Taking it to-go
In the case of Annabelle, a modern American eatery in Washington, D.C., no patio seating was available when the pandemic struck. The concept has since applied for the permits to build a permanent terrace in front of its establishment while relying on takeout and delivery in the meantime.
Many other restaurants are pursuing similar avenues since, up until very recently, off-premises was not an integral part of their business—especially true with regard to more upscale concepts and fine-dining restaurants. Now, the accelerated integration of off-premises into full service is resulting in spatial changes that, like Rosy’s takeout window, could stick around for a while.
Annabelle had been open for only around six weeks when dining rooms were ordered to close. The restaurant began offering takeout for the first time ever by making meals available for pickup and delivery via Caviar three to four days per week. Even once COVID-19 is a thing of the past, owner Ashok Bajaj says that carryout will be a permanent part of the restaurant’s operations.
“We rearranged the prep area to allow space for our employees to safely prep meals for takeout,” he says. “Takeout was previously thought of only in regard to ethnic food or quick service. Now that people know that it works in fine dining, we’re going to see a lot more of it.”
Like Annabelle, Rosy’s has also rearranged its indoor spaces to provide for takeout. The restaurant’s dining room is being used for socially distanced server stations, to-go order coordination, and even cold prep, allowing some back-of-house kitchen staff to move out front for portions of their shifts. Hornik says this system will evolve as the pandemic progresses, and that, for now, indoor dining is not on his radar.
King-Casey’s Blackiston suggests that, even when in-store dining is once again in the picture, full-service operators consider incorporating off-premises platforms into their restaurants’ operations and design. He says to start with an operations assessment of a venue; determine if the layout, technology, and other infrastructure are in place to expand off-premises; and then develop a strategy that fits the brand.
“It all depends on the restaurant,” Blackiston says. “Assess if there’s room for a drive thru, dedicated parking, necessary signage, and perhaps even a separate entrance for pickup orders.”
A great resource for full-service operators looking to bolster their off-premises operation? The quick-service and fast-casual sectors. Some brands in these categories are to-go veterans and have been serving up successful drive-thru experiences for years.
Blackiston points to Starbucks—a brand that his agency worked closely with on its drive thru—as one such exemplar. The coffee chain, he says, exhibits a valuable lesson for full-service restaurants in making its drive-thru process one that seamlessly echoes its in-store guest experience.
Starbucks’ drive-thru lanes feature decor, graphics, and signage that are consistent with the visuals inside its stores— the road stripe painted in its signature green. Furthermore, the brand’s drive-thru design reinforces its in-store service model. Similar to the full-service dining experience, within a Starbucks’ four walls, the emphasis is placed on customer-employee interaction, with baristas often coming to know regular guests by name over time. The company makes this interaction possible in the drive thru with a two-way video order verification step that allows customers to see their baristas through a camera and vice versa at some locations.
Like Starbucks, fine-dining brands looking to incorporate more expansive off-premises processes into their models should look for ways to make their experience consistent across inside dining, outdoor dining, and to-go ordering—and design can help in that goal.
“This may be new to full-service restaurants, but the good news is that other brands in other segments have addressed it already,” Blackiston says. “Open-minded operators are going to realize solutions don’t always lie within full service; those solutions will only make you as successful as your competitors. Learn from these guys that have been doing this for 10, 15, 20 years, then take it up a notch and make it unique to your concept.”