The depleted restaurant business begins refashioning its future
- December 1, 2020: Vol. 7, Number 11

The depleted restaurant business begins refashioning its future

by Mike Consol

As restaurants learn to subsist on a pandemic diet of fewer and fewer calories, they find themselves devising a new menu of survival strategies capable of bulking up their business regimen.

And what lessons have restauranteurs learned from their newly skittish diners? For starters, consumers want convenience, favor takeout orders or contactless delivery as compared with in-restaurant dining, want the process to be as efficient and frictionless as possible, and prefer to place their order via the internet.

Those are some of the conclusions from a Deloitte report titled The Restaurant of the Future Arrives Ahead of Schedule, a document based on two surveys of restaurant customers from December 2019 and June 2020, as well as interviews with executives from quick-service restaurants, fast casual and casual dining brands. The report examines new consumer demands amid the pandemic and how the restaurant industry is rebounding and preparing for long-term growth.

More than ever, consumers want to get their food and go — and quickly. Quick-service restaurant executives who participated in the research reported drive-through volume, once 20 percent of their business, has increased to 90 percent since the pandemic struck. This increase in off-premises orders is not likely to change anytime soon, according to the Deloitte report, as almost half (46 percent) of consumers expect their dining habits to remain at current COVID-19 levels for the foreseeable future.

Quick-service restaurants have been reconsidering their formats for some time, reflecting the demand for drive-through and the increasing desire for home delivery services, but when COVID-19 struck, the need for many of the proposed changes became more pressing. Technology integration has been part of the impetus for change, with Chipotle taking the lead with its Chipotlane concept, an app-based system that expedites drive-through service at the firm’s new locations. Wendy’s introduced a smaller format without indoor dining, offering drive-through and walk-up service. And, recently, Taco Bell and Burger King have released designs for smaller scale multi-lane drive-through formats, decreasing indoor seating and expanding outdoor seating and technology-based services. In addition, designs are circulating for reduced-scale KFC, Shake Shack, Sonic and Starbuck’s locations, with others soon to follow.

The new formats lend themselves to modular construction to quickly deploy these new outlets, according to Ikoniq, a manufacturer of steel modular buildings, whose in-house design team has developed concepts to support quick-serve restaurants and their new formats.

Beyond new physical formats, Deloitte says diners are gravitating to cohesive digital experiences. In fact, while diners at both quick-service and casual restaurants (think Applebees, Buffalo Wild Wing and TGI Friday’s) preferred interacting with cashiers prior to COVID-19, their preference for apps has significantly escalated. Among consumers surveyed, 70 percent said they prefer to order digitally for off-premise delivery, and 58 percent prefer to order digitally from a quick-service restaurant. Further, consumers are willing to pay an average of 14 percent more for this convenience. More than half (57 percent) have a third-party delivery app on their phones.

Consumers’ preference for online ordering has many restaurants worried about the consistency of their brand experience, when third-party vendors are used, causing them to consider taking back ownership of the experience. Not only does complete ownership of the ordering and delivery experience help to maintain control of the brand, it also gives the restaurant direct access to customer marketing and data to inform digital and loyalty programs, the report says. In the meantime, until restaurants can secure total ownership, social media presents a strong opportunity for restaurants to build brand loyalty, interact with diners and drive growth as 48 percent of consumers follow a restaurant or food brand’s account, and 21 percent have selected a restaurant based on a social media post.

As restaurants look to appeal to the digital experience, the report suggests they leverage technologies such as driverless or drone delivery, which 40 percent of consumers would consider for delivery of their food. Additionally, ghost kitchens are rising in popularity as more than half (56 percent) are willing to order from a restaurant without a customer-facing storefront. Regardless of the channel, restaurants must present a cohesive digital experience if they expect to keep customers engaged.

“COVID-19 has challenged restaurants by temporarily closing dining rooms, but it has also provided the industry the chance to seek out new opportunities to engage customers,” says Jean Chick, U.S. restaurant and food service leader at Deloitte. “Even before the pandemic, consumers were increasing their demands for convenience and digital engagement. Now more than ever, the ball is in each restaurant’s court. What they do to respond will shape the future of each brand. Restaurants that emerge from this unplanned inflection point in the industry’s history will be set up to provide a new standard in customer convenience, responsiveness, and safety that can pay off long after the tumult of this pandemic is over.”

Read the complete Deloitte report at this link:


Mike Consol ( is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.



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