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Restaurant Chains Pivot From Dine-In to Drive-Thru With New Concepts
09/10/21

Restaurant Chains Pivot From Dine-In to Drive-Thru With New Concepts

Multinational restaurant chains Taco Bell and Burger King have introduced new, innovatively designed store concepts that focus on the mobile customer experience and offer freshly redesigned brick-and-mortar offerings like 3-and-4 lane drive-thrus and suspended kitchens.

The prototype redesigns focus on speed of delivery and an elevated mobile-first experience by offering dedicated drive-thru lanes for delivery drivers as well as a 100% touchless pickup experience. Taco Bell’s concept, called Taco Bell “Defy” and designed by Vertical Works Inc., is set to open in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota over the summer of 2022. The restaurant location will include an elevated kitchen to minimize the store’s overall physical footprint, underneath which there will be four drive-thru lanes. Three of the four lanes will be dedicated to mobile orders and pickups for delivery, with the remaining lane functioning as a traditional drive-thru with the ability for customers to order via audio and video systems. For the mobile order lanes, customers check-in via QR code and retrieve their food from a contactless lift system connecting the elevated kitchen to the drive-thru down below that removes the need for human-to-human touch points during a traditional food pickup transaction. 

Burger King’s own redesign concept for the mobile-first customer is similarly constructed, with three drive-thru lanes above which are a suspended kitchen and small dining area. Orders are delivered to customers via a 100% touchless conveyor belt system, and one of the three drive-thru lanes is dedicated exclusively to delivery order couriers, with mobile-order customers also given their own exclusive pickup area. The design is a departure from typical fast food storefronts and interiors, which have historically catered to the dine-in experience, and highlights the changing expectations of the QSR customer. 

While the Taco Bell and Burger King store designs may be, at least from a purely visual standpoint, the most dramatically tailored to an increasingly adopted digital-first setting, other fast casual restaurants are also updating their retail environments to deliver a more fully supported omnichannel customer journey as well. Restaurant chain Panera Bread, primarily known for its dine-in experience, has made plans to update its restaurants with a bevy of contactless transaction options as well as an increased drive-thru presence, offering plans for two lanes with one exclusively dedicated to rapid pick up service, as well as new kiosk and mobile ordering options. In addition, urban-focused fast casual chains Sweetgreen and Shake Shack are introducing new drive-thru options, in a first for both. Shake Shack’s new drive-thru will open in Orlando, Florida; while Sweetgreen is piloting its new driver-friendly store model in Highland Park, Colorado. Both chains plan to expand their drive-thru and drive-in options as they continue to grow their locations. 

The emphasis on a dining experience that leverages drive-thru and other contactless options as opposed to the more historically traditional dine-in customer journey is part of a broader trend PSFK researchers have seen as consumers increasingly embrace the ease of mobile-first and frictionless digital omnichannel dining options, and restaurants in turn pivot from more traditional pure-play dine-in models to adopt flexible formats that serve mobile, online, drive-thru, and in-store customers equally. 

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This article originally appeared in PSFK’s research paper, Restaurant CX Innovation: Delivering Value Through Elevated Services, Hyper Convenience & Curated Recommendations