How QSRs are Reinventing Their Physical Space

By Maria Chatzidakis and Kathy Leski


Before the pandemic, QSRs had been trending toward optimizing their spaces for mobile order and pickup with digitized menus and signage. These trends have now only accelerated as consumers are increasingly placing orders on devices via restaurant apps and cutting back on dining in. QSRs are adapting to this trend by evolving with and aligning to consumer behavior in three primary areas: mobile, digital, and physical 


Mobile Ordering
Consumers are increasingly using mobile applications to order at QSRs. According to Mintel, 49% of customers used mobile app and pre-order and would use again, and 33% of customers would even like a dedicated drive thru for mobile/online orders. Restaurant ordering apps, kiosks, and 3rd party delivery apps were preferred ordering methods well before the pandemic, but it’s predicted that QSRs received about 50 million mobile orders via restaurant or third-party apps through 2021, and mobile ordering is projected to drive more than 10% of sales for the sector this year.

McDonalds is a leading example as it began mobile order testing in 2017 and has only increased its capabilities since that time, making it the most downloaded fast-food app. Most other QSRs have created an app that includes specialized promotions to increase downloads (freebies often create the biggest boosts). In lieu of face-to-face interaction, mobile app features like rewards programs, push notifications, and gamification are serving as the primary methods for developing the customer relationships and building brand loyalty. In return, customers receive deeper personalization as well as a faster and more streamlined ordering experience—and of course, more freebies. 

Digital-Only Experiences
Kiosks and digital signage are reinventing how QSR’s are rendering their physical spaces, and the usage is only increasing, with kiosks expecting to be a $31 billion tech market within three years. According to Mintel, 33% of customers used a kiosk to order and pay and would use again, so creating a contactless environment means QSRs will rely heavily on technology, which will make way for more digital-only formats, like Chipotle’s Digital Kitchen, where all orders happen exclusively on mobile apps or websites.

Digital signage is also creating an opportunity for efficiency, not only for customers but for the franchises as well. With fluctuations in costs and supplies, QSR locations can update their digital menus in real time, creating a streamlined communication method for the end-users. 

The shift toward a digital-only experience will create a wealth of customer data not yet seen in the QSR industry. The opportunity to capture information will enhance QSRs’ digital marketing capabilities in a way that will lead to less of a reliance on traditional advertising mediums. The digital revolution in QSR is sure continue as the pandemic goes on and consumers become more accustomed to digital applications, with the next phase coming in the form of McDonald’s voice recognition software to automate drive-thru ordering

Physical Reconfigurations
In response to the increased mobile and digital ordering, QSRs have redefined their physical spaces, resulting in smaller and more flexible dining areas. Only 30% of U.S. consumers said that they’ll go to restaurants like they did pre-COVID-19. CFA, McDonalds, Taco Bell, Shake Shack, Wendy’s Burger King, Chipotle are building (or have built) prototypes with spaces that are 40-50% smaller, with little to no dining rooms and expanding their drive-thrus, curbsides, and rapid pickup areas. This evolution began prior to COVID-19 but accelerated under lockdowns and restrictions

Taco Bell’s “Go-Mobile” prototype is only 1325 square feet compared the average 2500 square foot restaurant. Chipotle is experimenting withChipotlane”, which is designated for drive-thru orders only. These innovations allow QSRs to enter new neighborhoods and regions that would not have previously accommodated a full-size restaurant. In addition to smaller spaces, QSRs have also adopted dedicated parking spots for curbside pickup and mobile order pickup, reinventing the parking lots as well. Express drive-thrus and pick-up-only shelves for mobile orders are also becoming more popular, not only for efficiency but also to create a sense of exclusivity and priority for consumers who use the mobile apps

So, what does the future hold for customer relationships that lack face-to-face interactions? Reducing the physical space will mean expanding the digital, so QSRs will need to continue incentivizing digital engagement with rewards programs and mobile exclusives, amplifying the service and personalization that customers receive by having a frictionless experience. 


About Maria Chatzidakis 
Maria is an Associate Consultant with a demonstrated understanding of marketing, supply chain, and operations technology. She is a Certified Prosci Change Management Practitioner and demonstrates a passion for optimizing workflows and solving complex business challenges for clients. 

About Kathy Leski 
Kathy has over 25 years of experience in introducing new solutions and directing technology development with specific experience in migration, change management, and implementation of several platforms. Her expertise spans multiple verticals, including CPG, retail, and pharma.