Five ways fast food restaurants are updating their look

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Even in the world of online grocery platforms like Instacart and the focus on healthy eating, consumer demand for fast food remains strong.

Quick-serve restaurant (QSR) sales increased 12.5 percent in the U.S. from 2015 to 2018—the largest jump out of any category in the food and beverage industry.But while the demand for quick service dining holds strong, consumer expectations around their eating experience are changing quicker than you can say, “Do you want fries with that?”

In response, fast food and fast casual restaurants are staying true to their names with their own rapid transformations.

“As technology makes it easier for customers to order food when, where and how they want it, restaurant design needs to keep up to foster convenient and enjoyable experiences,” says Steve Jones, International Director, JLL Project and Development Services.

Here are five design trends shaping the future of fast food:

1.Upgraded design materials

Not Instagrammable? Not an option. Drab or outdated interiors are a surefire way to turn off customers.

“Instagram and HGTV [an American home improvement cable channel] have forever changed consumer expectations for design,” says Jones. “As consumers see more of what’s possible, they expect their surroundings to reflect those inviting environments they see on TV.”

Even fast food franchises are using materials like stone, wood and marble to create a more modern, upscale experience. Arby’s revamped restaurants, for example, have wooden flooring and tables.

2. Design with an eye for traffic flow

From Chipotle to McDonald’s, quick serve restaurants are preparing mobile and digital orders to be ready by the time the customer arrives.These convenient options influence design decisions, such as accessible pickup spots inside, and separate prep stations for online orders.

Meanwhile, curbside “delivery” requires designated parking spots or drive-thru lanes, which impacts location decisions.

3. On-display food prep stations

Customers care more than ever about food quality, and fast casual restaurants have reacted to this desire by making their operations as transparent as possible.Even pizza places are now including visible prep lines, where customers can see the freshness of all ingredients on display.

“When consumers can see their food being prepared, they know it’s fresh,” says Jones.

4. Wireless connectivity

Millennials and Gen Z-ers require high-powered Wi-Fi and an abundance of outlets to Instagram their visits. Allowing customers to plug in and stay connected also cultivates longer visits. “We see more QSRs providing more bar-style counters and community tables where customers can plug in,” Jones says.

5. Blurred lines

In reaction to consumer’s shifting demands, lines continue to blur between sub-sectors of the food and beverage industry.

Fast casual spots like Panera Bread and Chipotle are incorporating drive-thrus, while traditional fast food restaurants are creating more bespoke concepts, like the Taco Bell Cantina, which have digital menu boards, alcohol and sharing style tapas, and McDonald’s Global Restaurant, featuring menu items from around the world, at their new headquarters in Chicago.

More innovation, Jones says, is on the way. “Across the industry, quick-serve and fast casual restaurant leaders are asking, ‘How can we do something different?’” he says.

To read other trends pieces like this, check out JLL Real Views.