A New Era for Fast Food Restaurants & Supply Chains

Blog Food and Beverage Trends

The meaning behind the term “fast food restaurant” is just as it sounds – restaurants that prepare food quickly and easily for customers, often in a drive-thru layout, fall under this category. Common examples include McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. These three establishments have been popular amongst consumers for years – whether it’s a parent grabbing dinner for their kids after a long day at work or a quick stop in the middle of a long road trip, these restaurants have delivered.

Despite its immense success in the traditional fast food format, Wendy’s has started exploring other options to better connect with their consumers. Mobile order and delivery are huge trends within the industry right now, both of which the fast food chain has kept up with. Their U.S. digital business grew to be 7.5% of sales in Q1 of 2021, up from 6% the previous quarter. Wendy’s attributes this to a shift in consumer demand. 

The pandemic has left many consumers in search of convenient, off-premise experiences. In response, Wendy’s has started redesigning its stores and even designing some locations that are drive-thru only. Equipped with ample outdoor seating, this type of store will make it much easier for customers to pick up mobile orders and delivery drivers will be able to move in and out of the line even faster.

To accommodate the growing number of delivery orders even further, Wendy’s is starting to implement “ghost kitchens”. The term refers to fast food restaurants that don’t have a dining room or a way for customers to order in-person and take their order home. Ghost kitchens exist to support delivery orders placed online, which are a significant part of the chain’s digital business growth so far this year.

While the thought of a Wendy’s where it’s impossible to order food seems unusual, it has the potential to speed up delivery times and drive down cost in some locations. Areas that have a high volume of online delivery orders can benefit from a store focused strictly on meal production. By eliminating the need for a dining room or outdoor patio, the chain reduces the amount of space necessary for construction and saves a significant amount of money. Popular chains including The Halal Guys, Sweet Green, and Chick-Fil-A have also partnered with the leading ghost kitchen brand, Kitchen Unlimited, to offer delivery out of a shared commercial kitchen.

Wendy’s continues to identify and incorporate different location styles into its operations. However, the chain never picks one style to go with and gets rid of the other options. While a uniform experience used to be more important than anything for restaurants, the latest shift in consumer demand has them more focused on meeting the customer where they’re at. It’s more important for the restaurant to fit whatever environment the consumer happens to be in rather than consistency in style and appearance. 

Consumers are focused on convenience and simplicity, so much so that even fast food restaurants are starting to explore ways to fit the latest mold. As the number of restaurant styles and online order volume continues to grow, supply chains will have to work extra hard to keep up with varying inventory and resource needs!

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