Traditional fast food restaurant formats may be endangered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Burger King today unveiled new restaurant designs in response to the crisis, the latest in a string of similar announcements from several limited-service concepts.
The company’s “Restaurant of Tomorrow” plans were created by the Restaurant Brands International in-house design group with input from tech, operations and food innovation teams. The restaurants are 60% smaller than traditional BKs and are aimed at improving the guest experience by offering multiple ordering and delivery modes.
What that means specifically is a drive-in area (under solar-powered canopies) that allow guests to place their orders through the BK app and have their food delivered to the car; dedicated parking spots for curbside delivery; pickup lockers for mobile and delivery orders; multi-lane drive-thrus that provide a view into the kitchen; and an external walk-up window.
To enable this reduced footprint, the new design features a suspended kitchen and dining room above the drive-thru lanes. According to a news release, drive-thru guests have their orders delivered from the suspended kitchen by a conveyor belt system, and each lane has its own pick-up spot.
This news from Burger King should come as no surprise. During parent company Restaurant Brands International’s Q2 earnings call in early August, CEO José Cil said, “We think there is an opportunity to continue to enhance the off-premise abilities that we have, expanding drive-thrus to double drive-thru, expanding the experience in our existing drive-thrus … We have curbside now in mobile order and prepayment and pickup with our digital offering. We felt that was the case pre-COVID … we continue to see [off-premise] as an opportunity.”
No doubt a number of Burger King’s new design features leverage trends that have accelerated during the past few months as customers were forced to stay at home. New data from Rakuten Ready, for example, shows that order for pickup volume has increased by over 200% since March.
As such, several brands, including Burger King, Shake Shack
Then, there’s the multi-lane drive-thru and pickup areas. Chains have to find a way to keep heavy off-premise volumes flowing smoothly and expanding lanes is a sure-fire way to do just that.
Notably, the drive-thru was on a tear prior to the pandemic, with nearly 40% of consumers using the channel more in 2019 versus 2018. Credit consumers’ time-pressed schedules for this growth. The crisis grinded those schedules to a halt, however the drive-thru remained critical–table stakes, really–as dining room closures forced the need for restaurants to serve their food off-premise. On top of that material 2019 growth, drive-thru visits increased by 26% and represented 42% of all restaurant visits during April, May and June, according to The NPD Group.
The idea of consumers using restaurants in an off-premise setting isn’t likely going away when the pandemic subsides. That’s why several chains have enhanced their restaurant designs to cater to increased digital/carryout/delivery orders and that’s also why the drive-thru has garnered much attention.
Consider that just a few weeks ago, Taco Bell unveiled its new “Go Mobile” concept, which will make its debut in Q1 2021. The Go Mobile locations are about half of the size of a traditional Taco Bell restaurant and they include a dual drive-thru, curbside pickup and “bellhops” who facilitate orders at the drive-thru and curbside.
In a statement, Taco Bell COO Mike Grams said demand for the drive-thru is at an all-time high, adding, “we know adapting to meet our consumers’ rapidly changing needs has never been more important.”
This is also why Shake Shack–which currently has zero drive-thru restaurants in its entire portfolio–plans to add some drive-thru lanes and walkup windows in 2021, and why Chipotle is pressing the gas on its mobile drive-thru Chipotlane format. Dunkin’ was leaning heavily into its NextGen design last year, 90% of which include a drive-thru. The pandemic has caused the company to tweak that design to include larger on-the-go pickup areas, a walk-up window and “several drive-thru enhancements,” said Scott Murphy, president of Dunkin’ Americas, during the company’s Q2 call.
“The power of the drive-thru was never more evident than during COVID. When we closed dine-in service, our strong base of restaurants with a drive-thru continued to deliver at levels we’ve never seen before in our system,” he said.
No doubt one of the biggest industry narratives that has emerged from the pandemic is the swift growth of digital orders facilitating off-premise business, whether that business comes from the drive-thru, delivery or carryout. Toast data shows that 29% of consumers now place an online order a few times a month, for example, while 25% report they do so a few times a week. With its new restaurant designs, Burger King is betting on this consumer behavior shift to stick around in the long term.
And why wouldn’t it? Over 85% of order ahead for pickup customers plan to continue using the service post-COVID-19, according to Rakuten Ready. McKinsey & Company research shows that most categories have seen more than 10% growth in their online customer base during the crisis and many say they plan to continue digital habits after brick-and-mortar business returns. That includes curbside pickup, delivery and drive-thru.
“While some of these habits are seen as a work-around to the crisis, many at-home solutions to regular activities will likely be adopted for the long-term,” the McKinsey report states.
In the meantime, Burger King’s newly designed restaurants will debut in 2021 in Miami, Latin America and the Caribbean market.