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The “next-generation” restaurant format isn’t new, as QSR brands like Dunkin’ and McDonald’s can attest. But the restaurant industry’s sudden and in many ways irrevocable shift to off-premises formats in 2020 certainly increased both the number of restaurants revamping their store formats and the speed at which they are doing so.
And since everyone from Sonic to Del Taco seems to be announcing some kind of format revamp — physical, virtual, or both — these days, I thought it’d be worthwhile to round the top common denominators up to get a hint at which tactics will likely become widespread across the restaurant biz in the near future.
Herewith, are my top three QSR redesign trends:
More Curbside Pickup Spots
Digital order/payment capabilities are a must-have for restaurants now, and this technology coupled with curbside pickup is something we will see a lot more of in the near future.
For many restaurants, offering curbside pickup options is cheaper than building out a drive-thru lane and window. Outside of the technology, all a restaurant needs is to dedicate a few parking spots close to the building, some signage, and a staff person to run the orders out. Bigger brands may have the money to retrofit their existing stores with drive-thru, but for many mid-size and smaller restaurants, curbside is a more realistic option when it comes to fulfilling more off-premises orders.
For customers, digitally enhanced curbside pickup is increasingly seen as a cheap, fast alternative to delivery, which is getting more expensive for customers. (More on that in the next section.)
Curbside tech itself is getting some improvements to make the method faster and more efficient, Panera’s geofenced curbside initiative from 2020 being the obvious example. While efforts like these are the anomaly right now, more chains will adopt them and other curbside tech in the coming months.
Drive-thrus, Cruise-thrus, Chipotlanes
On the other hand, those that can swing the cost of adding a drive-thru should do so.
Some chains, like Applebee’s, are testing out the drive-thru concept for the first time. Chipotle is another good example of a restaurant chain that never offered the format before and has now shifted its entire strategy to accommodate more “Chipotlanes.” Ditto for Sonic, a restaurant better known for drive-ins than drive-thrus, and Pokeworks forthcoming “cruise-thru.”
Others, like QSRs that have always offered drive-thru, are expanding the format. Literally. Double, and triple drive-thru lanes, with some dedicated solely to mobile orders. are becoming the norm at the KFCs, Dunkin’s, and BKs of the world.
The common denominator of this common denominator is that tech is integrated into most of these drive-thru concepts, whether that’s through accommodating more mobile app orders or uses of artificial intelligence to improve order accuracy and upselling.
Mobile-Only Zones and Dedicated Delivery Areas
As anyone who’s been in a drive-thru line lately knows, restaurants are struggling to fulfill the influx of off-premises orders quickly. Many restaurants are addressing this by dedicating certain drive-thru lanes to mobile orders and for delivery drivers picking up orders. Some, like Dunkin’, have done this for years. Others, like Shake Shack, are new to the concept. Still others, namely Pokeworks, have taken the concept one step further and do not accommodate onsite ordering in the drive-thru lane at all.
Meanwhile, to keep third-party delivery drivers waiting on orders from taking up all the curbside spots, many restaurants are also building dedicated areas for delivery pickups. Del Taco, for example has both dedicated drive-thru lanes and pickup shelves for delivery orders.
None of the redesigns discussed above have been widely deployed yet; we can expect more of that in 2021. At that point, new standards for store designs will start to trickle down from the major brands listed here to mid-sized and smaller ones, further cementing the role of off-premises across the restaurant industry.
Postmates: the Latest Delivery Service to Raise Its Prices Post-Prop 22
After saying prices would remain the same for customers following the successful passing of Proposition 22, Postmates has now raised those same prices as high as $2.50 per order.
Postmates’ about-face follows similar price increases from Uber and DoorDash, according to a report from Eater San Francisco. It’s also a contradictory to the tagline these companies were pitching in the ramp-up to the Nov. 3 election—that Prop. 22 passing would allow them to continue operating in California and that prices for customers would not increase.
Prop. 22 passed in a 58 to 42 percent vote, which allows gig-economy the aforementioned companies to continue classifying their workers as independent contractors. Translation: Uber et al. do not have to pay worker benefits like healthcare, workers comp, and sick leave.
The delivery companies said that they would offer their own benefits package to workers that include a stipend for healthcare. The recent price hikes appear to be geared towards paying for those benefits. For example, the Postmates website calls it “the California Driver Benefits fee” and says that it “helps us fund the new benefits offered to drivers thanks to the passing of Prop 22.”
All of this feels pretty inevitable, to be honest. After all, one could hardly expect companies that are now infamous for predatory and dishonest business practices to subsidize workers’ benefits out of their own pockets. It’s just a shame more voters didn’t reach that conclusion before clicking “Yes” on the Prop. 22 measure.
Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web
Part of the plan President Joe Biden has issued to combat coronavirus includes providing clear, national guidelines for restaurants on how and when they can operate. Clear national guidelines would be developed around the safety of workers as well as things like restaurant capacity restrictions.
Olo partnered with customer feedback tech platform Tattle in order to improve the process of collecting restaurant guest feedback for off-premises orders. Tattle will integrate with the Olo platform to provide restaurant guests with a digital survey they can take after ordering from a restaurant.
Pathogen control tech company UV Angel has partnered with McDonald’s franchisees in Texas and Illinois to equip locations with proprietary ultraviolet light surface and air technology. UV Angel says its tech targets pathogens at the room level (as opposed to at the building level), which the company say is more effective in fighting airborne and surface-borne bacteria, viruses, and fungi.