Restaurant Design: Easy & Profitable Changes to Make During the Pandemic

From local fine dining restaurants to chain quick-service restaurants, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the entire industry. Some, especially those with funds, have used this as a time to innovate. Others are looking ahead to colder months and simply trying to figure out how to keep their doors open through the winter.
It has been hard to keep up this year considering all the uncertainty. Mandated restrictions can change in the blink of an eye and all the effort you just put into reopening can be dashed just like that: perishable supplies go to waste, recently rehired staff are let go, and so on. Although many things are unpredictable currently, there are some changes sweeping across the restaurant industry that are already proving themselves successful and showing that they may have staying power.

Whether you’re designing a new storefront or looking to make small and practical tweaks, there are update options that can bring your restaurant into 2021 and beyond…

Optimize your physical locations for takeout.

Have a dedicated area for food pickup. Incorporating this into restaurant design has been successful even before the pandemic. Allow people to pay ahead, either online, with an app, or over the phone. This way you can place their completed order on a shelf that’s near the entrance of your restaurant and not in a heavily trafficked area. When customers arrive to collect their takeout, they can simply grab and go. Burger King has actually released designs for new locations that include “food lockers” on the exterior for easy walk-up access. Shake Shack plans to incorporate drive-up and walk-up windows for picking up digital orders in some of their restaurant designs for next year. Your area does not have to be big or fancy if you do not have the space or funds. Customers just want a convenient pickup system that makes them feel safe.

Designate parking spots for those customers who are just picking up. This is actually another common practice that is bound to become even more popular as many restaurants make curbside pickup a permanent feature. Given human nature, people have become accustomed to this new and easy way of getting takeout and they aren’t going to want to turn back just because of a coronavirus vaccine. Simply create signage and markings for some of your parking spots that are closest to the entrance stating that they are held for curbside pickup customers. This can actually make the takeout process much more efficient.

If you’re opening a new storefront, consider a “ghost kitchen,” which foregoes dine-in areas completely. This is a move that Wingstop made this year. In doing so, their average location footprint shrunk from 1,750 square feet to 400 square feet, which greatly reduced overhead costs. Plus, it’s much easier to find a place where ghost kitchens can be successful. They don’t have to rely on attracting food traffic and converting them into diners, which is good news since there are way less people casually strolling these days. This can also lower costs further since you can choose locations with better rent rates. Wingstop actually saved so much money that they made a plan to open over 100 new stores during 2020, despite the pandemic.

Consider the benefits of a drive-thru if at all possible. This year, we’ve seen restaurants that didn’t have drive-thrus add one and some of those that did actually added more lanes. According to the NPD Group, visits to drive-thrus rose by 26% in April, May and June. In the second quarter of this year, Taco Bell alone served an additional 4.8 million cars through drive-thru lanes compared to their 2019 numbers. What’s extra astounding is that their in-store sales declined by 8% at the same locations. This shows that making changes based on new consumer desires can lead to profit, even during a difficult time.

Focus on your outdoor areas.

Find a way to incorporate outdoor seating. Not every restaurant was initially designed to have dining areas outside. If that applies to you, check in with your local government and see if there’s anything they can do to help. Many cities and towns across the United States have enacted new regulations to allow dining in public spaces, such as shut down streets or parking areas. It’s crucial to find some way to serve customers outside because many people feel more comfortable with that option currently. Plus, with all the indoor restrictions, this allows you to add more seats back into your plan and hopefully makes up for some of the revenue you lost from shrinking your indoor capacity.

Consider customer comfort. Again, not every restaurant was prepared to offer outdoor seating, but it doesn’t have to be a huge process to start adding pieces in. Even if your location is a ghost kitchen or quick-service restaurant, a few simple picnic tables outside could give your customers a place to sit and actually enjoy their meal before getting back in the car. If you already have nice tables and chairs for seating customers outside, but you’re located in a place where the temperatures are slowly but surely dropping, consider adding fire pits or heaters to extend the amount of time you can keep your outdoor space open. Umbrellas and coverings can also make your outdoor seating more inviting, even in temperate climates, because they help with shade and protection from some precipitation. Check out our options here.

Get creative. Interesting structures are popping up all over the country, from fiberglass igloos to fishing shacks to upscale yurts. Seating inside plastic bubbles that internally feel about 10 degrees warmer than the outdoors has actually become quite the trend in more urban areas; proof that keeping customers warm doesn’t have to be boring! Actually, this isn’t a new trend. Restauranteurs have been looking into ways to extend their outdoor patio season for the past few years. Because the ability to eat outside throughout the year is a growing demand in the industry, coming up with your own out of the box solution could be a great investment for your restaurant. Incorporating additional seating is not a pandemic-specific problem for many. Also, planning for weather doesn’t just mean the cold and the snow. According to a study from Foursquare and AccuWeather, this summer’s heavy rainfall in New York decreased restaurant visits by 14 percent. The right structure can help you fill more seats rain or shine for years to come. Whether you want to build a greenhouse or just put a more substantial roof over your patio, we say go for it. Although we do caution against going so wild that your structure doesn’t make sense with the aesthetic of your indoor rooms. But rest assured, diners are currently on the hunt for small spaces they can reserve for their private party that’s fun and unique. You could be just what they’re looking for! 

Think about expanding your services to include drive-in dining. Make sure the parking areas you dedicate to this are attractive and comfortable. Although these customers will be in their own vehicles, you still have to consider them as you would other outdoor diners. For example, can you make sure these spots are in a shaded area so that customers don’t have to idle with their AC blasting and their sunglasses on the whole time they eat?

Don’t pay to metaphorically put band-aids on the issues your restaurant is facing during the pandemic. Instead, invest in your future when and where you can. Consumer desires are shifting. Sure, a big part of that is due to the coronavirus but let the pitfalls of that inspire you to innovate. If you get too wrapped up in the negatives, it will be hard not to throw in the towel, and we don’t want to see you do that. It’s time to think outside the box!

Source: Batson River Brewing & Distilling

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