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9 prototypes that highlight restaurants of the future

Major brands’ new buildings offer a glimpse at where industry is headed

With supply chain pinches easing and permitting delays abating from the COVID-19 pandemic, some major restaurant brands spent 2023 executing new prototype designs.

From the double drive-thru at Captain D’s Express to food locker distribution at Whataburger Digital Kitchen, companies were executing on their new ideas to appeal to customers and drive sales.

As they worked to retain pandemic off-premises sales, the drive-thru remained a big part of the equation. Chicago-based McDonald’s Corp., for example, created its new CosMc’s in Bolingbrook, Ill., with four order bays that funnel into one drive-thru lane.

San Antonio, Texas-based Whataburger jettisoned the drive-thru lane altogether at its new Whataburger Digital Kitchen prototype in Bee Cave, Texas, northwest of Austin. It provided kiosk ordering and food lockers for pickup by customers and delivery drivers.

And given the increasing price of real estates, more companies were looking at reducing the footprints of their buildings. Oak Brook, Ill.-based Portillo’s, for example, opened its second drive-thru-only Portillo’s Pick Up store, providing no indoor seating and offering an infill strategy.


Joe Guith, CEO of Church’s Texas Chicken, said in an email that the brand plans to reimage more than 400 existing restaurants over the next two to three years under its Blaze concept.

“In addition to offering our 1,400- to 1,700-square-foot standalone unit with drive-thrus, we will be introducing a new compact prototype that offers a smaller, more efficient modern footprint (1,000 square feet) with multiple guest queues and drive-thrus that provides franchisees with the opportunity to generate a faster return on their investment without sacrificing AUV [average unit volume], in addition to improving speed of service for guests,” Guith said.

 “The future of the quick-service restaurant industry, and for Church’s Texas Chicken in particular, is going to continue to be driven by innovation – from technology to menus to restaurant models,” Guith said. “Our new prototype is an example of that type of forward-looking thinking, with a design that creates a clear alignment of interests between the brand, franchisees, and, most importantly, our guests by prioritizing efficiency, flexibility, and cost containment.”

Here’s a look at nine companies that debuted or expanded prototypes in 2023.

Update Dec. 7, 2023: This story has been edited to include information from Church's Texas Chicken.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

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