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These restaurant chains are unveiling new designs inspired by the pandemic

CNBC logo CNBC 9/5/2020 Amelia Lucas
  • Taco Bell, Shake Shack and Burger King are among the restaurant chains who have introduced new designs inspired by the pandemic and its impact on consumer behavior.
  • Among the new features in these designs are more drive-thru lanes.
  • Visits to drive-thrus skyrocketed by 26% in April, May and June, according to data from the NPD Group.
  • Other chains are accelerating plans to update their store formats with a focus on convenience.
Starbucks shift supervisor Adan Miranda wears a face mask as he serves a drink to a customer while standing behind a plexiglass shield in a booth outside the store in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2020. © Provided by CNBC Starbucks shift supervisor Adan Miranda wears a face mask as he serves a drink to a customer while standing behind a plexiglass shield in a booth outside the store in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, May 21, 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic is spurring on a growing number of restaurant chains to build restaurants with new bells and whistles focused on convenience and safety.

Concerns about the virus, restrictive lockdowns and disruptions to everyday routines have drastically changed consumer behavior this year. Customers downloaded restaurant apps for easy ordering and delivery, while others took to the drive-thru. Drive-thru visits increased by 26% in April, May and June, according to data from the NPD Group.

Some restaurant companies are accelerating plans to update their store formats with a focus on convenience. Starbucks, for example, is going to build more mobile pickup cafes this year and in 2021 than it previously thought. 

Others are taking a more drastic step and introducing entirely new designs based on how customers ordered and picked up their food during the pandemic.

Here are the three restaurant chains who have introduced new designs inspired by the pandemic:

Taco Bell

A rendering of a Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant © Provided by CNBC A rendering of a Taco Bell Go Mobile restaurant

The Yum Brands chain's newest design features a dual drive-thru lane and parking spots designated for contactless curbside pick-up. 

"We have a lot of franchisees interested in expanding drive-thru capacity," Taco Bell Global Chief Operating Officer Mike Grams said.


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In Taco Bell's second quarter, it served an additional 4.8 million cars through drive-thru lanes compared with a year earlier, even as its same-store sales declined 8%.

The new "Go Mobile" design will feature indoor shelves for claiming digital orders. The size of the dining rooms will vary depending on the market. The kitchens will be outfitted with technology that tells workers the fastest way to make the order and communicates to the customer the easiest way to pick up the food.

Shake Shack

a car parked on the side of a road: A rendering of Shake Shack's drive-up window © Provided by CNBC A rendering of Shake Shack's drive-up window

Shake Shack introduced its new Shack Track restaurants in early May.

The new format incorporates drive-up and walk-up windows, which will reserved for picking up digital orders. And for customers looking for a contactless experience, curbside pickup will become a permanent feature. At least eight locations will have the new design by the end of the year.

a sign on the side of a road: A rendering of Shake Shack's drive-thru lanes © Provided by CNBC A rendering of Shake Shack's drive-thru lanes

Shake Shack is also building its first-ever drive-thru lane that will launch in 2021 and allow customers to order on the spot.

Burger King

a clock on the side of a road: A rendering of Burger King's Next Level restaurant design © Provided by CNBC A rendering of Burger King's Next Level restaurant design

The Restaurant Brands International chain unveiled two new restaurant designs on Thursday that require about 60% less square footage than a traditional Burger King restaurant. 

The two-floor Next Level design includes up to three drive-thru lanes to the locations, with one lane specifically for delivery drivers. Its kitchen and indoor seating area jut out above the drive-thru lanes in a space-saving design measure. It also includes a walk-up window for takeout orders and parking spots designated for curbside pickup.

a sign on the side of a road: Burger King's Your Way restaurant design © Provided by CNBC Burger King's Your Way restaurant design

The Burger King Your Way design features just two drive-thru lanes and a shaded outdoor patio for on-premise dining. Customers can also park their cars under solar-powered canopies and have their Whoppers and fries delivered right to their cars after scanning a QR code at their parking spot and placing their order on Burger King's mobile app.

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