Restaurant operators are responding to ground-shifting trends in delivery, technology and consumer tastes with new concepts that aim to redefine more than just the menu. Here are some of the rollouts we’re watching, with implications for the industry overall.
Dedicated to off-premise
Most would concede that the long-suffering full-service segment has the most to gain from jumping on the off-premise bandwagon. How to do so, however, is a toss-up. Brands are trying everything from partnering with third-party delivery services and expanding catering to launching streamlined “express” units, as Buffalo Wild Wings did this summer with its B-Dubs Express test units.
Others such as Red Robin have gone further, opening kitchen-only locations designed solely to handle off-premise orders. It remains to be seen whether commissaries like these need to be attached to an established brand to flourish, or whether stand-alone, delivery- and takeout-only ideas—like Seaside’s from Lettuce Entertain You—can buck the fate suffered by similar concepts Maple and Sprig.
While Wendy’s, McDonald’s and other big QSRs continue to add self-ordering kiosks, the future of kiosk-only concepts is uncertain, now that the genre’s poster child, Eatsa, closed half its locations in the fall. And yet, new versions—such as Denver’s Birdcall (pictured)—continue to emerge. Shake Shack announced the opening of a cashless, kiosk-only unit in New York City in October, and Chicago chain Wow Bao—where guests have long been able to place their order at a kiosk or with a cashier—is launching a fully automated location, powered by Eatsa technology.
One thing to watch: Restaurants’ card-carrying-customers-only policies have sparked pushback from some that say it weighs against lower-income patrons who may not have access to credit.
Chick-fil-A and Shake Shack are set to open marquee locations in 2018. Chick-fil-A’s new outpost, its third in New York City, will be twice as large as any of its existing restaurants, with five floors (including space for private meetings), two kitchens and a rooftop terrace. A new Shake Shack restaurant will live on the ground floor of the chain’s new NYC headquarters, opening midyear.