How The Growing Off-Premise Demand Is Changing the Future Restaurant

Dine-in business has dipped as off-premise restaurant sales have significantly increased. Much of that has to do with the coronavirus crisis, but the demand is projected to continue well beyond the pandemic because of the customer behavior shift it triggered. 

The dining room is shrinking as a result, to give way to a larger kitchen that accommodates both on and off-premise needs. Even casual dining operators where table service is bread and butter are reconfiguring their layouts to give room for to-go and delivery operations. Casual dining operators like Smokey Bones are testing to-go stations and drive-thrus. KFC recently came out with a restaurant prototype that focuses on takeout service, with an operation with few to no seats but replete with order processing and production areas such as two drive-thru lanes, parking spaces for delivery staff and curbside orders, cubby systems to handle online orders, and self-service kiosks. 

Some are skipping table service altogether by building or renting a production-only space known as “ghost kitchen” to focus on making those off-premise restaurant sales. These commercial kitchen spaces are becoming increasingly popular because they offer a way to start a restaurant business with less risk and lower overhead costs. 

The restaurant of the future will put a greater emphasis on a restaurant’s throughput as the conversation shifts from how to maximize a dining room to how many customers can be served. To most operators, it will feel like running two separate operations. The path of the food is no longer as straightforward as kitchen-to-dining-area because there are now multiple exit points. Future restaurant design takes great consideration of how orders from these channels will be received, organized, and delivered.

This involves the implementation of a system that seamlessly moves products in the right direction without off-premise interfering with on-premise. This will involve the use of technology and dedicated equipment fit for the new terminals like home delivery, to-go stations, drive-thrus, curbside pickup, and food lockers. 

Technology that helps you communicate with your customers regarding the status of their orders and how you can keep track of the multiple channels running at the same time will be vital to the efficiency of the operation.

future restaurant

But on-premise dining is getting better

Astronomic off-premise restaurant sales may be reducing the size of the dining room, but at the same time, it is also setting the bar higher for on-premise experience. 

Many are still making a conscious decision to dine out, and they are also choosing to spend more to get an experience whether it is as simple as splurging on appetizers or alcoholic drinks. Operators should not lose sight of providing a great experience for guests who choose to set foot into their restaurant precisely to enjoy that very experience. You need to develop a kitchen layout that provides enough prep and production space for both separate terminals without one getting in the way of the other.  

The convenience of dining in is no replacement for the comfort and human interaction unique to the dining experience. Restaurants and dining halls will continue to be an important part of the dining culture as the best venue for interaction, celebration, community, and connection outside the home. With that in mind, it is more important than ever that operators also step up their on-premise game.

evolution restaurant

Safe and sanitary environment

If it was even possible, the COVID-19 pandemic put a greater emphasis on safety and sanitation in a restaurant. Customers feel safer and more comfortable dining in a place where they “see” efforts in motion in the form of hand sanitizer stations, plexiglass barriers, regular cleaning and sanitation of tables and high-touch areas, and employees in protective gear. 

The future restaurant will have to take the time to show that the health of their customers is top of mind. More and more operators are removing the separation between the back and front of the house to create an open kitchen that provides a clear view of the chefs as they prepare meals. 

Customers want that transparency for your staff too. Future restaurateurs will have to take into account how to communicate their safety plan and the procedures in place that employees follow. Moving forward, operators will have to continue to require staff to take temperatures before starting work and certifying that they are in great shape with no symptoms of any disease.

While we might do away with partitions in booths, operators should be prepared to make sudden adjustments just in case physical distancing will be required. One way to do this is by breaking up tables to make more intimate areas, which will provide them leeway to set up barriers, for example, if such needs arise.

Inviting space

The dining area in your future restaurant should be an engaging and intimate space where your customers will feel at home and comfortable to bond. It may seem inconsequential, but the mere effort of putting up bright and festive decorations during holidays to give your restaurant more life can bring about the emotion that could convince people to walk through your door.

Pick out the best lighting choices that capture the atmosphere your customers would want to be in. Low lighting coupled with soft music sends the message that your establishment is a place where they can relax or enjoy an intimate dining experience with a loved one. Utilize as much natural lighting at breakfast or in high-energy places like cafes and family restaurants. And in trying times like the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to recognize that everyone is under a lot of pressure, and being easy to work with can go a long way. As we advance to the future of restaurant design, one thing that doesn’t change is the power of a staff who cares about providing five-star service.

Stellar tabletop

Building a great tabletop experience is walking the line between quality and cost-efficiency. The restaurant of the future should have cost-effective tableware that looks good but gets the job done. Your plates, glasses, and silverware should be able to perform well in challenging environments and can handle frequent use and routine sanitation and cleaning. Some amazing table innovations that tick all those boxes are continuously being developed and improved such as vinyl and synthetic wood designed to look like the real thing, only they are more durable. For operators who would like to keep the practice of handing physical menus to guests, choose an antibacterial material. Restaurants will also have to look for tables and chairs with sound-absorbing qualities to reduce the noise in both your dining area and the kitchen.

off-premise restaurant sales

Perfect acoustics

Sound control can be easy to overlook, but it can affect the customer experience in a drastic way. Your restaurant design should incorporate ways to mitigate noise. While this may not be much of an issue in a bar or a restaurant with a lively atmosphere, it is not the same for intimate dining spaces. Thankfully, managing the acoustics in your restaurant won’t require you to sacrifice your restaurant design. There are aesthetically pleasing soundproofing and sound-absorbing materials that you can use to minimize sound and reduce reverberation in your restaurant to create a comfortable environment that your customers would love to be in.

One of the options you can look into is foam paneling with fabric covers and PET felt that give you tons of flexibility in terms of sizes, shapes, and colors. Fiberglass panels also offer a great way to trap sound. According to RDD Mag, six to eight layers of drapery can achieve the same noise-reducing ability of two inches of foam. Areas above windows and glass walls should also have some form of acoustical treatment above. 

Floors might not need any treatment, but you also have the option to do so with materials like a floor underlayment or textured hard surface. Noise reduction will usually have to occur in the ceiling, so you have tons of options like hanging baffles and clouds, perforated acoustic wood, spray insulation on ceiling slabs or panels. You can even go with a wood-paneled ceiling with micro-perforation products. If your restaurant has an exposed ceiling, you could go with vertical baffles as well as layering materials that can be hidden in pockets. You can also add paneling between joists and wooden ceilings.

Delectable meal

At the end of the day, it all comes down to sharing a meal with people you love. While there is a risk that technology could make everything transactional, staying true to your goal of serving the best meals possible at any time of the day, at your dining room or at home, will make all the difference. A great meal can elevate one’s mood, start conversations, and foster connections. While person-to-person contact is probably the last thing people want in the age of the coronavirus, but people are not ready to give up that “personal touch” and human connection, not even with the perks of the digital one.


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