10 Fast-Food Chains That Are Phasing Out Dining Rooms
In order to make room for more drive-thru lanes and areas for curbside pickups, fast-food chains have been rethinking the concept of a modern-day restaurant with new design prototypes. And one element, in particular, seems to be taking up less and less real estate in a modern fast-food joint—the dining room.
As chains continue to unveil their future restaurant designs, many of them are reducing the sizes of their dining rooms, and in some cases getting rid of them altogether. Here are some of the biggest chains leading the charge in a move to off-premise dining.
Wingstop has decided to steadily make changes to help customers get in and out quickly, to then consume their wings from the comfort of their home (or anywhere else they please). Earlier this year, the popular wing chain tested its first-ever, seat-less prototype location that acted as a cash-less digital ordering and delivery option to residents of Dallas, TX. Ever since the pandemic, all orders made at Wingstop have either been for delivery and/or carry out, the company says, which was a major influence on the new innovative path.
Wingstop called it the "restaurant of the future" because after just three months, the chief growth officer told Insider, the new business model was seeing "encouraged" beginning sales results. Going forward, it's possible you will walk into a Wingstop only to see a lobby area for delivery drivers and customer pick-up racks with orders ready upon arrival.
This year, Taco Bell unveiled plans to reach a footprint of 10,000 stores in the next 10 years. The pandemic quickly changed how consumers interact with fast-food restaurants, and the chain has developed innovative store designs that capture these shifting priorities.
One of the biggest changes you'll see at these new Go Mobile Taco Bell locations are massive drive-thrus, followed by much smaller dining rooms placed just above them. At least 30 such locations will have been completed by the end of 2022.
Panera just opened a new concept restaurant in New York City that will be half the size of a regular Panera and feature limited counter seating instead of cozy nooks and booths. A second small location, dubbed Panera to Go, is slated to open next month in Union Square. It will forego seating altogether, reinforcing the chain's attempt to attract more customers on the go.
The restaurant also opened its first "next-generation" restaurant in Missouri this year, and besides double drive-thru lanes and new digital features, its dining room has gotten a makeover as well. For one, the new location and any future Panera store will have dining rooms that are about five times smaller than what you're used to. However, the chain is going for cozy and will be putting its bread-baking ovens on full display for customers to marvel at.
Burger King's "restaurant of the future," a prototype set to begin rolling out this year, will feature several novelties: massive drive-thrus, food lockers, conveyor belts, and in some cases . . . al fresco dining rooms. While some of the chain's new designs feature smaller dining rooms sitting directly atop drive-thru lanes, others forego a traditional interior altogether and instead include only a shaded patio for on-premise dining.
Portillo's, a beloved Chicago-based brand, is as known for its iconic hot dogs as it is for its large dining rooms. But the future looks very different for the chain and its customers. According to CEO Michael Osanloo, Portillo's is betting on off-premise sales as its main source of traffic, and its new locations will reflect this strategy.
Not only is Portillo's reducing the size of its dining rooms, but it opened a prototype location with no dining room at all. And it's been a success. "We're not just happy with the results," CEO Michael Osanloo said. "We're blown away by the results. It is performing far beyond our expectations."
IHOP may be a staple dine-in chain, but the brand is expanding with an on-the-go offshoot more suitable for takeout. Flip'd by IHOP is serving the iconic breakfast and lunch menu from IHOP but in portable packaging, and features much smaller locations with limited dining room areas.
Del Taco's idea of a post-pandemic restaurant was dubbed Fresh Flex—a new design offering a range of store sizes to prospective operators. Some of those options include small drive-thru-only locations sans dining rooms.
Not to be outdone in the way of drive-thru efficiency, McDonald's said last year it was also exploring an express restaurant model, which would forego the dining room and focus on drive-thru, takeout, and delivery services. The ultimate goal is less waiting and hotter food, said the company.
KFC announced last year that it was planning to slowly phase out its current restaurant design (dubbed the "American Showman") for one that puts less emphasis on dining in. It introduced two new designs that will drastically reduce its traditional dining rooms—one focused on drive-thru expansion in suburban areas, and one with lesser dine-in capacity for urban areas where real estate is expensive.
Besides adding its Chipotlanes across America (its proprietary drive-thru on steroids), Chipotle also tested a first-ever digital-only restaurant in New York state last year and opened a second one last year. The location doesn't have a dining room and its employees can't take in-store orders. Instead, customers have to place their orders through the chain's mobile app or website for pickup or delivery. You can expect to see this Chipotle setup continue to expand across the country in the coming years.
A version of this story was originally published in April 2022. It has been updated to include new information.
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