You can’t operate both the Drive Thu window and the dining area when you only have three people available for staff. Lean staffing forces you to minimize as much as possible in order to support the small staff while supporting the largest amount of customers. It’s a wholly inhuman practice built to maximize profits at the expense of humans working the job.

Understaffing can be extremely difficult for employees. Even if all staff members are working on a given day, getting everything done is a struggle with insufficient staff. Scheduled days off, of even one worker, increase everyone’s distress, and one or more people being out unexpectedly is a crisis.

Staff may find themselves forced to work longer hours, even “off the clock”, to get everything done, which eats into their personal and family time and rest, and is detrimental to work-life balance. When overwork and dealing with crises becomes a daily occurrence, staff distress increases and morale deteriorates.

Gaslighting and guilt-trips are often a part of understaffing. Supervisors may say things to employees like, “It’s everyone’s responsibility to get the work done”, “We all have to pitch in”, “You want to help your co-workers, don’t you?” "There are other employees/departments whose workloads or staffing levels are similar or even worse". Note here that the words “all” and “everyone” often do not include upper management, who can opt out at their discretion from assisting lower-paid employees, and who distance themselves from the reality of the working conditions they have created. The implication is that individual employees' laziness or uncooperativeness or inflexibility is the problem.2

It provides a worse experience in every way possible. Are you mad that lines are through the roof at Wal-Mart? Blame Lean Staffing. Disappointed with the way food tastes and is prepared? Blame Lean Staffing. Hate that all of the service workers always seem so irritated your a customer? Blame Lean Staffing. You can’t operate lean if you have a dining room full of people to cater to and a backed-up drive-thru. You can’t provide quality service if your closer called out, and now you have to stay late to cover and not go on that date you were looking forward to. You can’t service with a smile when there is no smile to be had. As a single mom in the late 90s with no significant formal education, my Grandmother earned a living wage working at a Wendys. Today’s entry-level salary for a Wendy’s employee is $29,405 a year or $14/hour; she simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to live, never mind raise a child on her own. Don’t even get me started on inflation; I refuse to talk about inflation. Can you imagine what she would make today if she had been keeping up with inflation? Well, stop because I won’t talk about it.

Make Wendys Bring Back the Sunroom (and increase wages in general).

When you consider that the current goal for restaurants is to move as many people through them as fast as possible, regardless of the quality of the experience, a Sunroom is counter to that goal with its inviting environment, encouraging you to hang out a little bit longer. McDonald’s doesn’t have standing games and no longer puts in the play place3. Pizza Hut no longer has a pizza buffet4. These changes purely come from a place of antagonism towards their customer and the employee rather than a warm invitation to stay or a healthy environment to work. They don’t want you to be there; they want you to get out as quickly as possible if you simply must eat inside.


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