The pandemic has had many unexpected effects on a range of industries, including construction and food service. Within this industry, restaurant construction has started to shift to focus on drive-thrus instead of dine-in establishments.

More Restaurant Construction Focusing on Drive-thrus

The most significant change in restaurant construction is balancing dine-in and drive-thrus to focusing more on drive-thrus. This includes many people in construction finding themselves working on drive-thru restaurants that are not typically known to have them.

Wawa and Shake Shack did not have any drive-thrus before the pandemic but are now building several. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks, and Panera Bread are all opening more drive-thrus without adding more locations. Some restaurants are adding extra lanes to their drive-thrus as well.

Shake Shack plans on building several types of drive-thrus. These will include traditional options for ordering onsite as well as pickup lanes for collecting digital orders. The latter may also have walk-up windows, which would be a mostly new concept for restaurant construction.

Figures Show Increases in Mobile Ordering and Delivery

In 2019, only 12% of restaurant franchisees had investment plans for deliveries, and only 25% had plans to invest in mobile ordering in 2020. In 2020, these figures jumped to 63% and 69% for 2021, increasing 51% and 44%, respectively.

Those increases mean that restaurants are focusing less on offering dining space. Instead, they are introducing more options for picking up mobile orders, much of which comes in the form of drive-thrus.

The 2020 survey found that 38% of respondents had added drive-thru capabilities or planned to do so. This was a direct pivot, thanks to consumer demand.

Some Restaurants Are Considering Drive-thru Only Locations or Adding Lanes

Some fast-food restaurants are even considering creating drive-thru-only locations, which would be a dramatic departure from previous restaurant construction. Arby’s is among these restaurants.

Other restaurants are turning their previous single-lane drive-thrus into dual-lane. McDonald’s is an example of these restaurants.

KFC developed a Next Generation prototype with two lanes. One is for ordering onsite, and the other is for mobile pickups to speed up times.

Restaurants and those in restaurant construction agree that few locations will consider having more than two lanes, simply due to space constraints.

Why the Pandemic Has Encouraged Drive-thru Construction

The reason for the boom in restaurant drive-thrus is pretty apparent. They allow people to reduce the level of contact between people, therefore improving safety.

The numbers support this rise in popularity of drive-thrus during the pandemic. Aaron Allen from restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates says that drive-thrus have had a double-digit increase in their revenue during the pandemic.

Landlords Are Also More Willing to Allow Drive-thrus in Restaurant Construction

Because of the pandemic, landlords renting to restaurants are also more willing than before to allow for drive-thru constructions and remodels. Most accept that their renters need to do well to pay rent, and drive-thrus will allow for that. The CFO of Chipotle, Jack Hartung, also said that if a landlord is not willing to accommodate a remodel with a drive-thru, restaurants can easily find another landlord that will.


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