Shake Shack is modifying some store formats to be more off-premises friendly as the chain prepares to reopen dining rooms. These “Shack Track” stores, as they’re being dubbed, will include things like walk-up windows and more drive-thru lanes meant to encourage increased digital ordering, according to the company’s Q1 2020 earnings call this week.
Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti said on the call that the chain will start opening dining rooms regionally, though with reduced capacity to ensure social distancing guidelines are in place. There will also be fewer cashiers and kiosks in stores, and the chain plans to “shift guests to mobile and contactless pre-ordering.”
Hence the new store formats the company will test as it reopens restaurants. On the call Garutti also mentioned interior and exterior pickup windows and, where space permits, curbside pickup and drive-thru lanes, which is new for Shake Shack. The company has been testing these formats over the last several weeks while dining rooms remain shuttered. Garutti said the current pandemic has “reinforced how necessary and beneficial this strategy will be for Shake Shack.”
It has also reinforced how necessary digital ordering and payments will be to the future restaurant experience in general. On that front, Shake Shack is better prepared than most restaurants. As of April 29, digital channels represent roughly 80 percent of total Shake Shack sales. Garutti said on this week’s call that digital sales are “very literally keeping us in business.”
The new store formats will encourage this digital preordering, and Shake Shack said it will continue to improve its digital properties and eventually integrate delivery into those interfaces, which means less reliance on third-party services Shake Shack currently has partnerships with.
“Contactless” is definitely the buzzword du jour in the restaurant industry right now as businesses look to reopen while maintaining social distancing requirements. Not every restaurant has the cash or resources to double-down on expensive mobile apps made in-house, and so some are turning to restaurant tech companies for those digital capabilities.
Meanwhile, Shake Shack isn’t the only major chain tweaking its store format to fit our to-go-centric times. Chipotle was testing new store types long before the pandemic and will continue building those out. McDonald’s had to step on the brakes a little in terms of its Experience of the Future stores but will continue building some of those, as well.
These redesigns matter because they could set standards for the rest of the industry in the future. Smaller chains and independent restaurants have neither the time nor the money to extensively redesign their restaurants. But as states mandate reduced capacity in dining rooms, these smaller businesses may look to the major chains for guidance on how to incorporate off-premises ideas into their business. In time, a new, standardized restaurant format (or several) could emerge that no one would have predicted two years ago — and everyone will expect a decade from now.