In a year where COVID-19 forced every single brand to rethink operations, innovation abounded across the restaurant industry.
Fast-casual and fine-dining brands alike dove into drive-thru experiences, while quick-service brands revamped menus for ease of operation and lower operational cost. Others leaned into technology with the use of digital lockers, new app developments or artificial intelligence drive-thrus for customers.
Quick-service chains like Papa John’s and KFC redid the drive-thru, while Restaurant Brands International released the Burger King “Restaurant of Tomorrow” design that focuses even more on the drive-thru element.
And yet there was still more room for innovation.
Brands like Chipotle and KFC – along with many others – developed to-go-only stores with no seating. Starbucks’ new store it opened in November 2019, before the pandemic, had only a single podium for one barista to hand out orders, signaling the future trend.
This, obviously, was the prelude to virtual brands, many of which have been launched by large companies including Bloomin’ Brands, Brinker International, Smokey Bones and Lazy Dog. Ghost kitchens, too, are a trend, which Nathan’s Hot Dogs, Chick-fil-A and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit leaned into.
Many brands went the way of no-labor or no-storefront.
However, the new store prototypes Nation’s Restaurant News decided to highlight here year continue to support the idea of hospitality in brick-and-mortar locations. Don’t worry, there will be a virtual- and ghost-kitchen review of 2020, so look for that in the coming weeks.
In this gallery, see the new store prototypes and designs launched by restaurant companies in 2020.