Nine Brands Changing up Restaurant Designs to Put Off-Premises at the Forefront

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The toughest year in history for restaurants has a common bright spot: off-premises became the star. Now, brands across the country are revamping their future restaurant designs to facilitate not only off-prem but digital ordering and payment.

During 2020 and 2021, restaurant brands seemingly accelerated their design and announcement of new store concepts. Consumer adoption of digital and off-premises appears to be no mere passing Covid-driven fad. So the concepts envisioned by restaurant chains nationwide reflect these trends, which emphasize off-premises service channels of every ‘flavor’ and variety.

As innovators at heart, the people at Xenial share the entrepreneur’s spirit for envisioning—and building—what’s next. This era of transformation in the restaurant space came on quickly after decades without much change in service models. The advent of online ordering, third-party delivery, and an influx of new technologies, have driven changes only accelerated by Covid-19-prompted social distancing. We’re on a wild and exciting trajectory, and it will be exciting to see these concepts become reality over the coming months and years.

In the spirit of innovation, we thought it would be fun to look at nine brands working to launch the future of quick serve and fast casual.

Portillo’s

To-go only, and a triple drive-thru lane? Portillo's plans to open its first to-go-only location, minus the dining room, this winter in Joliet, Illinois. Appropriately named Portillo’s Pick Up, the location will offer a pick-up area serving orders placed online and through the company’s app, while three drive-thru lanes will keep crowds of hungry customers happy in triple-time. Portillos said the store will also prepare catering and delivery orders.

 

Krystal

Also pivoting to serve more off-premises orders and to lean into the popularity and success of its breakfast and late night menus, Krystal has announced it is developing a prototype location in Atlanta, Georgia. Like the Portillos Pick Up, the Krystal location will lack a dining room. Its footprint will be smaller, and its focus will be on serving off-premises orders through a walk-up window and dual-lane drive-thru. In line with the popularity of online and mobile ordering, the location will also offer a pickup area for online and third-party orders.

Taco Bell  “Go Mobile”

Often an early mover when it comes to innovation, Taco Bell announced its future restaurant concept back in March 2020. Common themes include a smaller location serving primarily curbside  / off-premises orders placed in the drive-thru, online/in-app, or through a third party. A longtime front-runner in a number of areas and early adopter of things like digital guest experiences, Taco Bell continues to emphasize technology in its innovation roadmap. For example, both the 2020 and 2021 announcements of its Go Mobile concept mentioned technology that senses when guests arrive onsite. The company is also known for extending its brand with concepts that break the mold like its Cantina in California and a wedding chapel in Las Vegas.

Jack in the Box

Jack in the Box is building three of what could be many more drive-thru only locations, the first to be completed is in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The compact and efficiently designed concept will serve two drive-thru lanes: one for drive-up orders and the other for mobile/online/third-party orders. Jack in the Box emphasized what is common among other emerging quick-serve restaurant concepts: reinventing both spaces and processes to improve efficiency for franchisees and corporate operators alike.

Wendy’s

Wendy’s vision for the future may include the broadest array of concepts of any quick serve restaurant chain. The pandemic accelerated—and perhaps broadened—the brand’s design ambitions. The company is leading its concept design with a goal to meet guests wherever they are. Its wide-ranging concepts testify to this, some of them could call ‘non-traditional’:

 
  • Locations serving only drive-thru/off-premises
  • Frosty carts
  • ‘Delivery only’ locations, taking the form of a ‘Neighborhood Kitchen’ with the look and feel of a food truck
  • Strategically placed mobile ‘dark kitchens’
  • Merging and improved integration of digital and physical experiences
  • Covered outdoor seating on-site
  • Indoor pick-up-only area separate from the dining room
 

KFC (Yum! Brands)

KFC’s prototype offers guests and food delivery personnel the opportunity to pick up orders from a cubby instead of a person. The brand will also set aside dedicated parking stalls for curbside pickup and delivery. Smaller designs don’t have a dining room, and newer stores that do will offer outdoor seating and smaller indoor seating areas. KFC is expected to offer self-order kiosks, which is one way to minimize human-to-human interaction for those concerned about the spread of a virus or other disease.

Shake Shack

Shake Shack rapidly became a popular fast casual brand. The company plans to go in a completely new direction with the launch of new store designs that add drive-thrus (three). Walk-up windows will also be featured, but the brand stated that neither of these service options are meant to replace the dining room experience. Rather, they’re intended to provide convenient options. 

El Pollo Loco

El Pollo Loco is planning two concepts for the future of its restaurants. One focuses on off-premises and outdoor dining. The other retains indoor dining (albeit a smaller footprint than existing restaurants), that extends outward onto an ample outdoor patio seating  area via roll-up garage-style doors. Both offer a takeout window, two drive-thrus, curbside pickup parking, and cubbies for order pickup. The brand is also emphasizing digital experiences via the company’s mobile app and GPS-enabled order pickup at curbside.

Checkers / Rally’s

In line with other brands envisioning their future, the popular fast-food brand plans to include a focus on serving guests ‘to-go’ with walk-up windows, al-fresco dining patios, and drive-thrus. The company offers guests the digital experiences today’s restaurant customers crave, including a mobile app and loyalty program.

Closing Thoughts

Do your restaurant technology vendors offer a one-size-fits all solution, or do they work with you to turn your vision into reality, and address your challenges and pains?

Daily, Xenial partners with leading brands to devise solutions from the ground up. Let us know how we can help you and your brand ‘imagineer’ what’s next.