Let's face it: The restaurant industry may never be the same after the coronavirus pandemic. Exactly how different will dining out be when fast-food restaurant capacity returns to normal? It's hard to say, but one thing that may start to disappear is indoor dining.
As fast-food chains were forced to close dining rooms across the country in the early stages of the pandemic, many shifted their attention to drive-thrus. Brands such as Chipotle, Dunkin, Starbucks, and more are adding on to their quick-service capabilities — and leaving indoor dining in the dust. Chipotle opened its 100th "Chipotlane" this year—up from only 10 in early 2019. The chain's chief revenue officer recently announced plans to open up to 100 more of innovative drive-thru pick-ups. (Here are 9 More Restaurant Chains That Closed Hundreds of Locations This Summer.)
Going through the drive-thru at McDonald's is about 30 seconds faster this year compared to 2019, according to a study released in October. With a smaller menu and decreased foot traffic, the chain cut the time customers wait in line to just under six minutes.
Burger King recently unveiled a new restaurant model, which includes a drive-in section, curbside delivery as an option, outdoor dining, and food lockers for to-go orders. The new model caters largely to takeout orders amid evolving consumer behaviors, but it is also designed to improve efficiency.
In addition to upgrading the drive-thru experience, some fast-food brands are also innovating in the delivery space. For example, more than 75% of Taco Bell locations are partnered with DoorDash, providing customers with a way to get burritos and chalupas without even leaving home. If you don't have an account, no need to worry. Taco Bell offers also delivery through Uber Eats, Postmates, and GrubHub. It also has its own delivery service, too.
There's no official word yet on whether or not some fast-food chains will cut indoor dining for good. But the focus on curbside orders, drive-thrus, and delivery has expanded to fast-casual restaurants, too. P.F. Chang's has opened smaller, to-go locations in Chicago and New York in 2020. Even more are coming to other parts of the country next.
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