Fast food drive-thrus get a new shape up in coronavirus world

Chains like SONIC, Burger King and Taco Bell are paving the way with restaurant design plans to speed restaurant efficiencies

Drive-thrus are entering the next era of technological design that will focus on more efficient ordering and food delivery in order to meet changing consumer behaviors.

Chains like SONIC, Burger King and Taco Bell are paving the way with restaurant design plans that will roll out new options like dedicated mobile order and curbside pick-up areas, drive-in and walk-up areas with lanes dedicated to delivery-only services, as well as outdoor dinings spaces. Kitchens are also getting an upgrade with equipment that enables more productivity.

The change has been brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced fast-food chains to reimagine design functionality to keep pace with new demands, and major brands have begun setting a blueprint for what all drive-thrus might look like in the near future.


For example, SONIC's new brand identity and campaign will focus on making the work environments better and enhancing customer experience. A new restaurant design, called “Delight,” will feature 18 docks, a covered outdoor patio with twinkle lights and lawn games and a new drive-thru window. The new kitchen layout is more employee-friendly, with more windows for natural light rather than a confined working space.

Credit: SONIC

Credit: SONIC


“From an efficiency standpoint, we have moved the way we have designed the equipment to where we have reduced the number of steps and are able to serve our guests faster and in a more efficient way,” President of SONIC Claudia San Pedro told FOX Business. “In fact, what we’ve seen is with the initial kitchen design that we are able to move at least 62 new transactions a day in a faster time period. What that means for our drive-ins is the faster we can serve our guests, the more guests that we can serve and provide that experience.”

Taco Bell will also be adding a lane for delivery drivers only and enable curbside pickup, as a way to enhance its kitchen integration and accelerate ordering efficiencies.


Burger King’s recent unveiling, in partnership Restaurant Brands International, shows a premise that optimizes ordering and delivering modes and cuts the physical footprint of a traditional restaurant building and site by 60%. The new interior plans hinge on a more urbanistic concept, with one design option featuring kitchen and dining rooms suspended above the drive-thru lands in order, minimizing the building footprint. Guests ordering in the drive-thru lane will have their food delivered by a conveyor belt system.

Credit: Burger King

“In March our in-house design and tech team accelerated new restaurant design plans and pushed the limits of what a Burger King restaurant could be,” Restaurant Brands International Chief Operating Officer Josh Kobza said in a statement. “We took into consideration how consumer behaviors are changing and our guests will want to interact with our restaurants. The result is a new design concept that is attractive to guests and will allow our franchisees to maximize their return.”

Rather than waiting in long lines, Burger King’s new blueprint, which will be piloted n 2021 at select areas, will have drive-in areas under solar-powered canopies where customers can place their order through an app and have it delivered on the spot. Other options for rapid orders include curbside pickup with designated parking spots, as well as coded pick up lockers that will send food straight from the kitchen from mobile and online orders.

Credit: Burger King

Even with more mobile-friendly and tech-savvy pick-up options, delivery lanes are also getting a shape up with multi-lane ordering and pickup, including a lane dedicated to delivery services. Customers will even be able to pick up food from an external walk-up window.

According to a Burger King spokesperson, "delivery has been a consistent uptrend since before the pandemic. A dedicated lane to delivery drivers speeds up the pickup process what ultimately delivers our food faster to our guests at home. A better and faster delivery service improves guest loyalty and frequency."