How Burger King, Subway and Starbucks Are Planning to Win in Our Post-Pandemic World

In our post-pandemic world, brands are dealing with changed customer behaviors. Attitudes about and usage of technology leap-frogged decades. How and where we work together is now very different. How we buy foods and beverages has altered dramatically. 

For several brands, one of the outcomes from coronavirus is the reinspection and revitalization of their brand experiences. Peloton and Netflix are just two. Peloton is becoming a subscriber brand while becoming more of a mass brand. Netflix is now offering ad-supported services and is getting into gaming. 

But, it cannot be mere coincidence that, at the moment, three brands in fast food are “remaking” their brand experiences. Burger King, Subway and Starbucks announced major brand revitalizations, all with the same intention: brand revitalization to provide customers with a more relevant experience. Although these brands had problems prior to Covid-19’s advent, the pandemic exacerbated areas of weakness in adapting to users’ changing habits. 

At Burger King, the initiative to modernize and refresh the BK experience is called “Reclaim the Flame” At Subway, the initiative to reinvigorate the brand and upgrade the brand’s customer called “Eat Fresh Refresh” Starbucks’ initiative is called “Reinvention Strategy”. According interim CEO and founder, Howard Schultz, Starbucks “lost its way”. Although Starbucks did fairly well during the pandemic, Mr. Schultz sees things differently. In an open letter to employees, Mr. Schultz wrote: “The Starbucks business as it is built today is not set up to fully satisfy the evolving behaviors, needs and expectations of our (employees) or customers. It is not designed for the future we aspire to for ourselves and the communities in which we serve.”

In order to achieve a successful brand revitalization, it is necessary to have a Plan to Win. A brand must commit to a roadmap defining how to win. A Plan to Win ensures the integration of brand actions across the Eight Ps: Purpose, Promise, People, Product, Place, Price, Promotion, and Performance. A Plan to Win puts the purpose, the promise, the actions, and the performance metrics on a single page. A Plan to Win generates organizational alignment behind the revitalization. 

It is essential to know what are the brand’s purpose and the brand’s promise. For Burger King, Subway and Starbucks, there was little talk about what the brand purposes and promises will be that underpin these new brand revitalization initiatives. Burger King said that it will update its brand in the customers’ eyes. There will be a focus on modernizing the “Have It Your Way” slogan and reintroducing the relevance of flame grilling. As far as Starbucks is concerned, the move to digital, drive-thru with more streamlined stores, some without seating, will affect the brand’s original premise as a third place. All three brands should probably review their brand purposes and promises to ensure that the revitalized experiences support the visions.

The five action P’s – people, product, place, price and promotion – are how a brand will bring a brand’s promise alive for customers as the brand actualizes its purpose. So, let’s look at the how Starbucks, Burger King and Subway have created their actions plans.


People are the first action P. This is because employees are the most important assets of any business. They are the frontline when it comes to customer relationships, especially in a service business. 

Starbucks will focus on making work more “appealing, including the availability of more sick time, increased training and technology allowing customers to use credit cards to tip individual baristas.” Additional technology is being installed to make drink customization easier (fewer steps) on the barista. Starbucks pledged to spend an additional $1 billion on labor including barista hourly wage increases. (According to The Wall Street Journal, the National Labor Relations Board has certified unions in 224 Starbucks restaurants.) Mr. Schultz wants to ensure that the next generation of leadership lives and breathes the Starbucks culture.

Burger King and Subway have not articulated to the press plans for their people. However, Burger King’s elevation of its brand should instill pride in employees. Subway’s new menu will allow customers to (hopefully) choose pre-made sandwiches without customization. This will put less pressure on employees during busiest hours. 

Product (and Service)

Product (and service) are the tangible evidence of the truth of the brand promise. A brand needs to be relevantly differentiated, delivering superior customer-perceived value. 

Subway’s renovation is primarily menu-based. Subway is upgrading its bread as well as upgrading eleven ingredients. Last year, Subway upgraded twenty ingredients. The chain of 21,000 US restaurants is “creating a whole new taste profile.” Additionally, the new menu should reduce customer customization that slows down the line. The menu is now organized into four categories consisting of three sandwiches for each category, called The Subway Series.

For Burger King, the focus is on the iconic Whopper. The Whopper will undergo a “premium makeover” so the sandwich is now off of the value menu. Burger King is also hyping its new chicken sandwich, the four-flavor Royal line. Burger King removed the Ch’King chicken sandwich from the menu.

Starbucks promised investors and analysts that the brand would be improving the menu. Fresh baked pastries and to-go salads are under consideration. Changes to machinery reflect the changed behaviors of customers: Gen Z prefer iced drinks to hot drinks.


Place can be anywhere the customer interacts with the brand. It can be a physical location (a restaurant, for example) as well as a virtual location (a website, app or the metaverse, for example). Wherever and whatever it is, place is the face of the brand. 

Starbucks is planning to open 2000 restaurants in North America by 2025, approximately two a day. Some of these stores will handle only pick-up, delivery or drive-thru orders. New store designs will speed service. This includes the new cold bar that can cut the time of making the brand’s specialized cold drinks. Starbucks is also expanding mobile ordering as well as using Uber Eats and DoorDash. The brand expects that delivery will double in revenue in the next couple of years, according to Barron’s. There will also be a push to open stores in China.

Learning from the pandemic’s massive effect on delivery, Subway is instituting Subway Delivers – a DoorDash service available on the brand’s website or app.

Burger King will be investing $250 million in technology, as well as “… new kitchen equipment, building enhancements and high-quality remodels and relocations over the next two years,” according to Eat This, Not That!


Price is a component of the value equation. Value is determined by the total branded experience a customer expects (functional, emotional, and social benefits) for the costs spent (in terms of time, money [price], and effort) multiplied by trust. 

Although none of the brands spoke about price, most of the brands in the restaurant industry have raised prices. Burger King announced that part of its remake is to push Burger King into more “premium” territory. Subway has raised prices over the past year. Starbucks raised prices from 30 cents to 70 cents.

New kitchen technology, simplified menus and digital connections also help to keep prices down. Lines and crew move faster. 


Promotions about creating an integrated approach to raising awareness, familiarity, and preference of the brand. Promotion includes every communication on behalf of the brand. 

Subway has been advertising its new sandwiches over the past year. The campaign used sports celebrities. However, only Burger King committed publicly to $150 million in advertising. This is a 30% increase over the past year. Advertising will tout BK’s new experience. Starbucks has not been as active as other brands when it comes to advertising. However, the brand is currently running ads for a few of its coffee varieties offering personalization (“Made to be yours”) as the benefit.

None of the brands discussed metrics. One must assume that many of these revitalizations are based on data. And, it is safe to say that decisions on actions will be measured. For example, the chicken sandwich Royal line quickly replaced the Ch’King sandwich because data showed Ch’King was faring poorly.

Covid-19 upended the trajectories of many brands by ushering in new customer behaviors, attitudes, needs and problems. Having a Plan To Win is critical not just for internal alignment but for succinctly articulating the brand’s direction and actions and performance. The changes at Burger King, Subway and Starbucks show how each brand has outlined the necessary actions needed on the road to the future. Having a complete Plan to Win would be a more successful approach for each of these three brands.