How COVID Forever Changed the Future of Fast Food Design

Matthew Walls has a confession. For years, CKE Restaurants, the parent company of famous fast food brands Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, has built the restaurants it wanted to build. While consumers were certainly taken into account, stores were largely designed and built to meet corporate objectives.

But that philosophy ends this summer with the launch of a new Hardee’s restaurant prototype in Nolensville, Tennessee. At 2,500 square feet, the upcoming unit reduces the traditional Hardee’s footprint by more than 25 percent, while 22 interior seats are well below standard.

The Nolensville Hardee serves as a prelude to bigger changes underway at CKE. In the Tennessee-based restaurant company’s next-gen store designs, Walls teases multiple drive-thru lanes, a walk-in window devoted to third-party delivery, and a redesigned kitchen focused on optimization with new equipment, technologies and layout considerations .

“As customers become more savvy and there are more options available, it’s more important than ever to listen to their voice,” said Walls, director of global development at CKE. “We had to stop our way of developing to best meet customer expectations.”

And CKE is far from alone.

Across the United States, quick service brands are aggressively changing store design to adapt to changing consumer preferences, many of which are fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. In TD Bank’s 2021 Restaurant Franchise Pulse Survey released earlier this year, 55% of restaurateurs said they planned to add more space for pick-up orders, while 45% planned other locations for drive-thru and 43% were looking to add outdoor dining. space. These numbers underscore the rapidly changing world of restaurant design.

As quick service brands strive to meet customer demand for contemporary, convenient and safe experiences, store models are changing at a rapid pace. To capture results and ensure long-term viability, today’s restaurant prototypes are imaginative, progressive, forward-thinking concoctions incorporating elements that were once unthinkable, such as interiors that eschew dine-in capabilities, stores with drive-thru only and three-way drive-thrus. .

“No customer, no revenue,” says Sam Ballas, founder and CEO of North Carolina-based East Coast Wings & Grill. “Either you figure out how to move your aim, or you’re missing something.”

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