The rise and fall of Wendy’s sun rooms

In the 1980s, the Columbus-based fast-food chain Wendy’s added sun rooms to its restaurants. Now, they are a thing of the past.

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What do you miss about the 1990s in Columbus? | Photo via Wiki Commons

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Mentally, we’re in a 1990s Wendy’s sun room... or at least we wish we were.

Funny enough, we aren’t alone in this feeling. Our Columbus-based fast food chain caught more than our local hearts — it’s got a large chunk of the Internet living in nostalgia (exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C). And today, we’re shining a light on the history of Wendy’s sun rooms.

☀️ The start of “solariums”

A New York Times article from 1985 quotes Denny Lynch, then-vice president of communications for Wendy’s, calling the sun rooms, “solariums.” At that time, the company was installing 700 solariums into its 3,000 locations.

Lynch wanted the restaurant to look full because he believed that meant you had good food. This led to the large windows that were installed in the front of restaurants so those who passed by could peek inside. He also liked the added bonus of ambiance.

“You also have the opportunity to hang plants and create an upscale atmosphere,” Lynch told the New York Times. “And, here’s a real gold mine.”

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Online critics say this room would get too hot during the day — what do you think? | Screenshot via Twitter

🌥 Shuttering the sun rooms

By 2012, local reports indicate Wendy’s had plans to renovate most of its locations. This brought on a three year process where 1,400 restaurants were changed + while franchisee owned restaurants were a bit slower to make the switch. Columbus was one of the first cities targeted for these changes.

💭 Why the change?

At the time, Wendy’s had tested multiple store layouts in various cities + found customer reactions were reportedly best with its more urban design that we see today. Customer reactions seemed to drive most of the change, as people’s preferences for design + aesthetic had also changed.

Now, the Wendy’s of the future actually features big windows (albeit not as grandiose as the 1990s) + has a focus on third-party delivery services.

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