How Harrison Positions Restaurant Brands for Global Success

Paul Wainwright, Asia-Pacific Design Director, Harrison
Paul Wainwright, Asia-Pacific Design Director, Harrison

How Harrison Positions Restaurant Brands for Global SuccessGlobal brand expansion into new markets is fast becoming a lucrative strategy for restaurant brands by capturing new market share. Having supported in excess of more than 50 global brand transfers around the world, Harrison‘s vast experience is proving to be an invaluable resource for aspiring restaurant brands.

 Even when a restaurant concept is familiar with a market in their home country, it can be a challenge to open and operate a thriving business due to demographics, consumer demand, site selection, location visibility and more. So, when companies decide they’re ready to bring their brand overseas, they need to select the right partners to help navigate market conditions, building and heath code requirements, cultural disparities and complex building and non-standard footprints. Executives put their trust in a variety of international partners who have boots on the ground and experience expanding other businesses into new parts of the world.

That’s why when Harrison is charged with scaling a concept internationally, the agency applies its strategic approach that’s backed up with research and understanding of the specific market conditions, competitors and local real estate. Harrison’s holistic approach provides full end-to-end services – from branding, concept creation, storytelling and project management to architecture and interior design, which is focused on enhancing the guest experience and provides brand differentiation.

With offices across the globe in Melbourne, Australia; Dallas, Texas; Birmingham and London, U.K., Harrison’s overseas interconnectivity is the driving force that brings its international influence to life. Despite being in a global pandemic, the company has served as a trusted partner to a wide variety of restaurant concepts around the world in helping them navigate and adapt to changing guest behaviors and market conditions.

Harrison Design Director Paul Wainwright has assisted several concepts in their global expansion efforts. Here’s how he and the Harrison team support brands during their international transitions:

What makes Harrison a good partner for clients transitioning overseas?

After joining Harrison in 2017 to serve as design director for the Dallas office, I then moved to Australia in March 2020 to begin work with several clients located in the Asia-Pacific area. This region is a growing market, but with Harrison’s presence in the U.K. and U.S., it wasn’t an area we were covering due to the varying time zones, but we have always had strategic ambitions to enter this market. Now, we’re able to work with Vietnam, Singapore, China and other parts of Asia with just a two- to three-hour time difference. From a brand’s perspective, we bring impressive local knowledge in these areas, and they can be confident that if they need anything from us, we will pick up the phone. In essence, we’ve created a 36-hour office environment among the U.S, U.K. and Asia-Pacific countries.

We added two Vietnamese concepts – Highlands Coffee and Pho24 – to our growing Asia-Pacific client portfolio well before the pandemic began and have remained steady as a trusted partner for them throughout. We’ve been working on different store types, uniforms and more for both concepts over the last year. Vietnam has gone from being one of the first countries to fully open up to now being in an intense lockdown. Despite various challenges, we’ve maintained a strong relationship with them that’s allowed us to help them pivot their business model.

What new design elements can prepare your brands for global expansion?

Before we position them for expansion into international markets, Highlands Coffee – which has the majority share in the domestic market – tasked us with developing the next generation of coffee store experiences for the Vietnamese market first. To do so, we’re in the process of helping Highlands pivot to a digital landscape, and we’re enhancing their branding across all fronts, including their uniforms and packaging. We’ve identified six store types as key to future developments, starting with the humble street coffee carts and progressing to multi-level flagship stores. As a way to elevate their guest experience, we’ve been collaborating with their in-house operations team to develop the integration of new coffee machines and introduction of a new ordering process, as well as looking into targeting the Tik Tok generation and partnering with local street artists for additional brand exposure. The Highlands brand narrative has also been refined and strengthened to create a greater sense of belonging to Vietnam. With a set of design guidelines for materials, architecture, furniture and artwork, we’re creating a clear point of reference internationally as the brand travels further away from its origins.

With Pho’s growing popularity among consumers across the world, Pho24 – a smaller brand owned by the same parent company as Highlands Coffee – has global expansion ambitions. We’re approaching our design by creating parts for each core element of the brand journey. Starting where guests order, we’ve implemented new technology to assist with contactless payment and streamlined third-party collections. The expo station, kitchens and back of house areas have all been redesigned to the best global standards. New packaging for both takeout orders and supermarket product purchases are being developed from the ground up to ensure that home guests receive the same high quality dish that they expect from a Pho24 store.

How does Harrison evaluate local consumer habits when developing brands internationally?

Many of our competitors complete design concepts around the world. One of the main components driving Harrison’s success is having “boots on the ground” to support our clients, exploit opportunities and navigate all challenges. The way people use a brand space is very different from country to country. So, when we approach a concept, we ask ourselves, “How are people going to use this brand?” And “Where is this brand going?” For example, drive-thrus are completely foreign in Australian cities, but they’re becoming more popular in suburban areas. When evaluating an Australian brand, some designers may completely dismiss drive-thrus as an option, but we take a step back and look at the brand’s overall growth strategy and experience to make those decisions.

When restaurant companies come to us, we’re not just looking at tables and chairs. We’re diving deep to understand their goals, their brand and the experience they want their guests to have. We look at the local demographic and analyze how that varies from market to market. In Vietnam, cash is still very much the dominant form of payment. So, while Highlands Coffee and Pho24 want ordering to become touchless, we still have to allow for people to pay in cash in this market. But, at international locations, guests are already familiar with contactless payment.

When it comes to successful international design, you have to know how people are going to interact with the restaurant space, learn from your surroundings and then build a design from there. Adaptations developed in Asian restaurants have translated into brands in Australia. Meanwhile, Harrison has brought its own inventive ideas from the U.K., Europe and the U.S. to Asia-Pacific countries. Finding the right design, no matter where you are, is all about contributing to a melting pot of ideas and strategically implementing them as a way to support future growth and beyond.

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