First and foremost, small is now BIG
Above all, the quick-service restaurant of the future is smaller. With lingering anxieties about dining in and a surge in off-premises orders, quick serves are slicing their traditional footprints to accommodate new and projected realities.
“We don’t need to build a 4,000-square-foot restaurant in an area in which we’re doing 95 percent drive-thru business,” CKE’s Walls says.
Smaller stores generally reduce construction time and expenses before shrinking occupancy costs. This positions brands, especially franchised concepts, to capture a lower investment cost while heightening ROI potential.
The conventional store at upstart Florida-based chain Chick’nCone covered some 1,200 square feet and featured about two dozen seats and an exhibition kitchen—the aptly named waffle theatre. Today, the brand touts a new 360-square foot shipping container prototype entirely devoted to off-premises traffic with a walk-up window and drive-thru lane. Two such units are already operating in Dubai, while the chain’s first such domestic unit will open this summer.
Compared to the company’s conventional restaurant design, Chick’nCone CEO Jonathan Almanzar says this new prototype slices upward of 40 percent off the costs and time needed to open the unit.
“You can’t argue with those numbers,” he says.
Mexican chain QDOBA, meanwhile, historically favored units of 2,400–2,600 square feet. With its new store prototype, however, it is reducing square footage about 20 percent to 2,000–2,200 square feet.
Notably, the push toward smaller-format concepts focused on off-premises orders is also being adopted by traditional full-service restaurant brands as well, which injects added competition into the quick-service marketplace. TGI Fridays’ “Fridays on the Fly,” for instance, is a 2,500-square-foot space with limited indoor dining and a hefty focus on processing takeout and delivery orders. Full-service giants like IHOP and Buffalo Wild Wings have similarly unveiled prototypes with reduced store footprints as has Ballas’ East Coast Wings. From the 4,500-square foot box it once inhabited, East Coast Wings now features a 2,100-square foot space with fast casual-like elements such as counter ordering.
“The smaller box size equals a reduced investment without a significant falloff in revenue,” Ballas says.