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The Wall Street Journal has a story saying that "America’s biggest restaurant companies made a bet during the pandemic that you would rather eat the food cooked on their premises someplace else. Now they are gambling you will want to do so for years to come.

"The strategy from these giant chains is to orient their operations around drive-throughs and online ordering while testing new restaurant concepts that only serve food to go. They say these designs will make them more profitable and efficient since restaurants that bring fewer customers inside cost less to build, maintain and staff.

"The challenge these companies face is to make such changes without sacrificing hospitality. Their risk is that consumer behavior accelerated by the pandemic becomes fleeting, as happened with exercise bikes, streaming of movies and shopping from home."

The Journal notes that "demand for takeout is still strong even after dropping from peaks reached during the first year of the pandemic. Of all orders placed at U.S. fast-food restaurants in 2022, 85% were taken to go, according to market research firm the NPD Group. That is down from a high of 90% during 2020 but up from roughly 76% in the years leading up to the pandemic. Among full-service restaurants, 33% of orders were to go in 2022—nearly double prepandemic rates."

The Journal also cites examples of what the chains believe will be an ongoing TREND - McDonald's "has a new restaurant outside Fort Worth, Texas, with no tables or seats for customers and a conveyor belt that routes food to drivers who order ahead. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. also offers no place for customers to sit inside an Ohio restaurant that only takes digital orders. Taco Bell is evaluating a new design that features four drive-through lanes, double the typical two."

KC's View:

I've always thought it is kind of a joke to refer to what McDonald's or Taco Bell do as "hospitality," but this story does suggest a real challenge to the chains cited, as they have to decide whether their businesses will continue along the path that they've been on for the past three years, or will they follow the retrenchment trend seen by many supermarkets.

Starbucks is a great example of what happens when you focus on doing things the same way they've always been done - that company ignored the shift to takeout rather than sit-down, and the move to chilled beverages, until it almost was too late.  Now it has to move fast to regain lost momentum and relevance.

I actually think restaurants focusing on take-out are making the smart move, and that, in fact, supermarkets' pickup and delivery services will, over the long term, be more used, not less.