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Increased demand for off-premises ushers in new era of restaurant design

Increased demand for off-premises ushers in new era of restaurant design
(Image credit: Micheile Henderson/Unsplash)

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The coronavirus pandemic sparked a surge in off-premises foodservice orders, and demand for takeout is likely to remain high as consumers continue to prioritize safety and convenience. Restaurants are responding to the trend with new store designs that put off-premises front and center with additional drive-thrus and features that turn takeout into an experience.

Drive-thru x2

One way eateries are preparing to deal with more take-out traffic is by doubling down on the drive-thru.

“Drive-thru operations are delivering a high ROI during the pandemic, offering convenience, speed, and the comfort of social distance to consumers using them,” NPD food industry adviser David Portalatin said in a statement. “Fast casual and traditional quick service chains have already announced expansion plans for their drive-thru operations, and more chains will be doing the same. Drive-thru and other off-premises operations will be a major part of the [US] restaurant industry’s recovery and future.”

Sandwich chain Schlotzsky’s saw its drive-thru sales grow by 40% during the pandemic, QSR reported. The uptick in drive-thru business was a key factor for the company when designing two new store prototypes, one of which is a drive-thru only concept with windows on both sides. One window functions like a traditional drive-thru, while the other can be used to serve customers in cars or as a staging area for delivery drivers.

Burger King, Taco Bell, El Pollo Loco and Del Taco are among the chains that have also included dual drive-thrus in their new store plans.

The return of the drive-in

In addition to double drive-thru windows, Burger King and Del Taco are also embracing another trend that’s likely to make a comeback at more restaurants: in-car dining.

Dedicated parking spaces at Del Taco will allow customers to eat their food as soon as they pick it up from the drive-thru, while Burger King plans to offer carside delivery for customers who order from the restaurant’s app. In-car dining is an option that more people may take advantage of as they return to workplaces but don’t want to eat in shared cafeterias.

Salad chain Sweetgreen is going one step further with a new store design it plans to roll out in Highlands Ranch, Colo., this year. The location will be the first drive-thru for the Los Angeles-based eatery and will also have a concierge who facilitates in-car ordering and dining.

“As we look at shifting consumer behavior, we are continuing to innovate the physical Sweetgreen experience in addition to our digital experience,” the company told “We’ve been testing an array of physical formats for a while now, and we’re excited to bring to life our version of the traditional drive-in.”

Turning takeout into an experience

The increasing focus on off-premises dining is driving some restaurateurs to get creative and add entertainment for customers while they wait to retrieve their orders.

New pizza concept Fly Pie, slated to open in Henderson, Nev., in April, will be drive-thru and walk-up only, but the founders designed the concept to keep guests entertained every step of the way. After placing an order at the aviation-themed eatery, customers will drive through a tunnel made to look like an airplane hangar while a short film starring the brand’s original animated characters is projected on the walls. In addition to the cartoons inspired by Fly Pie menu items, the experience will incorporate the element of scent.

“You may be watching a movie about a little churro tot gaining his confidence…and you’ll smell cinnamon and sugar,” co-founder Anthony Zuiker told the Las Vegas Review Journal. Before he got into the restaurant business, Zuiker’s career was in entertainment — he created the CSI television franchise — so it’s no surprise he’s bringing an element of showmanship to the brand. With no slowdown in sight for takeout meal options, it may not be long before more restaurants merge off-premises with eatertainment.

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