How the pandemic will change the design of fast food restaurants

As a result, the big chains have redesigned their restaurants to reflect the rapid change. They are reinvesting in store exteriors, with drive-thru lanes gaining in importance. Even the car park is getting a facelift with dedicated parking spaces for application orders or delivery drivers.

Unfortunately, that also means the end of the dining room for the time being. The chains are downplaying them because many states have placed restrictions on people’s ability and growing preference to eat away from strangers.

Burger King unveiled two new restaurant models in September, both featuring drive-thru, burger pick-up lockers, take-out counters and more.

What makes the new concept unique is the redesigned exterior and parking lot. Customers will be able to drive to a designated location, order through the app, and have food delivered to their car. The drive-thru service will be extended to three lanes, one of which is reserved for delivery drivers.

Restaurants will also be smaller: a prototype has no dining options inside. The other has a dining room and kitchen – with a treadmill for the steering wheel controls – suspended above the tracks.

Drive-thru and delivery were crucial to Burger King’s U.S. operations during the pandemic, when indoor dining was banned or restricted. In the second quarter, drive-thru sales made up 85% of total sales in the United States, up from about 67% of total sales at American restaurants last year.

The chain plans to build prototypes next year in Miami, Latin America and the Caribbean, and incorporate other elements into existing restaurants over time.

The exterior of a new Burger King.  (Rendering)


The interior of Chipotle's very first digital restaurant.

About half of Chipotle’s sales were made on its app or website in its last quarter. So she recently opened a one-of-a-kind restaurant to reflect this.

The upstate New York location is abandoning the dining room, and customers must pre-order through its app, website, or third-party apps like Uber Eats. This means that the traditional line of picking and choosing ingredients has disappeared in favor of the shelves. This translates to less face to face contact between customers and employees.

It’s also much smaller than a traditional restaurant, so the design can cost effectively in more urban areas where real estate is more expensive. Chipotle said it plans to open more in areas where it has “higher sales volume through digital commerce,” a spokesperson told CNN Business.


KFC's new design includes an outdoor dining area.  (Render / Nelson in the world)
Kentucky Fried Chicken revealed two new designs in November that highlight the fact that diners’ habits have shifted towards delivery rather than dining out – a trend that began before the pandemic, but was accelerated by the coronavirus , “proving a need for a design,” the company said.

One design abandons the traditional dining room, an option with less square footage that would be ideal for expansion into busier areas like cities where real estate is more expensive.

KFC’s other design emphasizes drive-thru, which accounted for 60% of the company’s sales in the third quarter. This design includes two drive-thru lanes, one of which is dedicated to mobile order pickup.

The new designs will be rolled out at three U.S. locations next year, including West Palm Beach, Indianapolis and central Kentucky.

KFC's redesigned drive-thru lanes.  (Rendering / Nelson Worldwide)


McDonald's is rethinking its drive-thru lanes.
McDonald’s wants to improve drive-thru speeds – to help customers, of course, but also in hopes of getting them to show up more often and spend more on their visits.

In November, it unveiled a better drive-thru experience that includes automated order taking and express pickup lanes for people who have placed digital orders. A simplified menu also made it possible to speed up the total transaction time by 30 seconds.

The chain is also testing concepts for restaurants that have little or no seating and focus solely on drive-thru, delivery and pickup. There are also dedicated parking spaces for mobile and online orders.

McDonald's is testing restaurant designs with little or no seating.


The interior of a Starbucks collection point in New York City.

Starbucks could have predicted the future without even knowing it.

Last year, it unveiled a store format called “Starbucks Pickup,” a seatless location that encourages orders from its app. The store measures around 1,000 square feet, almost half the size of a regular cafe’s 1,800 square feet, making it more attractive to build in areas with expensive real estate, such as cities.

There are only three of these locations (two in New York, one in Toronto) at the moment, but Starbucks plans to open more than 50 over the next year. He plans to have several hundred across the United States over the next three to five years.

Starbucks is also increasing the number of cafes that offer curbside pickup and building more locations with drive-thru lanes in the suburbs in the coming months.


Taco Bell is emphasizing the drive-thru lane in its redesign.

Taco Bell is reducing the number of seats in the dining room and adding a second drive-thru lane dedicated to pickup orders placed on its app.

The design, unveiled in August, also includes the addition of curbside pickup for contactless pickups and “bellboys” – masked employees posted outside taking customer orders on digital tablets. (Customers can still enter the restaurant and order at the counter.)

Owner Yum! Brands said demand for its drive-thru “skyrocketed” in its most recent quarter, with the taco chain serving 30 million more cars than a year ago. The first restaurant remodel with “Go Mobile” functionality opened in Oklahoma.

The exterior of a remodeled location in Oklahoma.

– Danielle Wiener-Bronner of CNN Business contributed to this report.

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