Fast Food Restaurant buildings

I was thinking about this even before the pandemic, do fast food restaurants need dining rooms that are big as they have been or even at all? Some people used to eat in but then over time most people used and are now using the drive through for getting their food. Would a new building still have a large dining room so that buildings are bigger and would get noticed? Checkers did not have a dine in but instead had two drive through windows but I don’t see many of those. The other topic heading I though of using was- Does size matter?

There is a whole separate specialized field dedicated to the design, functionality, and construction of restaurants with fast food restaurants being a specialty within a specialty. (example, example)
I can tell you, that prior to the pandemic the ratio of dine in to carryout to drive thru customers was the number one consideration for alot of companies. There are often local zoning ordinances which apply as well. Some jurisdictions require a dine in area of specific numbers, some don’t want any type of drive thru at all. So, most chains have several different models designed for these different requirements. And each of these designs are several years in the making.
To continue with the nesting bowls, drive thru design is also its own specialty (example) and some of the busier chains have, in the last few years, experimented with multiple and dual lanes.

If the pandemic makes permanent changes to the way people get their food, you can bet those changes will be reflected in the designs. In the mean time, I’ve noticed several new things happening. Reserved parking spaces for online order pickups. Designated counter space for delivery drivers to pick up orders. And personnel physically staffing the drive up lane (with radios and card swipers) to take and give out orders so they are not relying on just the order sign and pickup window.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

There is a Popeye’s Chicken by my house. I’ve never seen the dining room more than half full. Yet they still tore down the entire building just so they could build a bigger one with a bigger dining room.

It makes no sense to me.

You see the same kinds of question about parking lots. It’s true that most times, most parking lots for malls, big box stores, supermarkets, etc. are nowhere near filled. But in the normal Christmas buying season or other peak times there may not be a space open anywhere.

A happy medium has to exist between oversupply and undersupply, and enormous amounts of planning and experience goes into finding that number. The psychology of the customer also must be taken into account. How many customers will leave rather than try to find an open table or open parking space in peak times? Is the restaurant expecting to often serve busloads of people rather than individual cars? (This happens at many places other than highways.) Will customers come in bunches (large families, groups of students) or in smaller groups?

You, as an average customer, will see the venue for very limited times over the course of a year. The planners have to look at traffic for every possible hour the place will be open. There’s no way to translate the former experience into the latter one.

The location is important as well - not just whether it is at a highway rest area, but also is the location in the suburbs or the city, is it near a mall or any other destination where people are stopping at the restaurant before or after or is it likely to be the destination itself.

The largest fast food restaurant dining room I have ever seen was one I worked at it college- the dining room was more than twice the size of any other. But it was in a city, across the street from a large mall, next to a subway station , four bus lines and a hospital. Ninety something percent of the customers dined in - they didn’t decide they felt like Roy Rogers and got in their car to go pick some up.They were at the hospital or the mall or just got off the train or had a 30 minute wait for the next bus and decided it was convenient to eat at the RR rather than stopping somewhere or preparing something at home.

I’ve been seeing that long before the pandemic, especially at McDonald’s during breakfast time rush.

This remind me of this YouTube video I watched recently –

Strip malls are ugly and wasteful and environmentally unsound and can ruin the feel of a community–but there are a lot of commercially sound reasons for their popularity.

Wendys usually puts the freezer right next to the drive in window. So they can set up rollers and roll frozen food from the truck through the window into the freezer. Most of the frozen food is fries.

Whether it’s corporate owned or franchise, there may be redesign requirements for all stores of a certain size, area or location/population.

We have/had? a Taco Bell where the drive through pickup window is on the passenger side!

Compared to the fixed costs of constructing any building in the first place, and the much higher cost per square foot of the kitchen, walk-in refrigerators and/or freezers, bathrooms, and their much more complicated HVAC systems, fire suppression, and plumbing, the dining room is relatively quite cheap space, so there’s little reason not to build it. Having a dining room and not using it much is a better hedge against changing dining patterns than not having one and trying to scab it on later. There’s some argument that it also makes the building easier to sell off when it’s time to move on, but I think that’s a minor concern since chain restaurants are so beholden to their brand prototype and depreciation schedules that they’re essentially disposable. A bigger building does also appear more impressive to potential customers and passers-by. “It looks like it doesn’t even need our business.” “Hey, let’s go!”

Interesting. There’s a super busy McDonald’s down the street from me that did the exact opposite; they tore down the old building to make the kitchen bigger and shrink the dining room to just a handful of tables, and half of them are the tall, “standing” kind. They also added a second drive-through ordering lane.

Of course, the dining room is currently closed anyways. You can still go inside and order, but once you get your order you have to leave.

Any new fast food joint where I live is definitely getting small. Even the renovation of older buildings results in a small dining space.