Digital Has A New, Changed Importance In QSR, And It’s Probably Not Temporary

Via QSR Magazine

If you can cast your mind waaaay back, all the way to 2019, you may recall how restaurants with drive-thru restaurants were seen as unnecessary evils, full of idling vehicles adding to greenhouse gases.

They still are, but those drive-thru lanes have kept a lot of QSR businesses alive in the age of COVID-19, during periods when the inside dining areas in many towns and cities were ordered closed. Burger chains that did maybe 70% of their food orders from the drive-thru lane went to 95% or more.

I have heard from display manufacturers and integrators who are seeing a lot of inbound business from QSR and even fast-casual operators, all looking for digital display solutions that would facilitate added-on drive-thrus or curbside pickups.

It all speaks to how one of the knock-on effects of this miserable contagion has been a change in how the fast food industry operates. There’s an interesting piece up in the publication QSR that explores how the pandemic has forced a re-think on new location designs.

Chains that don’t normally have drive-thru, will.

Chains may have multiple lanes – some for ordering, others for curbside pickup, based off online or mobile orders (see main artwork).

Stores may get smaller footprints but bigger lots to handle the additional car traffic.

Limited dine-in may negate the need for digital menu-boards at order counters.

A push to doing most business outside would raise the need for high-brightness, outdoor-ready screens for menus, pre-selling, promotion and branding. They might also do notifications, notably for people who do curbside pick-up with eateries that don’t fit the QSR norm.

The QSR piece makes the point – as has been made as well by people following retail – that some of the changes in norms brought on by lockdowns and distancing are likely to stick. When people get conditioned to do things in new ways, they tend to stick with them. If you have done mobile pickup, and know you can walk in, skip a line, and just grab your paid order and go, you’re probably doing that from now on. Few people miss line-ups.

This is from the QSR piece, which spoke with Marty McCauley, design director at FRCH NELSON, a design firm based in Cincinnati:

McCauley says that FRCH NELSON specializes in designing buildings where every single inch is scrutinized. While that’s always been an exciting challenge for McCauley and his team, he says the stakes have been raised in a world where the majority of guests never enter storefronts. If that continues into the future—and McCauley and his team think that it might—restaurant companies and their design firms will face the new challenge of creating branding out of the smallest outdoor details.

These include signage, menuboards, pre-sell boards, drive-thru entry points, outdoor eating areas, and even pavement. Every element is a branding opportunity. 

“We come from a place of strategy and insight where we are seeking to connect the brand and the product to the guest and their needs,” McCauley says. “Yes, at a certain point we’re just picking what type of material will make up the building’s facade, but even something like that we have to think about. What is it communicating to the guest? What are the touchpoints throughout the journey, and how do we guide and create tools of connection within the store’s design? When it all comes together—the brand, the product, and the environment—the end result is always supposed to connect with guests … and all of that is part of what we do.” 

While no industry expert can say with certainty what store build-outs or customer behavior will look like in the future, it’s clear that off-premises will play a larger role in design than ever before. The pandemic has only accelerated what already felt inevitable pre-coronavirus. McCauley says there’s even some excitement over the direction this might lead the industry, and how storefronts will be designed in the future. 

“Everything is on the table right now,” he says. “Everyone we talk to now is so heavily relying on the digital brand to forge their relationship, and you can feel that change we’ve been anticipating for a while; dining in has become less emphasized, and you must find ways to ensure that the digital relationship is still a branded experience that connects the guest to the product. It’s exciting for us, honestly.”

 

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