How Burger King Is Reimagining the Restaurant Experience During the Pandemic

The first newly designed eateries will be built in 2021 in Miami, Latin America and the Caribbean

New Burger King design
The drive-thru will be expanded with one or two more lanes. Burger King

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The last time Adweek caught up with José Cil, the CEO of Restaurant Brands International (RBI), which owns Burger King, Popeye’s and Tim Hortons, he divulged in an open letter that the pandemic may permanently alter the restaurant experience. “We have fully embraced the notion that parts of our restaurants need to change,” Cil had said. “Certainly for the foreseeable future, and possibly forever.”

It appears that Cil has officially sealed the fate of Burger King, and turned his prediction into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today, Burger King unveiled new restaurant designs for an enhanced guest experience in our Covid-19 world. Though we hope that this “new normal” we are all still assimilating to won’t stay this way for long, Burger King is preparing for this global health crisis (and may possibly be ready for the next one), due to incoming features that are sustainable and social-distance friendly. These additions and renovations include touchless technology, drive-in and walk-up order areas, enhanced drive-thru experience and exterior dining spaces.

If you’re having a difficult time visualizing what your neighborhood BK will end up looking like, check out these two videos below for the design renderings. As YouTube commenter Teshigi Smith put it, the new restaurants look like a cross between a school, a Sonic drive-in and a gas station:

“In March our in-house design and tech team accelerated new restaurant design plans and pushed the limits of what a Burger King restaurant could be,” said Josh Kobza, Restaurant Brands International chief operating officer, in a statement. These plans were drafted along with input from the Home of the Whopper’s tech, operations and food innovation teams with a mission of dramatically improving (and safeguarding) the consumer experience by providing multiple ordering and delivery modes, many of which are contactless.

At the drive-in area, for example, guests will be able to park their cars under solar-powered canopies, place their orders through the BK app by scanning a QR code at their parking spot’s kiosk screen, and have food taken directly to their cars. (The curbside delivery service will operate similarly.) Guests arriving to pick up their mobile orders will be able to do so from coded food lockers facing the exterior of the restaurant, and delivery people will be able to pick up their orders through the same system as well. The drive-thru will be expanded to accommodate more guests with the addition of one or two more lanes. Each lane will feature digital menu boards and merchandising, as well as a living wall that frames the guest’s view into the kitchen interior. Drive-thru guests will have their orders delivered via a conveyer belt connected to the restaurant’s suspended kitchen.

The result of these enhancements is a physical footprint 60% smaller on average than a traditional Burger King restaurant building and site. On-premise dining will still exist, but the famed BK kid’s playgrounds will be no more: instead, shaded, suspended patios featuring outdoor seating for guests will replace the indoor dining rooms in one design option. Another design option, a suspended dining room above the drive-thru lanes, will also include a covered outdoor seating area.

“The designs we’ve created completely integrate restaurant functionality and technology. The restaurant of the tomorrow merges the best functional technology with unique modern design to elevate our Burger King guest experience,” said Rapha Abreu, global head of design at Restaurant Brands International, in a statement. “We designed the interior and exterior spaces like we had a blank sheet of paper, designing without preconceived notions of how a Burger King restaurant should look.”

@monicroqueta Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.