With their austere interiors, Dunkin' Donuts outlets in the U.S. cater to grab-and-go commuters seeking their morning caffeine fix. But in South Korea, breakfast is traditionally consumed at home and most customers are young women and teenagers who go for a snack in the afternoon or evening.
"I come to Dunkin' nearly every day after lunch to drink coffee," said Shin Min-hye, 25 years old, an office worker at a Seoul law firm who was sipping an iced coffee and eating cacao honey dip munchkins at a Dunkin' outlet. She was there studying English with a friend. "I like to hang out here because I can stay as long as I want to....I sometimes study here for hours."
Dunkin' stores in Korea encourage that kind of lingering with plush orange and yellow chairs, wi-fi Internet access and plasma-screen televisions. But Dunkin's recently named chief executive, Nigel Travis, said he wants to get Koreans into the habit of picking up doughnuts and bagels on their way to work in the morning. "The trick we need to focus on is how we build a breakfast business," he said.
The first challenge: creating a morning coffee habit in South Korea, where older generations favor tea. To do that, the company in April opened a coffee-roasting facility in Korea -- its first outside the U.S. -- so it no longer has to import coffee from America.
There are commercials all over TV for Dunkin' Donuts coffee with Lee Min-ho of "Boys Over Flowers," though until this morning I didn't understand that they were saying "Roasting." Regarding altering the coffee and snack culture of Korea, I can't say I like hearing executives talk about creating habits, anymore than I like spending 3,500 won for what the menu says is "coffee." Dunkin' Donuts is good for what it is, though, a clean, usually roomy place to sit, chat, and eat some donuts. I'd kind of like to see this style imported back home, rather than the other way around.
For a look at how McDonald's changed itself to meet the needs of its East Asian markets, or rather how Asian customers localized the McDonald's experience, take a look at this post from February, and the book Golden Arches East by James L. Watson. From a 2003 interview with the author (.pdf file), talking here about Hong Kong:
At first the local McDonald’s management tried to make the students eat faster and leave sooner, but they just sat there. Soon, however, management decided that this was an excellent development because it created the image of McDonald’s as a safe, and therefore family-friendly, institution: No alcohol, no smoking, noprofanity, and most important in a place like Hong Kong, no triad gangsters.
And a little from the book about the difficulty of convincing Korean customers that McDonald's was actually a meal:
Since its introduction in the ninteenth century, bread has never been incorporated into the standard meal system; instead it is perceived as a snack food. The Korean term for snack is kansik, literally "in-between food." Meat, on the other hand, has always been a highly valued, desirable food, and it is eaten almost exclusively at mealtime. To attract a steady flow of customers who would make substantial purchases, McDonald's had to represent itself as a place where one ate a full meal, as opposed to a snack bar where people spend little money but stay for hours chatting. To the dismay of local management, most Koreans considered McDonald's restaurants to be snack bars . . . To change this perception, the "value meal" was introduced[.]
I suspect Dunkin' Donuts and other Western chains have to do similar soul-searching.