Call it “restaurant-a-go-go.”
In a world of to-go, takeout, carryout and delivery, restaurants are increasingly modifying their designs to accommodate the shift in consumer demand.
“We’re always looking for ways to make Dunkin’ runs easier, faster and more convenient for our guests,” said Paul Murray, director of digital experience for Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., which opened a next-generation model in Corona, Calif., in March.
The new 2,000-square-foot unit features a dedicated pickup counter that customers can use to skip the line and quickly pickup their orders.
That desire to create a faster, more convenient experience for customers — and smoother operations in busy restaurants — is leading chains to rethink their store designs.
Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A has filed plans for a restaurant in Athens, Ga., that has a dedicated entrance for to-go orders. Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, owned by Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc., last year opened a new unit in Lake Worth, Texas, with a carryout entrance on the side of the building. And Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. has offered dedicated pickup counters in some newer units.
Smaller chains are updating the in-store experience as well.
Four locations of the 28-unit Tender Greens are designed with a dedicated area for to-go orders to make those off-premise purchases easier for the customer.
“The pick-up area is divided into a delivery and guest pickup section,” said Christina Wong, senior director of communications for Culver City, Calif. based Tender Greens. “Third-party delivery companies can go directly to that section to find their orders, and guests’ orders are organized by name.”
The Tender Greens area also includes a station at the side so customers can gather utensils and bags, Wong said.
The largest section is at the Tender Greens at New York City’s Union Square, she added. Other pickup areas are in units in downtown San Francisco and at stores in Culver City and Santa Monica, Calif.
The designated to-go area is especially helpful in high volume locations like Union Square, “as to-go order volumes increase due to delivery, online and mobile app orders,” Wong said.
Convenience also was the main consideration when Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen opened a new 7,300-square-foot prototype in Lake Worth, Texas, last February, right before its sale to Darden Restaurants.
Ian Baines, Cheddar’s president, said the unit offers the chain’s first dedicated carryout area, which is close to the kitchen but separated from the main dining room and bar areas.
The carryout area has its own entrance on the right side of the building and its own registers. It serves as an alternative to the pickup spot in the bar area in older locations. At the time, Cheddar’s average carryout sales were about 8 percent.
“It’s a growing segment of the business in general,” Baines said. “It is much more efficient and easier for the guest.”
Darden, parent to such brands as Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, has put development of the Cheddar’s prototype on hold as it integrates the 154-unit concept into the parent company, a spokeswoman said.
Dallas-based TGI Fridays is also testing a grab-and-go area, similar to what is found in its airport locations, to accommodate customers at its Addison, Texas, location. A company executive said the area is especially aimed at lunch customers, many of whom come from nearby office buildings and want to get in and out of the restaurant quickly.
Designing for delivery
Restaurant delivery and takeout business has grown significantly. Delivery now represents 1.7 billion annual foodservice visits, according to The NPD Group, and, as of April 2017, a quarter of surveyed U.S. consumers said they had ordered delivery in the past three months.
“Takeout and delivery are booming, with no end in sight,” said Tré Musco, president and chief creative officer of the San Francisco-based design firm Tesser, which has worked with Chili’s Grill & Bar, Papa Murphy’s and Wendy’s.
While a range of restaurants are creating dedicated takeout areas, each case needs to be considered individually.
“For example, it may be a bad idea to put too much visual emphasis on the takeout/delivery location, discouraging dine-in customers who frequent the bar before and after dinner,” he said.
Given that takeout is also used by third-party delivery providers, restaurants must accommodate a variety of couriers, in addition to customers.
“This means the exterior and interior communication must be easy to navigate — clear signage and display,” Musco said. “From a brand point of view, takeout packaging should be an extension of the in-store experience. Are you natural, fun, social, healthy?”
Tesser looks at a restaurant client’s menu offerings and operational features, and then creates a layout to fit the square footage, location, number of doors, adjacent parking, hot hold and cold hold displays, point-of-sale display for add-on sales, traffic paths within the location and waiting areas.
Mobile orders require even more consideration, Musco said.
“Customers who use the app don’t want to feel like they are ‘cutting in line’ as they walk past the queue,” he said. “And because couriers are on the clock, you don’t want them muscling in past loyal families waiting for their table.”
The future of restaurant design will explore how to build smart locations by incorporating technology, he said, such as geofencing and license-plate readers.
Conveying the message
Even concepts that are based entirely on take-out, like Vancouver, Wash.-based Papa Murphy’s Holdings Inc.’s take-and-bake pizza stores, have altered their design to message convenience. Musco said the Tesser designers highlighted the customization in a prototype with a big “Create” on the wall.
“Half of Papa Murphy’s orders are placed via the website/phone, the other half walk-ins,” Musco said. “Being able to serve both types of customers efficiently was solved with a dual POS and L-shaped make line.”
When customers walk into a location, they immediately see menu boards and a message overhead that reads “Start Creating.” The toppings area is messaged with “Always Fresh,” and offers a clear view through custom millwork and glass. And right at the door is an area marked “Pick-Up,” with racks acting as beacons for online customers.
And with the redesigns, refreshed packaging and take-home paper goods can help communicate the convenience message.
Tesser worked with Chili’s Grill & Bar, the casual-dining division of Dallas-based Brinker International Inc., to create a new logo, signage and awnings for new locations, as well as smaller “To Go” locations, which have dedicated signage for the separate entrance and a packaging system.
“The trade-dress system is a strong kit of parts that meets the needs of the over dozen prototype buildings in the Chili’s system,” Musco said.
Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless