Restaurants, like just about every other industry, saw their business uprooted by the coronavirus pandemic. Gone were the days of indoor dining and endless lineups for weekend brunch. Instead, takeout and delivery apps emerged as the only way to survive. Now, as mass vaccinations and re-openings are assisting with a return to normal, diners are used to the habits they picked up over the last 18 months. As such, restaurants are quickly shifting their operations for the post-pandemic diner.

Before the pandemic, IHOP was planning on launching Flip’d by IHOP, an on-the-go small format store for those who don't have time to sit down and enjoy their famous pancakes.

Jay Johns, President of IHOP, said in a press release that since announcing Flip'd in 2019, a lot has changed, and that their takeout concept has since evolved to meet diners' needs. "While we know there is a pent-up demand for a return to dining in restaurants, we anticipate that our delivery and takeout business is here to stay as consumer needs continue to shift and they seek out different ways to experience IHOP favorites."

The company is more prepared than ever as the pandemic has created a further push for a takeout model. Diners will be able to order from digital kiosks for a truly contactless experience when the premise rolls out later this year.

IHOP is also looking at expanding their loyalty program, which has grown since the pandemic began, with over 50% of consumers looking to register, in order to receive free pancakes and other special offers.

They aren't the only chain looking to revitalize their loyalty programs to keep customers coming back – Chipotle and Taco Bell have noticed an increase of 25-35% in business since introducing a loyalty program, and McDonald's is looking to revamp their program as well.

The Golden Arches has hired a customer experience team as they look to refresh how diners interact with the fast-food chain.

The company plans to bolster their digital, delivery, and drive-thru operations. While the three concepts weren't exactly new when the coronavirus took hold, over the past year, they've become paramount for the company moving forward. Plans are in place to pilot voice-ordering technology at 10 Chicago locations, and to reduce drive-thru wait times by 30 seconds per car.

Additionally, the MyMcDonald's loyalty program continues to roll out nation-wide. Already boasting 40 million users in six markets, the future is bright. McDonald's digital sales have grown by 70% since the beginning of the pandemic, so perfecting a seamless digital experience has been a top priority for their team.

Drive-thrus have fared well during the pandemic, offering safety and convenience, and the demand for on-the-go dining is here to stay. The level of convenience has allowed quick-service operators to boost sales, and allow for more business in smaller storefronts. And believe it or not, they too continue to evolve.

What does the future hold for drive-thru? Sure, technology and contactless ordering/payments play an important role for the fast-food consumer in 2021. But Taco Bell has just introduced a supersized drive-thru of the future, set for launch in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

Boasting four lanes, three of which will be devoted to mobile orders, hungry diners will scan a QR code when picking up their food. Food will be delivered via an elevated kitchen using a proprietary lift system, and will employ two-way audio and video technology so drivers and employees are still able to interact. It makes your local drive-thru seem a little archaic, doesn't it?

Consumer behavior has shifted greatly since March 2020, and ultimately, restaurants have responded. While "the restaurant of the future" was often discussed, the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurateurs to truly adopt those futuristic practices. With a focus on improving the customer experience, bolstering loyalty programs, and revitalizing the drive-thru experience, quick-service restaurants are setting themselves up for success now, and in the post-COVID world.