Foodservice by Design

Team members from Profitality-Labor Guru discuss how industrial engineering can be applied to the foodservice industry.


Good news: Commercial and noncommercial foodservice operators have plenty of options at their disposal that can help their businesses weather this pandemic-induced storm.

Given the tumultuous tone of 2020, everyone seems ready to turn the page and start fresh in 2021. If only it were that easy. Here are my 10 foodservice-related predictions for the coming year.

Over the years, drive-thru as a sales channel has been the cornerstone of many successful quick-service restaurants. During the pandemic, though, the importance of drive-thru sales became even more important when this form of service became one of the only ways customers could get food from restaurants. While all of this may seem alluring to some, never lose sight of the simple fact that a poorly designed and poorly run drive-thru will impact a restaurant’s ability to generate revenue.

Pivoting. New normal. Off-premises. Contactless. Virtual. Digital. These key words continue to dominate our restaurant-related conversations, as they have since March. And they aren’t going away any time soon.

When it comes to technological advancements, the foodservice industry has often lagged behind many major service industries, but the industry seems set to embark on a technological odyssey. 

COVID-19 may have put an end to what we deem as normal. From the CDC guidelines about safely reopening businesses to municipalities regulations that impact the ability to enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant, the only true constant today is change.

Restaurant staffing has remained an issue since the start of the pandemic. A combination of increasing wages, unemployment checks and people trying to stay safe create a perfect storm for many restaurants, making it difficult to remain fully staffed with fully trained employees. To help foodservice operators alleviate their labor issues, here are 6 design and process-related tactics that can lead to doing more with less.

Simulations are all around us.

As hard as it may be to imagine, the dark cloud of the pandemic did produce some silver linings for the foodservice industry. Two that come to mind immediately are the off-premises boom and customers’ willingness to use digital means to remotely interact with restaurants. While those trends were already in motion pre-pandemic, the pandemic accelerated them exponentially, generating faster growth than would have been the case under a more normal business cycle.

All restaurants should regularly visualize what their store of the future (SOF) will look like. An exercise of this nature is important in the best of times. In light of the impact the coronavirus continues to have on this industry, it’s never been more important than it is today, especially with an ever-changing future.

Change is inevitable. It’s a cliche we were all familiar with prior to the pandemic and the arrival of COVID-19 has only accelerated change for the foodservice industry. That’s because the industry must always change to meet customers’ ever-evolving demands, including updating menus and service styles.

The ability to innovate and push technology in the restaurant industry has always been an option. Many times, though, restaurant operators delay implementing certain technologies out of fear of going too far ahead of what the customers will accept. COVID-19 has forced the industry to be open to and accepting of many ideas that may have not even had a chance just a few months back or may have taken much longer to evolve and become mainstream during normal times.

Thanks to COVID-19 and customers’ cravings for convenience, operators now receive orders from a variety of means, and the way they fulfill these orders is more diverse than ever. And both the way operators receive orders and the way they fulfill these orders will continue to impact back- and front- of-the-house restaurant design.

For most people, the phrase, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” represents a mantra they have heard at some point in their lives, aimed at ensuring children wash behind the ears or keep their rooms organized. For today’s foodservice operators in the COVID-19 era, though, the phrase should be retooled to “cleanliness or closed down.”

Life was easier for restaurants when guests had fewer choices. Going back several decades, the only decision we had to worry about was to determine whether the food was for here or to go. The first big change happened when drive-thrus came about for quick-service restaurants.

Let’s face it: we really do not know how this crisis will play out, and therefore the implications to restaurant design remain just as uncertain. As such, the impact on restaurant design will remain a moving target for the foreseeable future.