Adaptability is truly a great human phenomenon. Perhaps that's why we emerge from the worst of times with new knowledge and ways to thrive. This is precisely what we see happening across industries, particularly in the food and beverage industry.

Restaurant brands are evaluating their post-COVID-19 strategies. They have to devise ways to drive as much revenue as they can and satisfy new consumer expectations at the same time. They realize they have to adjust and adapt on the fly to deal with future changes.

With social distancing and a general fear of infection, there are some significant behavioral changes from consumers. Restauranteurs have adapted the safety-first mantra to meet these safety expectations. We have seen a fast evolution of no-touch ordering and payment systems, along with new takeout options. There have been some dine-in floor plan changes to meet the social distancing rules. Chances of these turning into significant changes are high as the coronavirus continues to linger.

In short, COVID-19 has paved the way for the "Restaurant of the Future." What we will see in the coming months is a slew of hybrid concepts. These are lessons that restaurants have learned and applied. Now, it will help them be successful in the "new normal." These hybrid concepts meet the current consumer and operational needs but still have the potential for long-term growth.

What brands are doing

COVID-19 has introduced new creative streams of revenue through unique ideas and hybrid concepts. These are well planned and designed to incorporate a restaurant's essential elements into a smaller, more efficient footprint.


The Mexican fast-casual brand Qdoba recently unveiled a Post-COVID Transformation with a series of prototypes for the future. It is reimagining the drive-thru with a focus on mobile ordering. It is also moving forward with ghost kitchen setups that focus on off-premises occasions and branding.

Shake Shack

The fast-casual chain announced its first drive-thru or walk-up window for half of its restaurants planned for 2021. There will also be digitally enabled pickup windows called "Shack Tracks." The brand also plans to showcase enhanced interior pickup curbside or dedicated delivery courier pickup areas for its remaining properties.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell has unveiled the "Go Mobile" concept for a digital future. Like many chains in today's pandemic climate, it seeks to create a digitally integrated and seamless customer experience. Customers can order ahead through Taco Bell's mobile app.

Taco Bell plans to double locations’ drive-thru lanes with a new priority pickup option for app users. A better digital and drive-thru experience with additional access points will attract more consumers. It will also help Taco Bell shrink its footprint to improve ROI.

Burger King

Burger King, too, has joined the bandwagon to create new dining experiences for the post-COVID world. Above the drive-thru lanes and a high-tech suspended kitchen, the dining room will provide a 100% touchless experience. The new designs will cut Burger King's physical footprint and dramatically improve the guest experience. The prototype boasts drive-ins and enhanced drive-thru experience, dedicated mobile order and curbside pickup areas, walk-up order sections, exterior dining spaces, and sustainable elements.

Other innovative options

Outdoor entertainment

With cold weather already setting in, outdoor dining options will lessen further. Consumers are resilient, and they want to eat at restaurants, even with limited seating, but the winter may not be the best time for that. Restaurants have to be flexible and adaptable as an ongoing formula for survival. Consumers will expect their favorite restaurants to be versatile and accommodate their needs.

The Restaurant of the Future can use space wisely and create entertainment. Transferring unused spaces and converting them for additional seating areas is a common thread here. Many restaurants are looking to create an outside entertainment opportunity where customers can purchase and eat their food in cars while being entertained.

Kitchen pods

Another unique idea being explored is the kitchen pod. This is an 8.5 by 40 feet space that can be leased and be up and running fast. These kitchen pods can be moved at any time, which will allow operators to maximize revenue.

Ghost kitchens

Ghost kitchens, also called cloud kitchens, first emerged as delivery-only restaurants that operate out of commercial kitchen spaces. They used third-party delivery services like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash to facilitate delivery. Now they are the source of new revenue streams. Many new virtual brands use these to prepare menu items in the restaurant's kitchen but offer them only through delivery.

Food trucks of the future

COVID-19 restrictions and limited revenue forced many regular and "chef-driven" restaurants to close. Some pivoted to customized food trucks to cater to their loyal customers. Chefs created a COVID-safe environment for these trucks that led to contactless service.

Curbside pickup

Many consumers prefer to pick up their orders rather than get their food delivered. Food hygiene is a major issue, so they feel curbside pickup is better. They believe their food will be hotter, safer, and higher quality if they pick it up. It is only natural that curbside will evolve as well with multiple lanes and more contactless payment options.