Fast Food Restaurant Seating

The Lempert Report
June 10, 2020

Will We Ever Go Back?

As Covid-19 forced the closure of fast food dining areas, the drive thru has made all the difference – in fact its been the lifeline for many of these chains. The question is as these restaurants try to reimagine their interiors and remove tables and seating, do we even need these areas which adds a ton of expense and maintenance.

“For many restaurants, it’s an absolute savior,” said Jonathan Maze, the executive editor of Restaurant Business Magazine.

They report that at many chains, including McDonald’s, the drive-thru accounted for as much as 70% of revenue before the crisis. In March, drive-thrus generated $8.3 billion across the fast-food industry, an increase from $8 billion in sales over the same period in 2019, according to data from the NPD Group, a market research firm.

There is a problem however – these restaurants were not built to handle the kind of volume that is being demanded through that drive up lane or window where customers are fearful and don’t completely roll down their windows and sometimes aren’t wearing masks. The workers have to cook and now serve the bags of food in cramped conditions, not being physically able to social distance from their fellow workers – or customers in their cars - and in many cases without PPE. 

Some chains, like McDonald’s, have converted their seating areas to workspaces for employees in order to achieve social distancing,

Ultimately, according to an interview in the New York Times, the pandemic could provide “a moment of redemption” for drive-thrus, said Adam Chandler, the author of “Drive-Thru Dreams,” a history of fast food.

Since it emerged in the 1950s, he said, the format has faced criticism from public health officials and urban beautification campaigns, prompting cities like Minneapolis to ban the construction of new drive-thrus.

When a decade ago Dunkin Donuts expanded its drive thru lanes, sales soared. 

It might just be the time where we see fast food chains revert to drive thrus and pick up windows.