Smaller footprints and more options for pickup are part of new wave of socially distant, space-efficient restaurant designs.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, restaurants instantly had to change the way they served food to customers. With dining rooms closed and health precautions in place, fast-food restaurants slimmed down menus, improved online ordering, and expanded the ways customers could get pick up their food. Now, many of these operators are embracing those changes as they look towards a post-COVID world. Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Shake Shack, and Chipotle all have introduced new store designs that maximize pickup options and reduce dining space.

Fast-food and quick-serve restaurants were already beginning to utilize digital ordering and quick pickup before the pandemic began. Customers flocked to these restaurants knowing they could order and pick up their food in an easy, contactless way. To meet the growing demand, restaurants added options like curbside pickup to online ordering apps and hired employees to run food out to cars. The food “bellhops” are reminiscent of the of popular drive-in restaurants of the '50s and '60s where families ate in their cars instead of dining rooms.

The pandemic inspired fast-food purveyors to work on solutions to serve customers faster, with as little contact with staff as possible. New architectural designs show restaurants reducing the size of stores by 50 percent or more, adding additional drive-thru lanes, and creating dedicated parking spots for pickup and curbside delivery. Quick-serve walk-up restaurants like Chipotle and Shake Shack are switching business models, adding drive-thru lanes to new and existing stores. Many fast-food restaurants are also adding dedicated lanes just for the pickup of online/app orders. 

New Burger King store design, courtesy Burger King

Even after the pandemic is under control, restaurants plan to continue serving customers in socially distant ways. New Burger King stores will have the kitchen and dining room suspended over the drive-thru lanes, reducing the blueprint of the building and size of the dining space. Customers will also be able to pick up orders from lockers located directly outside of the kitchen. 

“The designs we’ve created completely integrate restaurant functionality and technology. The restaurant of the tomorrow merges the best functional technology with unique modern design to elevate our Burger King guest experience,” said Rapha Abreu, Global Head of Design at Restaurant Brands International. “We designed the interior and exterior spaces like we had a blank sheet of paper, designing without preconceived notions of how a Burger King restaurant should look.”

Kentucky Fried Chicken recently opened a drive-thru-only version of its chicken restaurant in Australia. The new concept allows consumers to get their favorite KFC chicken while eliminating the option to dine in. Restaurants are also evaluating menus to include items that visitors can easily consume in their cars. Amazon now has a growing category of devices to make eating in your car cleaner and easier. Special trays attach to the steering wheel or seat back, providing a small table where you can eat.

What do you think about the new designs of fast-food restaurants? Do you think these designs actually limit the amount of contact with restaurant employees? Tell us in the comments!