9 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.
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Panera just opened its first "next-generation" restaurant in Missouri last week, 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 their 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 will soon test a prototype location with no dining room at all. The first pick-up-only unit will open in Joliet, Ill. this winter and will have three drive-thru lanes instead.
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.
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. 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 to expand across the country in the coming years.
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