The Restaurant of the Future Is Not a Restaurant

The Restaurant of the Future Is Not a Restaurant

By Lee Peterson

You would think it would be impossible for the definition of “restaurant” to change. It’s a fairly straightforward concept.

restaurant (noun) – a place where people pay to sit and eat meals that are cooked and served on the premises

Well, all apologies to Merriam-Webster, but it’s not that simple anymore.

60% of US consumers order delivery or takeout once a week

Yet at the same time…

76% of people under 25 said they like to hang out with their friends at a restaurant

Now it’s fairly easy to see why the original restaurant definition is dated, at best.

What is a Restaurant Now?

It’s an online order pickup center

It’s a delivery hub                           

It’s an experience platform

It’s a Wifi hangout

It’s a manufacturing facility

It’s safe to say the restaurant has gotten a lot more complicated.

Restaurant operators are familiar with the challenges associated with being so many things at once. Running a successful restaurant now requires dedicating extensive hours and workforce to tasks that go well beyond the making and marketing of food. The problem only multiplies for restaurants with a number of locations.

The Troublesome Quick Fix

The quick fix is often makeshift delivery stations/fulfillment kitchens shoved into the corner of the restaurant, complete with a few Pickup Parking Only signs in the parking lot. Then there’s the sacrificing of revenue to third-party services, but that’s an entirely separate article.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with a quick fix, because at least those restaurants are trying to do something, instead of dying a slow death. But when you take an existing restaurant and modify it to be a pickup center/delivery hub/manufacturing facility, it’s almost guaranteed that the new restaurant is not designed for a better customer experience or for employee efficiency.

The resulting quick fix version of the traditionally-defined restaurant offers pickup and delivery, but pickup and delivery customers have to navigate to a certain corner of the restaurant and guests dining in the restaurant have a diminished experience because every five minutes someone walks past their table with to-go boxes and bags.

The Non-Restaurant Restaurants

The better option, though, a 21st century foodservice operation, allows for sustainable growth. This operation features two key restaurants as part of its portfolio: the experience platform and the food dispensary. Our experience platform and food dispensary strategy take into account the new definitions of the restaurant and the new expectations of the restaurant customer.

Our experience platform and food dispensary strategy take into account the new definitions of the restaurant and the new expectations of the restaurant customer

As the name implies, an experience platform is designed around a unique dining experience that consumers are seeking when they are in the mood for dining away from home. This rendering depicts a potential experience platform.

The food dispensary is a brand-owned fulfillment hub designed to produce takeout/delivery meals for the surrounding area. It’s not shared with 73 other brands, it’s not part of a dark warehouse with no windows. It’s a kitchen that’s operated efficiently and exclusively for food that is consumed off-premise. Our rendering shows what a brand-controlled food dispensary looks like.

In order to complete the 21st century foodservice operation, the experience platform and the food dispensary must work in harmony via strategically selected locations throughout a region.
This illustration (below) shows an example of the way this lines up with a city like Columbus, OH. Using sales data, a restaurant brand would determine location types where experiential locations are the right fit and dispensary locations provide fulfillment coverage and minimum wait times for the most customers.

While it may seem costly to revamp your fleet of restaurants, we’d argue it’s more expensive not to. The benefits of a well-oiled, strategically planned 21st century foodservice operation are extensive:

  • Less cost to operate
  • Less labor costs
  • No third-party platforms stealing revenue
  • Less buildout
  • Less maintenance

Restaurants are definitively much more than just restaurants today. Whether they’re consuming their meals while watching the head chef, in between duckpin bowling or during a Netflix binge session, smart operators will adapt beyond the quick fix and reap the benefits of satisfied customers and happier employees.

Lee Peterson
Lee Peterson
Executive Vice President, Thought Leadership & Marketing
WD Partners
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