Contact Us

More National Restaurant Brands Planning For Permanent Change In Diner Behavior

A KFC that only serves customers via its drive-thru in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

Though news of a coronavirus vaccine has rekindled hope for flagging parts of the commercial real estate industry, some leading names in the fast-food and restaurant sectors are planning for the pandemic to leave a permanent influence.

Major fast-food chains McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Burger King have all announced plans to expand drive-thru capabilities at their locations and open new, smaller locations with less space for indoor dining and more capability to fulfill online orders, Restaurant Dive and CNN report.

For Taco Bell and McDonald's, an extra drive-thru lane will be dedicated to members of the companies' app-based loyalty programs. McDonald's plans, which include a third window for larger and more complex orders, could be rolled out to as many as 10,000 locations globally, Restaurant Dive reports.

Meanwhile, design firms for sit-down restaurants are brainstorming ways to integrate or simulate airflow from the outside, decrease touch points between staff and customers and more seamlessly integrate the use of phones to order for takeout and dining in, Restaurant Dive reports. Many of the methods such firms envision would require comprehensive redesigns or even new construction.

McDonald's and Chipotle have also laid plans to build new locations designed solely for drive-thru, online ordering for pickup and delivery, essentially creating their own version of ghost kitchens. Casual dining chains Chili's, Applebee's and Chuck E. Cheese have all launched new brands that are only available for delivery but prepared in their normal restaurant kitchens, to early success, Bloomberg reports.

Ghost kitchens first gained notice as a concept to serve startup entities without enough capital for their own brick-and-mortar locations to establish a brand within a market. But Kitchen United Chief Business Officer Atul Sood told Bloomberg that "literally 90% of the top restaurants in the country" had inquired about the Google-backed startup's services this year.

At least one major operator has put its foot down firmly in the model it had before the pandemic: Waffle House will keep its restaurants open for indoor dining everywhere until the moment they are banned by state or local restrictions, CEO Walt Ehmer told Business Insider. He characterized the decision as a way to support workers, many of whom could be rendered obsolete in many of the above brands' planned adaptations.