The Mystery Of Build-Your-Own Fast Food Restaurants

By Ellis Keipper

Build-your-own meal restaurants are a topic which I thought we should have more discussion around. Restaurants like Which Wich, Mod Pizza, and Chipotle are among some of my favorites in the fast-casual dining industry because of the convenient design the restaurant offers. The idea of letting the customer order as many ingredients as they want on an order provides an endless amount of combinations for what can be done. Alongside this, these restaurants let you see each potential ingredient laid out in front of you as well allow for you watch your food being made. This makes it easier to make decisions about what ingredients to include in your meal. Further research into the subgenre of restaurants reveals there is little to no insight on this topic. As far as I can find, it is unknown when any of these restaurants started serving their food in this way– or if they have been doing it from the start. 

The first major fast food restaurant to do this was Subway, which was founded in 1965. Like I mentioned before, it is unclear when they started serving food in this way. The next major restaurant to come along in this manner was Chipotle in 1993. Moe’s would follow in the footsteps of Chipotle in 2000. Which Wich would follow the Subway formula in 2003. And, Mod Pizza would become the first build-your-own pizza restaurant in 2008. These are the 5 major build-your-own fast-casual restaurants from what I can tell. Mod Pizza is the only restaurant of the 5 that makes an emphasis on this design. When you go to order, they always make sure to let you know that every topping is free and unlimited. 

The reason these types of restaurants are so revolutionary is because most fast food places require that you order regimented combinations of food that offer little variation in the way of sides. Of course, you can make additions and subtractions in specific cases, but subtractions are awkward and additions are usually an upcharge. Also, making a choice as to which menu item you want can be hard. With the build-your-own meal formula, this removes all the stress of making a decision on which menu option is best when you can just get whatever you want. This is especially helpful for people who suffer from menu anxiety. 

In conclusion, this is a business design about which I have grown passionate. I am deeply saddened that there is so little discourse surrounding it. Topics like this, enthralled in mystery, keep me awake at night. The countless sleepless nights I’ve had trying to put a crack in the phony wall of information that surrounds this topic are not only tiring but exciting. 


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