Restaurant, Retail

The restaurant of the future is not a restaurant

The traditional idea of the restaurant is rapidly changing as consumers' tastes and priorities change due to COVID-19.

By Joanne Heyob May 27, 2020
Courtesy: WD Partners

People have a fixed idea of what a restaurant is from years of experience. That time-honored definition of being a place where people pay to sit and have food served to them so they can eat there is about to become antiquated. The COVID-19 pandemic is only driving the point home as restaurants look to adapt to the new reality.

The troublesome quick-fix

The quick fix is often makeshift delivery stations/fulfillment kitchens shoved into the corner of the restaurant, complete with a few Pickup Parking Only signs in the parking lot. Then there’s the sacrificing of revenue to third-party services, but that’s an entirely separate article.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with a quick fix because at least those restaurants are trying to do something instead of dying a slow death. However, when you take an existing restaurant and modify it to be a pickup center/delivery hub/manufacturing facility, it’s almost guaranteed that the new restaurant is not designed for a better customer experience or for employee efficiency.

The resulting quick fix version of the traditionally-defined restaurant offers pickup and delivery, but pickup and delivery customers have to navigate to a certain corner of the restaurant and guests dining in the restaurant have a diminished experience because every five minutes someone walks past their table with to-go boxes and bags.

The non-restaurant restaurants

The better option, though, a 21st century foodservice operation, allows for sustainable growth. Our experience platform and food dispensary strategy take into account the new definitions of the restaurant and the new expectations of the restaurant customer.

As the name implies, an experience platform is designed around a unique dining experience that consumers are seeking when they are in the mood for dining away from home. This rendering depicts a potential experience platform.

The food dispensary is a brand-owned fulfillment hub designed to produce takeout/delivery meals for the surrounding area. It’s not shared with 73 other brands, it’s not part of a dark warehouse with no windows. It’s a kitchen that’s operated efficiently and exclusively for food that is consumed off-premise.

In order to complete the 21st century foodservice operation, the experience platform and the food dispensary must work in harmony via strategically selected locations throughout a region. Using sales data, a restaurant brand would determine location types where experiential locations are the right fit and dispensary locations provide fulfillment coverage and minimum wait times for the most customers.

While it may seem costly to revamp your fleet of restaurants, we’d argue it’s more expensive not to. The benefits of a well-oiled, strategically planned 21st century foodservice operation are extensive:

  • Less cost to operate
  • Less labor costs
  • No third-party platforms stealing revenue
  • Less buildout
  • Less maintenance.

Restaurants are definitively much more than just restaurants today. Whether they’re consuming their meals while watching the head chef, in between duckpin bowling or during a Netflix binge session, smart operators will adapt beyond the quick fix and reap the benefits of satisfied customers and happier employees.


This article originally appeared on WD Partners’ website. WD Partners is a CFE Media content partner.


Joanne Heyob
Author Bio: Joanne Heyob, SVP operations strategy & design, WD Partners