Now that its apparent even contactless tech won’t bring back the glory days of the dining room, restaurant chains are on a tear to refit their existing stores to better serve to-go formats. Efforts run the gamut, from dumping the front of house altogether to geofencing the premises for faster pickup orders to building more drive-thru lanes.
Burger King just one-upped all those efforts. The decades-old burger chain has has compiled all of the above and then some into a whopper of a design prototype for future restaurants. Per a BK press release from this week, the new design — which hasn’t actually been implemented yet — is meant to serve multiple order and delivery formats and will be 60 percent smaller than a traditional BK location.
BK plans to accomplish that with the following:
- A drive-in area where customers scan a QR code then order and pay through the app. Food is delivered to the car.
- Curbside delivery and pickup lockers for customers who order ahead via the BK mobile app. The only element missing from this is geofencing tech for the curbside service, which other QSRs are now using to speed up operations.
- On-premises service. No surprise that this will be a much smaller part of the overall plan moving forward. In one design, BK swapped out the traditional dining room for a covered patio. See below for the other option.
- Double- and triple-lane drive-thrus. There will also be a walkup window and a view of the kitchen inside.
- Suspended kitchens and dining rooms are by far the most intriguing addition, and one we haven’t yet see from another QSR. The kitchen and dining room will hang above the drive-thru lane, cutting down on the restaurant’s overall physical footprint. For drive-thru guests, at least, orders are delivered via a conveyor belt system. This particular design also includes a dedicated drive-thru lane for delivery drivers and is, according to the press release, “a 100% touchless experience.”
The first real-life buildout of these designs will be in Miami and the Caribbean in 2021.
And while we wouldn’t expect other QSRs to produce a carbon copy of the design, it does feel that BK has raised the bar in terms of both standards and innovation when it comes to reformatting the restaurant experience. Some of the elements, like curbside pickup, are already fully established formats across most QSRs. Others, like triple drive-thru lanes, are more an anomaly. The hanging kitchen is, to the best of my knowledge, unheard of at any other QSR.
The design does raise some questions around what the company will expect of its franchisees. As we saw last year with McDonald’s, retrofitting stores is an expensive, sometimes frustrating endeavor for franchisees. If Burger King wants this wonder of the QSR world to set the new standard for restaurant chains, it will need to ensure new build outs and existing store updates are as pleasant an experience for franchisees as they seem poised to be for customers.
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NPD: Drive-Thru Visits Increased 26%
If there’s one true off-premises lifeline for QSRs during the pandemic, it’s the drive-thru. (Sorry not sorry, delivery.) The NPD Group underscored that point this week when it announced that drive-thru visits increased 26 percent in April, May, and June, and that this format “will be key to the industry’s future.”
It’s common knowledge at this point that those restaurants equipped with drive-thrus are faring much better than those that have traditionally focused on dine-in service. And some QSRs and fast casuals that historically never really offered drive-thru service are now doubling down on that format, including Chipotle and Shake Shack.
Even in July, when more restaurant dining rooms were opened, the number of drive-thru visits increased by 13 percent, according to NPD. That number represents the highest increase among all service modes in the restaurant (e.g., dine-in, takeout, delivery).
David Portalatin, a food industry advisor to NPD, said we should expect to see more chains switching to drive-thru in the future. Whether all of them come with a hanging kitchen and conveyor belt setup remains to be seen.
Fee Caps ‘Round the Web
This week, Santa Clara, CA moved to finally cap the commission fees third-party delivery services charge restaurants at 15 percent. The ordinance is effective immediately and will last “until the end of the pandemic.”
NYC extended its own emergency fee cap of 20 percent to be in effect 90 days after restaurants are allowed to operate dining rooms at full capacity. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to that distant day.
Back on the Left Coast, Los Angeles also extended its fee cap with the same criteria as NYC. Fees must remain at 15 percent or lower until LA restaurants can operate dining rooms at 100 percent capacity.